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.
Defender Tierna Davidson earned a spot on the team a little more than a year after making her full team debut in January 2018.
“It really was a quick process and still feels like it’s going 100 miles an hour,” she told reporters at Media Day.
But for those that have followed Davidson’s playing career – one that was anchored in Northern California until this past January, when she was selected No. 1 overall and joined the Chicago Red Stars – it’s not a huge shock.
“She had an amazing athletic make up already early when she was young, and she was a very intelligent kid,” Andres Deza, who coached Davidson at the De Anza Force, told topdrawersoccer.com.
Davidson played under Deza for eight seasons with the Force on the De Anza Girls 98 squad that was one of the best in the ECNL during her time there. Anchoring a possession-oriented squad from either a holding midfield role or as a center back, Davidson’s intelligence and ability to read the game helped her stand out.
Deza saw a player that picked things up quickly and grew in her understanding of the sport.
“Through time, she became a true student of the game,” he said. “She learned how to look and what to look for, she learned how to decide and decide well within a very distinctive style of play that her club team played, and she perfected her technical skills so that she was able to execute flawlessly on the field.”
Paul Ratcliffe, who coached her for three seasons at Stanford, took note early on about her potential, but a particular trait emerged as the foundation of her upside.
“The thing that stood out to me was her work ethic,” Ratcliffe said about Davidson when she was still in club soccer. “Her technical ability was still developing at the time but I could see she has a great work ethic, she was a good athlete and seemed like a player that had a huge upside.”
It was no surprise then to see the Menlo Park, California native eventually sign for the Cardinal with the 2016 recruiting class (Davidson was ranked as the No. 5 player in the class, behind Mal Pugh, among others).
She backed up her potential right away, getting into the starting lineup on a regular basis as a freshman. When the 2016 campaign at Stanford concluded, she earned All-Pac-12 Second Team honors and was a Best XI player. Her qualities were so evident that Ratcliffe wished he had two of her to rely upon.
“She’s a player you wish you could clone because I think she’s equally adept at playing center back and the No. 6,” he told topdrawersoccer.com. “When she played for me at Stanford she was bouncing between those two positions, depending on the chemistry of our group and what our needs were.”
But it was her 2017 campaign that Davidson broke out, and in many ways, a catalyst that brought her to this point. Challenged by Ratcliffe and the staff to take a bigger role within the team, Davidson anchored Stanford’s 2017 national championship campaign. Alongside Andi Sullivan, another top talent that started knocking on the door of the full women’s national team, the duo provided the spine for a team that edged Pac-12 rivals UCLA in the College Cup that season.
That’s around when Jill Ellis, the USWNT coach, took notice.
“Andi Sullivan was getting called in a lot and she was getting rave reviews at that time,” Ratcliffe said. “I was training both of them at the same time and Tierna was doing just as well as Andi. They are very similar players in their ability level, so it wasn’t really a surprise when I heard that she got called in for that reason. And I knew that she had so much potential, the only surprise was she was a little younger and inexperienced, but other than that, she had the ability.”
Prior to her full team debut on January 21, 2018 against Denmark, Davidson was no stranger to the U.S. Youth National Team setup. She previously appeared with the U18, U19 and U20 national teams at various camps, both before and during her time at Stanford. She helped the U.S. qualify for the 2016 Under-20 World Cup at the 2015 Concacaf Championship (although she didn’t play at that World Cup).
As 2018 progressed and she continued to grow into the full-team picture, last fall things almost went awry. An ugly tackle from a North Carolina attacker broke Davidson’s ankle, ending her season on September 9.
That would end up being her final college game. As the 2019 NWSL Draft neared, Davidson elected to turn pro and forego her senior year at Stanford. With the World Cup kicking off in June, it would’ve left her with a lack of competitive matches – aside from USWNT camps – between the end of college and the start of the tournament.
Still, it was a tough decision for Davidson to make, as she knows that she wouldn’t be in France without her time in Palo Alto.
“My college team played an unbelievably large role in my ability to be here,” Davidson said. “It’s so much more about playing the games, because we had such a special group of players when I was there. They were able to push me above and beyond where I might’ve been had I been training by myself or a different group of people. It was a very hard decision to leave because my teammates are so special to me. I’m forever indebted to the work they put in to each and every practice and game.”
Ratcliffe noted the progression that he saw in three seasons, and think that as the tournament starts, Davidson is only starting to scratch the surface of her talent.
“I think we put her in an environment where it was really hard training that stretched her abilities, so I think that helped her grow dramatically,” he said. “The biggest growth for me was her self-confidence, her leadership on the field and that’s where I want to continue helping her develop now that she’s gone on to the pros, which is great. She has real strong leadership capabilities for the future, so hopefully they hone those skills with her, because she could be a great leader for the U.S. women’s national team in the future, she could be the captain of the team.”
With reporting from Jeff Kassouf (Equalizer Soccer).