As she makes a name for herself in the international arena, Duke junior Natasha Anasi looks to bring her leadership and skills back to her team.
In her second international soccer tournament of the year, Anasi helped the U.S. Under-23 women’s national team to another title in Stjordalen, Norway. She registered her first international assist in a friendly against Norway, and helped defeat Sweden as well.
Although Anasi played every minute of her previous three games with the U-23 team this spring, she did not start in the United States’ first match against Sweden June 15. Tied 1-1 at the half, however, U.S. head coach Randy Waldrum elected to reinsert the Blue Devil center into his second-half lineup.
“It ended up being helpful to me because I was able to sit there and evaluate the game and see what I needed to bring onto the field to change the game,” Anasi said. “I noticed that we needed to be a little stricter in the back and that we needed more communication from the center backs.”
The decision paid off as the U.S. held, preserving the draw.
“She came in, played well with the team,” said Adrianna Franch, U-23 teammate and Oklahoma State goalkeeper. “Being that right-center back, you could hear a little bit of her voice out there, helping direct people…. She’s also a leader out there even though she’s not as loud off the field.”
Anasi’s performance earned her two more starts—in the tournament-clinching 4-1 win over Norway June 17 and in an additional 4-2 friendly loss against Norway June 19.
Although the U.S. had fallen behind 4-0 in the first 15 minutes of its friendly, Anasi sparked a near comeback when she recovered a poor clearance by Norway and then played a cross to North Carolina defender Amber Brooks for a 35th-minute diving-header goal. The assist marked Anasi’s first point for the youth national team and was followed by another U.S. goal two minutes later.
By finishing her final U-23 competition of the summer on a personal high note, Anasi puts herself in position to catch the attention of the national team and its head coach Pia Sundhage.
While the U.S. soccer youth national system presents the U.S.’s top players with an opportunity to represent their country, it also serves as a training ground for the “full squad” as the players call it.
“All of these girls are going to college [and] working hard. They want to pursue soccer as a career and get to the next level and pursue a World Cup,” Franch said. “The U-23 is just a stepping stone for all the girls there.”
Even though the U-20 group is the oldest youth division with a world championship, the U-23 team has taken on the role of providing collegiate and recently graduated national team hopefuls with top-tier training and an international pool of competition.
“Before, our year was seen more as a filler year just to keep the players playing… but now there’s more interaction in between the teams in that our coach talks to Pia [Sundhage],” Anasi said. “If there’s anything that comes up, or they need players, Pia is going to come to him and pick players from our pool.”
While Waldrum and his staff hold team camps throughout the year to evaluate the talent of their pool, international competitions provide them with a better opportunity to see how their players perform, Anasi said.
In addition to helping U.S. soccer monitor the development of its top prospects, the U-23 team—with its mix of collegiate and professional players—provides younger athletes with a unique learning experience on continuing their soccer careers after graduation. Anasi had the chance to hear from internationally-experienced teammates such as Sarah Hagen from Bayern Munich and Ingrid Wells and Gabriella Toulouse, who play in Sweden.
“Hearing how successful they’ve been and how they enjoy it so much made it a little more exciting and added a little bit more appeal to the idea of playing after college,” Anasi said.
Anasi will also be able to take advantage of her U-23 experiences back in Koskinen Stadium. Not only did she benefit from the training and the learning opportunities, but Anasi also had the chance to play with a different group in the 4-3-3, the same formation she plays in for Duke.
With forwards Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb likely missing several games early in the season due to their own U.S. soccer commitments, the Blue Devils will rely even more on Anasi’s vocal leadership from the back line.
“I’m excited because I’m going to try to use what I’ve learned and pass it on to the rest of the players. And not only that, but I think I’ve grown as a player. I’ve learned different ways of communicating and placing myself on the field,” Anasi said. “Having the loss of Mollie and Kelly, we’re really going to need to be tight and strict in our formation, and I think that having this trip, I was able to evaluate those kinds of things, and hopefully I will be able to communicate those things to the rest of the team.”