Portland Thorns FC defender Emily Menges was one of the most consistent players for her team in 2016, playing every minute of every game over the course of the 2016 NWSL regular season and anchoring a back line that allowed the fewest goals in the league—19 in 20 matches.
So it should have been no surprise when U.S. Women's National Team head coach Jill Ellis called Menges into U.S. Women's National Team camp earlier this month to replace the injured Meghan Klingenberg.
But that's not how it felt to Menges.
“I think it has kind of been on my radar that [a call-up] could be a possibility at some point,” she said, “but I definitely didn't think that it was going to be this soon.”
Pinning down the emotions that swirled through her mind in that moment is still difficult for Menges, even after having been to camp and back.
“I was really excited and yeah, I guess excited, that's what it is,” she said. “I mean, kind of nervous [too] because I was in my off-season.”
Surprised. Excited. Nervous.
Add to that list of emotions “scary” and “intimidating” and you have the conflicting set of emotions that came flooding back to Menges the moment that she finally arrived at camp.
“I saw Allie right away and she's hilarious,” remembered Menges. “She kind of made it a little less scary, but it's an adjustment.”
It would take Menges several days to start adjusting to this new environment, one that she says is more competitive than any she's ever played in – “every single second of every single practice is super competitive” – and also one that immediately showed many of the areas in which she can improve her game.
“[T]here's not really an environment that you can put yourself in beforehand to prepare you for it,” Menges said. “Because the only thing that's going to make the adjustment easier is playing with [the national team players].”
By Saturday, however, Menges had grown more confident, feeling as though she were capable of making more incisive passes and adjusting her game enough to defend against some of the most driven, athletic, and technically talented attacking players in the world.
The USWNT beat Romania twice in friendlies during the October camp and while Menges did not appear in either match, the overall experience has provided her with a benchmark by which to measure herself and her progress. She knows now just what it will take to become a U.S. Women's National Team regular.
“It's given me the tools I need as a player and I'm going to have to keep training and, like I said, I now know what the biggest things [are] that I have to work on to be a better player to be at the level they all play at,” she said. “I don't know if the week made me a better player, but I think it gave me the insight on how to become a better player.”
The reigning team MVP and 2016 NWSL Best XI selection said that she has already compiled a list of skills she wants to work on this offseason, and while she's certainly hoping to be back at a future national team camp, for now she's set her sights on a single target.
“I just want to prepare myself as best as I can to win an NWSL championship,” she said. “That's my biggest goal right now.”