Christie Welsh scored five goals in the 2005 Algarve Cup. (Scott Bales/YCJ Photo)

This story was posted at ENYSoccer.com March 18, 2005

By Michael Lewis

One of the final cuts from the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team last summer, Christie Welsh admitted that she was devastated when she discovered she was not going to Greece.

“I definitely was heart-broken, way more than 2000,” she said by telephone earlier this week from Portugal. “I thought last year was my chance. It was upsetting.”

But that gave the Massapequa Park, L.I. product even more incentive she belonged at the international level.

Welsh demonstrated that in spectacular fashion during the U.S.’s Algarve Cup championship run in Portugal the past week, scoring a tournament-best five goals, including the lone goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over archrival Germany.

“We put in a lot of effort in the past two weeks and worked very hard for this victory,” Welsh said.

In fact, the 5-10 Welsh gave the U.S. an imposing one-two power punch up front, teaming with 5-11 Olympic hero Abby Wambach. Welsh has scored 18 goals in 27 international matches (66 percent), her strike rate only bettered by Wambach (47 goals, 59 matches, 79.6 percent).

As it turns out, Welsh and Wambach were roommates during the Cup. Just call them the W&W scoring machine.

“I’ve been watching the National Team,” Welsh said. “I probably know her better than she knows me. We are trying to reach each other and learn each other’s tendencies. She is a good player to play with.”

Welsh was brought onto the team by former coach April Heinrichs in 2000 and came on like gangbusters, scoring at nearly a goal-a-game clip. But she couldn’t make the Olympic team for the Sydney Summer Games that year.

“I could figure it out,” Welsh said of why she was left behind then.

“It was a matter of timing. I was young. I was playing well at the time. Then I started to play not so well. I got injuries and I lost my spot.”

Welsh, a Hermann Trophy winner at Penn State, was taken as the second pick in the 2003 WUSA college draft by the New York Power. She acquitted herself well in her rookie season, but suffered a high ankle sprain, benching her for the rest of the season.

After a series of mediocre performances and injuries stifled her progress, the 24-year-old Welsh realized she had to prove herself. With the demise of the WUSA in 2003, she got healthy and wound up in residency with the U.S. team last summer.

She made a call to Heinrichs in the fall of 2003.

“I was trying to get my body healthy and try to get on the team and play well,” she said.

She wound up in residency camp and was in the middle of several goals before getting cut.

But with no domestic pro league, Welsh looked across the Atlantic and through an agent, found went to a Swedish club before joining Lyon, which plays in a semi-pro women’s league. U.S. internationals Hope Solo, Lori Fair, Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner joined her.

“I’m in France to get the experience and better my soccer,” Welsh said. “I still have dreams of playing in a World Cup and playing in an Olympics. That’s really my No. 1 focus.

“The men’s team, Lyon, has done so well,” she added the first-place club. “The women’s side, they want to be a step ahead of every other team. So they went ahead to get us over there. They will have the upper-hand if the league goes professional in September.”

Welsh, who said she gets paid almost as much as she did in the WUSA, has played only twice because France is undergoing its worst winter in 40 years. At least four games had been cancelled by the league, which suspended play for the Algarve Cup.

“We played the best team in the league in the first game and lost 1-0,” Welsh said. “It was a physical game. I’d classify it as dirty. I wasn’t very happy with it. I was really bummed because I thought the level would be good.

“Two weeks later we played the third best team. It was a completely different game.”

It was less physical, and Lyon won, 3-0.

The five Americans live in a hotel and practice or play every day. None of them knew French when they joined the league in January.

“We have a French teacher and have lessons every week,” Welsh said. “It’s been hard, definitely hard.”

The Swedish and French cultures are polar opposites.

“Most of them there learn English when they are young because outside of Sweden their language isn’t used anywhere,” Welsh said. “Half of their TV channels has English subtitles.

“Then you go to France and the people don’t want to speak English. Their culture is completely different in that regard.”

Her most memorable experience in France, however, came off the field, as Welsh and her American colleagues were introduced to some anti-American feelings due to the U.S.’s rather unpopular international policies in Europe when a man gave them some choice words while on the metro one morning.

“We were taken aback,” she said. “It happened so fast. We were sort of like, ‘Whoa! Like OK. What happened?’ The man just walked away. We didn’t know how to react.”

On the other hand, Welsh has demonstrated she knows how to react on the field — by filling the net for the U.S. in her fruitful comeback.

 

 

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.