Thousands, if not millions of little girls were left inspired by the so-called “99ers”, the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup winning squad.
Former Colorado goalkeeper Annie Brunner was seven years old that year, and was one of those left with big dreams. Ever since then, she had one goal in mind: to become a professional soccer player.
In January of this year, the Colorado native realized that dream, signing a pro deal with FC Neunkirch of the Nationalliga A, the top women’s soccer league in Switzerland.
“I'm excited to get exposure to new cultures, languages, and traditions that, without soccer, I would never get to experience,” Brunner wrote TopDrawerSoccer.com in an email.
Like other goalkeepers, Brunner would’ve liked to stay and play in the National Women’s Soccer League, but knows that opportunities on the field are more likely to be found abroad for players in her spot.
“The U.S. league is the cream of the crop for goalkeeping,” she said. “I give so much credit to the women who earn starting spots in the NWSL, these are truly special athletes. I knew if I were to stay, I wouldn't get the playing time I would like, and I also wouldn't get the unique experiences gained from playing in a foreign environment. Those two desires combined to help me decide Europe was where I wanted to be.”
Brunner left Colorado after establishing herself as one of the program’s all-time best goalkeepers. She helped lead the Buffaloes to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2013, finishing the season in the top 100 in saves and shutout percentage. Statistically, she saved her best for her senior year, posting career-best numbers in saves (87), wins (14) and shutouts (nine).
She feels like the experience there, and her development over the course of four years, played a pivotal role in preparing her to make the move across the Atlantic.
“Our coaching staff at Colorado – and more specifically, my goalkeeper coach Jason Green – did very well developing individual talents, but more than anything they helped me develop a more effective mentality,” she said. “These coaches were able to push me and help me grow more than I could have ever imagined--I'm so thankful I got the opportunity to play under them.”
Now, the focus for Brunner is on a new home and carving out a spot with her club, which is located in Neunkirch, an hour’s drive north of Zurich. The team is in the middle of its winter break, and restarts the 2013-14 campaign on February 22. Currently fourth in the table, they trail first place side SC Kriens by 14 points in the Nationalliga.
During her short time in Switzerland already, she’s noticed a big difference in style between Europe and the United States.
“Soccer here is much more technical,” she said. “Game tactics are hardly addressed. It's a much different approach then I am use to, and I have so far found it does well to develop individual talents, which do not necessarily transfer into games.”
Some of her goals for down the road include posting a goals against average under one, and helping her team do well on the field this season. And if history proves anything, it’s that Brunner can turn her goals into reality, as this move proved.