As the United States Women’s National Team prepares to defend its World Cup crown, TopDrawerSoccer is profiling some of the players heading to their first World Cup, providing a snapshot of their development in club and college soccer.
It’s been nearly 10 years since the time Abby Dahlkemper first put on a U.S. National Team jersey. A decade later, the 26-year-old defender from Northern California is on the verge of making her first Women’s World Cup appearance later this month.
Dahlkemper was a regular with the U.S. Youth National Team program and made her debut at the U17 level in 2010. She crawled her way up the age groups before reaching the pinnacle with the full Women’s National Team in 2016. Three years and 39 international appearances later, Dahlkemper is a key piece of the defense for the 2019 World Cup squad.
Her quest to that point started on those fields in Northern California. The center back joined Mountain View Los Altos (MVLA) Soccer Club when she was 10 years old. Erin Montoya was her coach for most of her youth career.
“Abby moved to our area around 10 years old,” Montoya said about Dahlkemper. “She came to a try-out and we took her right away.”
Montoya noticed something special with Dahlkemper.
“When she first arrived, she was this fantastic athlete,” Montoya said. “When we get kids at the club (around age 6), we are constantly working on the technical side. We just started drilling Abby [Dahlkemper] and she always wanted more. She could do anything that you showed her so it was kind of like the sky was the limit.”
It was not always a clear path for Dahlkemper though. Montoya explained that her mom had some hesitations about sending her away for regional and National Team camps at a young age.
“I remember having to sit down her mom,” Montoya said. “We went to Starbucks, we had coffee. She was reluctant to send her regional camp and National Team camp. I remember saying, if anyone is going to go all the way, it’s going to be Abby. She has all the tools: her drive, her competitiveness, and her athletic build. She has a really outgoing personality. For us, Abby had it all. We knew she was capable of [going to the World Cup]. It was a matter of getting that opportunity. Thankfully, she did.”
While her club coach saw that potential early on, Dahlkemper took a bit longer to realize she was really on the cusp of playing at the level that millions of kids aspire to reach.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Dahlkemper said. “I think being called into camp after my second year playing pro was like, ‘Wow! I can really do this.’ Just focusing on the process and continuing to get better and develop my game. Work on the things that I needed to work on. It definitely seemed attainable but obviously hard.”
It was insatiable thirst for improvement that made Dahlkemper a favorite at MVLA.
“She worked on everything,” Montoya said. “With us, she was one of our key players so she could play up top, she could play in the back, she could play in the midfield. But I think what helped her go through the system is that good center backs are hard to find and especially when the can play out of the back. I don’t think a lot of people focus on that at an early age just being able to penetrate if you need it, receive balls, play 15-yard balls, play 30-yard balls with your right, with your left. Abby was all about being able to do that and always working on that. She took pride in that so it was great.”
Dahlkemper explained the joy she took in her quest to get better.
“There’s definitely huge steps that you have to take throughout that process but it’s learning and adapting,” Dahlkemper said about her growth from the youth to the college to the international level. “Focusing on things that you may need to work on. I think that’s really important to know that. And to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
It was that same desire to always get better that has made her a winner throughout her career.
“All along the way, whether she was with UCLA, or Western New York Flash and then North Carolina Courage, all of those teams were in a championship match and Abby is a huge part of that,” Montoya said.
USA fans will be hoping that streak continues this summer as she tries to reach another championship in France on July 7.
With reporting from Jeff Kassouf (Equalizer Soccer).