Socceramerica.com is pleased to present the debut of Kelly SmithÆs monthly column. Smith, an England international who set the NCAA Division I record for goals and points per game at Seton Hall University, is a member of the WUSAÆs Philadelphia Charge.
She checks in shortly after playing in front of record crowd for an England womenÆs national team home game and finding out who her WUSA teammates will be:
BY KELLY SMITH
Over the past few months, I experienced one of the highlights of my soccer career -- helping England qualify for the 2001 European Championships in a two-match playoff against the Ukraine.
The first leg took place in Kiev, Ukraine, on my 22nd birthday. Since I hadn't played in the previous qualification matches, Coach Hope Powell wanted to use the same 11 players for continuity and I wasn't one of the starters. I came on in the second half playing forward. In the 58th minute, I was at the top of the box, took a cross from the right side and volleyed it into the top right corner.
Even though it was the first goal I had scored internationally in a while, I didn't think of it that way. It was just such an important goal because we didn't play well in the first half and then I came on and felt like I made a difference.
I was happier that we scored, than about my own personal statistics.
Later in the second half I took the ball on the right side, cut in and fed it to Karen Walker. She took a shot from outside the box, and the Ukraine goalkeeper bobbled it and it went through her legs.
Everyone was pretty relieved at that point, because we were up 2-0 and felt that we were halfway there. Ukraine scored in the final 10 seconds, which was kind of disappointing because we had done well to get a 2-0 lead and then had blown it, still giving them a chance when they came to England for the second match.
PRESSURE ON IN SECOND LEG: The anticipation for the second playoff match back in England was tremendous. It has been five years since England's qualified for a major championship so there was a huge amount of pressure the whole week.
Even though we had a 2-1 lead, everyone was nervous -- since it's been five years, it was a "we need to do this" kind of thing. The expectations were there for us to win. The media coverage was much more intense.
At every training session there were photographers and reporters -- I was doing many more interviews during the week. I think because the attention was on us, it made us more nervous and aware that this was a "make or break" situation.
We heard that they had given out close to 9,000 tickets for the match at Brisbane Road, so the excitement was definitely building by the time we played.
I started the match at right midfield, a position I had never played before. Even though my left foot is stronger, Coach Powell told me that she needed to have me on the field because of my previous performance against the Ukraine.
She knows what I can do, so rather than have me on the bench, I was replacing the right midfielder, Karen Burke, who injured her knee. She told me when I got the ball to just take people on and cut in, maybe take a shot or look to pass.
I felt that I played well -- I created a lot of chances and took a few good shots, but their keeper made some very good saves. Whenever I got the ball I just kept my head up and went at them -- and ran them ragged.
We won the match, 2-0, to qualify for the 2001 European Championship.
It was really an exciting time -- I had never seen everyone come together as a team and celebrate so much. We did a lap around the field. I threw my shirt into the crowd (I had a T-shirt on underneath!) because I was so happy.
We had champagne in the changing room after -- it was just such a great feeling to know that we're going to play in a major tournament. It's been five years since we've been in one. (I've only played in World Cup qualifiers.) We always seem to get so close, but this time we actually did it!
PHILLY CHARGES UP. But back here in my other "home," the United States, I have the beginning of the WUSA to look forward to. I think my team, the Philadelphia Charge, made some great selections in the draft.
I was happy that along with Lorrie Fair, other North Carolina players -- Kalli Kamholz, Raven McDonald and Laurie Schwoy -- were chosen.
They come from a winning tradition so you know they're going to want to turn that over and keep winning in Philadelphia.
I played with [former University of Florida stars] Sarah Yohe and Heather Mitts in the college All-Star game in Florida last year and know that they're very good players.
Although I haven't seen Liu Ailing of China play, I've heard that she's one of the best midfielders around and I'm looking forward to having her feed me the ball.
I played with Laurie Hill in the Discovery Health Challenge Indoor Tour this winter and I was very impressed with her skill level. I know that Doris Fitschen of Germany is one of the most established defenders in the world. It's good to see that it's such a young team -- those of us who are just out of college -- because we can grow as a team.
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