Rachel Buehler, USWNT vs. China
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Full Circle: Thorns defender Rachel Buehler is set up for her 100th international cap at the Algarve Cup

Thorns FC defender Rachel Buehler made her debut for the U.S. Women’s National Team on March 5, 2008 – starting and playing the full 90 minutes in a 4-0 win against China PR at the annual Algarve Cup in Portugal. The culmination of a journey through the youth national team system, beginning with the U-17 Women’s National Team and working all the way up the ladder to the senior team, Buehler is now at the precipice of a remarkable milestone.

Only five years removed from her first international appearance for the United States, Buehler is set to earn her 100th cap for the USA in her next match – which could possibly come as soon as March 6 at the Algarve Cup.

“I’ve been involved in the system for such a long time and U.S. Soccer has really been a part of me and my development and all the coaches that influenced me through the program,” the Thorns FC defender said. “It’s been a great journey and something I feel very fortunate to be a part of for such a long time. I think at all the different levels I’ve learned so much and grown so much as a player and as a person. It’s just pretty cool to have that history and think about that. I can’t believe I’m almost at 100 games. It’s a special feeling and to have been able to play for my country in so many games – not even including my youth games – it’s just an honor.”

Buehler was included in U.S. WNT head coach Tom Sermanni’s roster for the Algarve Cup from March 6-13 and is poised to become the 29th player in U.S. WNT history to reach the century mark in international appearances.

“My first cap was at the Algarve Cup in 2008 and it’s kind of fitting that my 100th cap will be in the Algarve Cup,” Buehler said. “It’s interesting how it falls that way and makes me feel a little nostalgic looking back on the other Algarve tournaments. I really like the Algarve Cup because it’s just very pure soccer, there aren’t a lot of fans there so it’s a different environment. It reminds me of playing as a kid almost because it’s a little more low key.”

Thorns FC head coach Cindy Parlow Cone made 175 appearances for the United States from 1996-2004 and certainly can relate to the magnitude of Buehler’s forthcoming achievement for the national team.

“Being able to represent your country once is a huge honor, and to be able to do it 100 times is incredible,” said Cone. “I am so happy that Rachel has the chance to achieve her 100th cap in Portugal.  I remember my 100th cap like it was yesterday.  It was such a proud moment for my family, my teammates, my fans and me.”

Following a standout career at Stanford University, the Del Mar, Calif., native wasn’t sure where her soccer career was headed with no professional league in the United States and the uncertainty of whether or not she would be a part of the national team picture under head coach Pia Sundhage, who took over in Nov. 2007. Sundhage eventually gave Buehler her first cap and she quickly became one of the team’s most steadfast defenders – starting 68 of her 72 appearances since 2010.

“I was getting ready to go to medical school and wasn’t sure what was going to happen with soccer because there was no professional league at that point, but everything came together at the right time and Pia (Sundhage) brought me in and kept bringing me in and all of a sudden I was going to the Olympics (in 2008),” Buehler said. “That was something that was pretty unexpected for me. I had always dreamed about it, but didn’t know if it was going to happen.”

Regarded as a fearless defender that doesn’t hesitate when going in for a tackle, Buehler earned the colorful moniker “Buehldozer” and it stuck.

“I don’t know exactly where it came from. It might’ve been ‘Heif’ (U.S. WNT Press Office Aaron Heifetz), but then we played Germany in Germany and somehow the German announcers got a hold of it and said ‘Buehldozer’ in a German accent and after that my teammates were cracking up about it and that’s when it became more of a real nickname. Then it really stuck.”

Nicknames aside, Cone knows that she’s inherited a premium defender who will help marshal the back line for Thorns FC during the 2013 National Women’s Soccer League season.

“Rachel is a very tactical player,” Cone said. “She’s a great leader and will help us keep our back line organized.  On the attacking side, she plays very simple and will help us build out of the back. Every team needs a player that has the tackling ability that she has.  She’s a very difficult defender to beat.”