Editor’s Note: The term “stalwart” is often bandied about in soccer but in the case of Thorns FC defender Emily Menges, it’s especially descriptive. Menges, drafted by the Thorns out of Georgetown in 2014, has been a lock on the backline ever since and is among the club leaders for all time games played (third) and minutes (third). Calm in defense and a leader on the pitch, Menges was an NWSL Best XI selection in 2016 along with being named 2016 Supporters Player of the Year and team MVP. She was named to the 2017 NWSL Second XI earlier this week.
With Saturday’s 2017 NWSL Championship game against the North Carolina Courage on the horizon (1:30pm PT, Lifetime), we asked Menges to give us her thoughts on the character of her team, what this match and club mean to her and how she’s keeping balanced heading into the final.
Togetherness is one thing that we talk a lot about. Even when it's not been the most natural, the idea has been drilled into us: stay together, stay together. That's first. That's the most important thing. Be together. Play together. Defend together. Attack together. Everything. So I think that's one of our key points that we always try to focus back in on.
Passion too. Passion is probably the next most important characteristic of this team. At the beginning of the season, we talk about how each part–the individual, the team, and the communityare crucial to our success. And passion has to be present in all three. And we're lucky to have this passionate environment; it's not everywhere else. I think we're driven by the community’s energy. We bring our own inspiration as well. Everyone has individually gotten to this point because they've been passionate about this sport our whole lives. That is something we have that is special and unique to this league–the whole package. The individuals, the team, and the city and community, not just behind us, but fighting with us.
That is what this club has given me, and ultimately what I will take away when my time is up. It has provided me the opportunity to play the game I love professionally in the best club in the world with the most support I could ever imagine. That’s one thing: it's an opportunity. But it's also a second family. Any team that you're ever on is a second family, but this club, again, it's more. The perspective of “group effort” has never been more present.
I keep thinking that last point leading up to the final. This whole season, but specifically this final game will be a group effort, a team effort, club effort, city effort. And not one element has let down thus far.
From the final whistle last year, we’ve all had this nagging feeling of unfinished business. No one wants to think about the semi last year, some players including myself haven’t even watched it back, but that feeling of defeat and sadness has not hindered our spirit, but fueled us this entire year. I know that inspiration will continue leading into this weekend, especially considering the team we are playing.
Leading up to final, I’m keeping it as normal as possible. There's no use–especially for me–getting myself all worked up now and early on. The excitement will come, obviously. It will be there. I try to suppress it each day. Now even. Just hold it at bay and act like it's another normal training week. Eat the same, sleep the same, act the same. And then, the morning of the game, it'll be a fruitless attempt to suppress the excitement, but at that point I can let it go. It’ll hit all of us. This is it. This is what’s at stake.