Twenty-year-old Julie Johnston will captain the USA in the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. She is an important player on the U.S. team in setting the attacking rhythm but is equally adept at making sure the opponents don’t find a rhythm of their own. ussoccer.com sat down with the Mesa, Ariz., native after the USA’s arrival in Japan to ask her 11 Questions, ranging from the honor of wearing the armband to the team’s pre-World Cup preparations and why she cannot live without chocolate – any kind of chocolate.
ussoccer.com: You were recently named captain for the Women’s World Cup. What does that honor mean to you?
Julie Johnston: “It’s huge. I think the fact that our teammates chose who they wanted to be captain makes it emotional but at the same time a huge honor. I feel like my responsibilities are to obviously lead the team, but also give players an extra confidence boost and make sure we’re always on the right track. Our ultimate goal is to win and I’m there to clean up any details and help this team not let in any goals.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve played both defensive midfielder and center back for the U-20s this year. What has been the biggest adjustment for you?
Johnston: “It’s been my leadership role. I felt like a leader in the midfield, but being in the back I can see more of the field. I played center back with the U-18s so it wasn’t completely out of my comfort zone. It’s something that the coaches asked me to do, and we talk a lot about interchangeable parts on this team, and if it’s something that is going to help the team, then that’s what I need to do.”
ussoccer.com: It seems you all have had an excellent preparation schedule. Can you talk about the value of getting to play 13 international matches
this year before the World Cup?
Johnston: “It’s been great preparation. It gives us confidence and also a sense of comfort just because we understand that international play is much different than anything we see back in the States. We’ll be seeing some of those teams we played here, so we know what to expect. We also know that like us, they’ve had some time to change some things a bit. I think being able to play that many full internationals has taught us a lot individually and as a team, and the more we play together the better we get.”
ussoccer.com: The team played two friendly matches in Japan in June against one of the favorites to win this tournament in the Japanese U-20s. How much
did that help you prepare for coming over for the World Cup?
Johnston: “For me personally, that was the best international experience that we’ve had. Japan is tactically and technically different than any team we’ve played and also because we’ve played in the country that is hosting the World Cup, it gave us great insight into the environment we are heading into as far as travel, stadiums, food and the culture.”
ussoccer.com: In 2010, the USA tied 1-1 with Ghana to open that U-20 Women’s World Cup tournament. What are your thoughts on facing Ghana in the first
Johnston: “It’s not so much that I’m nervous, I’m just excited to get the games started. We are starting the same path as the last 20s, but we want to finish differently of course. Knowing that they tied Ghana last time around, and that we haven’t played them, it just re-empathizes how we have to respect every opponent. We always talk about one game at a time and Aug. 20 is that next game.”
ussoccer.com: How would you describe the spirit of this U-20 team?
Johnston: “I’d say this team is very driven. Every individual on this team has the same goals, the same aspirations and it’s pretty amazing when you play with 20 other players who ultimately will do anything for each other. Everyone gets along and it’s a big family, but at the same time everyone is so different, not just personality-wise but on the field, as well. Everyone is so excited to represent their country and that pride and patriotism is just flowing through us.”
ussoccer.com: Who is a player you admire on the full Women’s National Team?
Johnston: “Definitely from this past Olympics, it would have to be Christie Rampone. I think what my coaches want from me is similar to what she gives the full team: her leadership qualities, her presence in the back line and her competitive attitude about not giving up any goals. I think being selected to be captain of this team, those are the three things that my team and coaches are looking for me.”
ussoccer.com: You seem to like to shoot from distance and scored a cracker at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Is that something you work on a lot?
Johnston: “I try to practice everything. I have to practice everything. I’m a defender here and midfielder at school. The funny thing is that the day before the game we had a light practice and I was trying to over-hit and crush everything. (U.S. head coach) Steve (Swanson) told me to relax and just get my knee over the ball, and before that goal, when the ball came to me, I was so relaxed.”
ussoccer.com: Can you talk about the experience of getting to travel the world at such a young age?
Johnston: “I think it’s pretty remarkable just to visit and understand other cultures, but I think soccer-wise it’s made me understand the game more. When we play international matches, I learn a lot more about the game that way. You can learn by practicing and watching, but when you’re right in the thick of things, that is the best way to learn.”
ussoccer.com: Top three favorite chocolate desserts, in order…go:
Johnston: “One, chocolate chip cookies. Two, brownies. Three, any chocolate candy bar.”
ussoccer.com: You are from Mesa, Ariz., so what is your favorite desert wildlife?
Johnston: “Well, rattlesnakes are scary. Coyotes eat your dog. Scorpions just aren’t friendly. So by the process of elimination, I guess it has to be those little lizards. They are pretty nice. But I think they’ve gotten faster because I can’t catch them anymore.”