Lilly

“They’re going to tie it up,” I tell anyone who will listen. “Just watch. Any minute—oh my god!” The entire room rises to its feet as one. On the screen in front of us, a woman in a green Nigeria jersey slots the ball cleanly between the goalkeeper’s feet. The room erupts. The scoreboard ticks to Sweden 3, Nigeria 3. It’s the fifth group stage game of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and with only two minutes to go Nigeria has tied up the match.

I’ve grown up watching women score last-minute goals in big competitions. In 2011 Abby Wambach made it 2–2 against Brazil after playing 122 minutes of soccer in the World Cup quarter finals—and it’s a moment I still remember clear as day. The overtime goal led to a penalty shootout and an eventual win for the U.S. to advance to the semis. A year later, Alex Morgan repeated the feat in the Olympic semifinals to beat Canada and go on to the gold medal match. They’re heart-stopping moments. I still get chills watching replays, knowing full well what happens next.

The only feeling that outdoes it is scoring a last-minute winner myself—which I’ve done only once. I was injured, a strained muscle in my back limiting my range of motion, but managed to get a lucky touch between defenders and move through them just fast enough to send the ball skidding past the goalie. I had only a split second to turn around before the first of my teammates threw themselves bodily into my arms. As a team, we rarely celebrated goals beyond grins and high-fives, but this goal was special: the last play before the whistle blew, finally eking out a win against a rival team. I can’t imagine how it must feel to score a goal like that on the international stage.

But if all I can do is live vicariously through the players at the World Cup this summer, so be it. I’ll have plenty of opportunities for those hair-raising moments in all 52 matches. By the end of the competition, I’ll know if I made the cut for my club team this year, with one day of tryouts under my belt and another to come. So maybe I’ll have the chance to make some memories of my own in the fall. ♦