PORTLAND, Ore. – Out of the corner of her eye, Adrianna Franch spied the ball soaring into her box.
The young goalkeeper began shifting her body in the direction of the ball when she noticed one of her opponents flying towards it at full speed. For a fraction of a second, she stood and watched as her opponent connected head with ball. Then, as if by instinct, Franch threw her entire body in the direction of the headed ball.
When she rose up off the ground and felt the ball between her hands, Franch felt more powerful than she ever had playing goalkeeper. It was then that she realized that maybe she could actually be good at this game.
Sports always came naturally to Thorns FC goalkeeper Adrianna Franch – or AD as she likes to be called – as she grew up in Kansas. Whether it was volleyball or basketball, t-ball or soccer, as far back as she can remember she was always playing some sport or other.
But were it not for an early growth spurt, Franch might never have found her place between the sticks.
“I grew into my body a little bit, so I was able to kick it further than everybody at the time,” Franch says of her first few years playing soccer. “I was a field player [at first] and I didn't really want to play goalkeeper, but then I had to play goalkeeper because I was the biggest kid and I played basketball so I had decent hands.”
Life in goal, however, was dreadfully dull for the restless Franch. In one game, bored from inaction at her end of the field, Franch sat down in goal. When the referee came over to check on the prone goalkeeper – whom he assumed was injured – Franch assured him that she was fine.
“Then I'm going to need you stand up!” the referee barked.
It wasn't until that momentous first diving save that Franch finally felt like she had found her true calling.
Years later, though, when it came time for Franch to choose between soccer and her other love, basketball, the high-schooler struggled with indecision. Finally, the senior sought the advice of her mother, Raqual, whom she knew would help her make the right decision.
“Which one can you not live without?” her mother asked.
The choice, Franch now says, was easy: soccer.
But only two days after committing to Oklahoma State University women's soccer, Franch suffered a major knee injury on the pick-up basketball court that left the Salina, Kan. native reeling.
How was she going to tell her new coach about the injury? Would the school rescind her athletic scholarship? Would she ever recover the athleticism that had made her such a tenacious and sought-after goalkeeping prospect?
“I was 17, 18 years-old,” Franch recalls. “It was like life is over.”
In the darkest moment of her young career, Franch received a helping hand from her Oklahoma State coach, Colin Carmichael, who told her that she would still have a place in his team after she rehabilitated from her injury.
Relieved and buoyed by Carmichael's confidence, Franch vowed to come back from her injury stronger than ever.
“You have to tell yourself not to be afraid and get through those mental blocks,” Franch says. “And that comes from the people around you making you do certain things that you might not push yourself [to do] and at the same time having your own personal belief to push yourself.”
Franch repaid her coach's faith with four years of outstanding performances for the Cowgirls, registering a program record 38 shutouts, leading the team to the NCAA tournament three times, and earning national recognition as a two-time MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist.
However, after an outstanding rookie season with the Western New York Flash in 2013, Franch suffered the second injury setback of her career, tearing her ACL during the first week of the 2014 preseason. This time, though, Franch was mentally prepared for the challenge of rehab.
After sitting out the entire 2014 season, a newly rehabilitated Franch traveled to Norway in 2015 to play for Avaldsnes IL. That opportunity, she says, was one that she couldn't pass up.
“I was 24 years-old,” she explains. “To be able to travel – that was just a life experience as well...There were things that I did [in Norway] that I wasn't able to do in Kansas.
“I think that was where I needed to be at that time.”
Now back in the U.S. with the Thorns, Franch is ready to prove that she can once again be the goalkeeper that helped guide the Flash to the 2013 NWSL final and who led the league in both saves and goals against average.
In her first two starts with the Thorns, Franch helped shutout the Boston Breakers and Washington Spirit respectively, marking the beginning of what she hopes will be an auspicious return to form.
For now, though, Franch is simply ready to have fun playing soccer again.
“I think the roller coaster ride is what I've really fallen in love with,” she says. “If it goes in the back of the net then you're down, but if you make that epic save you're up. But being able to have your teammates' backs with that, that's really the enjoyment that I get out of it.”