North Carolina Courages new signing will come up against plenty of familiar faces on Sunday, after spending the last six years in the NWSL
It was at the summer’s Olympic Games when the U.S. women’s national team last played New Zealand, its opponent on Sunday in the SheBelieves Cup.
Looking back now, it is easy to forget how much the 6-1 result flattered the USWNT.
It looks a thrashing on paper, but it was a game that New Zealand started well and one that, had the chances that came their way from an error-stricken American side been taken, it could’ve been different.
A lot has changed since.
Only nine players from the U.S. roster for that tournament have been picked by Vlatko Andonovski for the SheBelieves Cup.
New Zealand also have a new manager, but Katie Bowen, the Kiwi who has spent the last 10 years playing her football in the States, says the two countries last meeting will be on the mind this weekend.
“That game was obviously super frustrating,” she tells GOAL. “We had two own goals and then the other ones were soft goals, in my opinion.
“It wasnt like they did 50 passes, broke us down and had a finish. But thats the States. They get the job done, which I really respect with them. It doesnt matter how its going, they somehow find a way.
“I dont think that score reflected how we actually performed, but at the end of the day, it doesnt really matter how we performed. What people remember is the 6-1 – and we definitely remember that.
“I think that actually will, hopefully, add a bit of fuel to the fire though, because, for us, thats an embarrassing scoreline. We dont want to be embarrassed again and I think we can challenge them.
“Theyve got strengths and weaknesses, just like weve got strengths and weaknesses.
“We have got to be clinical, because against the States, theyre fast, theyre athletic, youre not going to get 20 chances in a game. Its about making sure that when we do get those chances, we put it away, we execute our game plan.
“I dont know if well watch film on the Olympics, but we obviously will remember how it felt and how it was, and were just looking to improve on that for sure.”
There are few players in New Zealand’s side that know the USWNT’s quality as well as Bowen.
She’s been playing in the NWSL for the last six years, after being drafted by Andonovski himself when she came out of the University of North Carolina.
There, she played for UNC’s womens soccer team, the Tar Heels, alongside USWNT internationals Crystal Dunn and Kealia Watt, Angel City’s Paige Nielsen and plenty more.
“It was amazing, honestly,” Bowen remembers. “We were so competitive in training that the games were like the final product type thing. It was just so fun.
“In my opinion, we should have won more than one national championship. Thats always kind of been frustrating.
“Its a pretty high quality all round at somewhere like UNC – more colleges are getting like that – but I could tell immediately that Crystal was absolutely legit.
“We would do the defensive drills and she would be absolutely world class at it. Then, wed do the finishing or attacking drills and she would be world class as well. Its a player that youre just like Wow! with.
“Her versatility is not jack of all trades, master of none. Shes actually mastering them all, which is incredibly rare in both the mens and womens game.
“Playing with that level of players was so good for my personal development as well. Obviously, winning that College Cup was a huge deal and something that Ill never forget.
“It did really prepare me [for the NWSL]. I think before going to UNC, I had a bit of a confidence issue with the national team and playing and not playing. I was struggling to sort of find myself.
“But when I got to UNC, it was a perfect fit for me. I got my confidence back.”
The defender will return to North Carolina after the SheBelieves Cup is over, too, having just signed for the North Carolina Courage after a difficult situation over Christmas.
“I unexpectedly got waived from Kansas [City Current],” she explains. “They offered me a contract. I kind of thought that I was going back to Kansas.
“But then, out of the blue – two days before Christmas, for no apparent reason that I knew of – they waived me. That was a bit of a shock.
“That was pretty steep because you never want to get waived. You never want to feel like youre not valued, type thing. That was a bit of a hit to my confidence.
“But, not long after, I got in touch with [Courage coach] Sean Nahas and had a really good conversation with him.”
She’ll see a familiar face there in Abby Erceg, the New Zealand captain, after being sold by the picture Nahas painted of the “family environment”.
“Thats huge in the Ferns,” Bowen says. “I think thats probably one of our biggest strengths over our competitors, so that struck a chord with me.”
New Zealand will hope that tight-knit atmosphere can help them get some revenge over the U.S. in California on Sunday.
The Kiwis lost 1-0 to Iceland in the opening fixture of the SheBelieves Cup and will need a result to achieve their aims for the tournament of finishing in the top two.
The team has come even closer together over the last year, too, after defender Rebekah Stott was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkins lymphoma.
In July, she announced that her cancer was in remission and this month she is back with the national team for the first time.
“There have been quite a few tears shed, because its just a really unfortunate experience, but one where weve all kind of grown with her and got so much strength from her,” Bowen says.
“Someone going through that and finally getting back on tour is just absolutely amazing. We have the utmost respect for Stotty and the team certainly has not been the same without her.