Rachel Buehler: One-to-One with U.S. Women's Nation Team Player
U.S. Soccer News: Soccer Star Rachel Buehler Helps Cancer Foundation
For most athletes, the term “all-around” means being able to handle all of the various duties on the field. For Rachel Buehler, star defender on the U.S. Women’s National Team, “all-around” includes a pre-med degree in human biology from Stanford University, an NCAA post-graduate scholarship for medical school and a position as Director at Kick-It-Away Platini Cancer Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping soccer coaches and players battling cancer.
Buehler, who played her club soccer at San Diego Surf, grew up in Del Mar and continues to call the seaside community her hometown, even while playing for the Boston Breakers in the WPS. As a teen she played for Torrey Pines High School and was named Defender of the Year in 2000, Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002, and a Parade Magazine All-American in 2002 and 2003. Moving on to college at Stanford, where 27 members of her family have attended including her heart surgeon father and her younger sister, Buehler made her marks on the pitch. During her five years as a Cardinal (she red-shirted her sophomore season) she was a three-year team captain, won academic athlete awards from the Pac-10, NSCAA and ESPN, and received the NCAA Top VIII Award as a senior.
During her sophomore year Buehler played with the U.S. U-19 Women’s National Team, following up on tours with the U-16 and U-17 teams. While still in high school she played on the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup champion team and in 2004 played on the third-place U.S. team, while earning 30 caps. She went on to play for the U-21 National Team, earning 17 caps at that level and helping lead her team to wins in the Nordic Cup in 2005 and 2007. Her debut for the U.S. Women’s National Team came in 2008 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, starting against China and playing the entire game. Buehler also played on the 2008 Women’s Olympic Team that took the gold medal in Beijing.
In addition to her time on the USWNT, Buehler has played for the past few years in the WPS. She was originally signed by FC Gold Pride in 2009, playing every minute of the 17 matches she started. In 2010 she started 22 matches and captained the team to the WPS title, also earning All-Star and WPS Best IX honors. In her two seasons with FC Gold Pride, before the team folded in 2010, Buehler had two goals and one assist while committing only 23 fouls over nearly 3500 minutes of game time. For 2011 she signed with the Boston Breakers, starting 10 games and scoring one goal.
SoccerNation caught up with Rachel Buehler at Surf College Cup, where she was representing Kick-It-Away.
SNN: Rachel, tell us what you are doing here at Surf College Cup.
Rachel Buehler: I’m here with Kick-It-Away Platini Cancer Foundation. Platini Soaf, the founder, is one of my favorite coaches of all time. I’ve known him since I was ten years old, and he’s like a family member to me. He was diagnosed with cancer last year, and that was very frightening for all of us. He experienced a lot of support from the soccer community during his struggle with cancer, and he wanted to give back.
SNN: Who were some of the clubs that came out to support him?
Rachel Buehler: Obviously there were the families from his current club, West Coast FC, who are probably the closest to him right now. Many of the girls he coached and families he knew from when he was with San Diego Surf also came out to support him.
SNN: And what is his prognosis?
Rachel Buehler: He is in remission now. He still has regular exams to make sure there are no changes, but he and his family are all doing extremely well. But as a result of what he experienced, he wanted to start a foundation to provide for other players and coaches who may be diagnosed with cancer. I’m now part of that organization, and we’re trying to raise money for people in the soccer community who have cancer and may be underinsured or uninsured. We want to help provide financial assistance for them.
The goal of the organization is to raise money for coaches and players who have been diagnosed with cancer and who need financial help with chemotherapy and any kind of other treatment. We’re also trying to look into helping with preventative treatments and testing.
SNN: Is this for any one particular type of cancer?
Rachel Buehler: This is for any type of cancer that people are diagnosed with. This is an opportunity for the soccer community to chip in and help each other.
SNN: How can people help?
Rachel Buehler: We have a website, kickitaway.org, and on it there are different items you can buy with our logo. All that money goes to the foundation. Here at Surf Cup we’re raffling off one of my jerseys signed by all the U.S. Women’s National Team players, and the proceeds of that raffle will go to Kick-It-Away. Then our next goal is to set up a 3v3 tournament, with all of the proceeds from that will going to Kick-It-Away. It’s definitely exciting
SNN: Have you gotten any corporate help so far?
Rachel Buehler: This is our first event, and Surf Cup has been very generous. They’ve donated this tent to us; they’ve given us the platform to reach out to people. We don't have any major corporate sponsorships quite yet, but we have had individuals donate their time and their knowledge.
SNN: This has been a bit of a homecoming for you because you played for Surf when you were young. What was it like then?
Rachel Buehler: Surf was the most amazing experience ever. It’s just such a wonderful club with top quality coaches.
SNN: Do you remember any of your coaches @ San Diego Surf Soccer Club?
Rachel Buehler: Yes, I remember all my coaches. I had Ada Greenwood and Colin Chesters for much of my career, and they were both amazing coaches. They really helped me develop as a player. Surf has gotten me to where I am today, so I can’t say “thank you” enough to Surf.
SNN: Do you remember playing at Surf Cup when you were a youth soccer player?
Rachel Buehler: Of course.
SNN: What was your best experience?
Rachel Buehler: Surf Cup was always one of my favorite tournaments. You can’t beat the whole environment here. It’s so beautiful and so much fun. I think one of my favorite experiences was one year when we won Surf Cup. I had just flown in from a youth National Team trip, and I played in a game as soon as I arrived. Then we had another game right after that. We ended up winning in the finals on a header. It was just so exciting. Surf Cup is an amazing experience for all the players.
SNN: You’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time. What would you say to all of the young soccer players who hope to be in your spot some day?
Rachel Buehler: I think it depends on exactly how dedicated you are to the game. If it’s what you really want to do, then you have to fully commit yourself to doing it – as with anything in life. I definitely spent a lot of hours kicking the ball against the wall and dribbling through cones, just doing the basics over and over and over again.
SNN: Often kids complain about doing the basics. How important do you think they are?
Rachel Buehler: I think the basics are the most important part of soccer. They’re the foundation which you build upon, and you can never practice them enough.
SNN: You have always been one of players with the fewest fouls, but you received a red card against Brazil in the Women’s World Cup. What was that like?
Rachel Buehler: I was up against Marta, and she flicked the ball over my head. We turned and we were both battling for the ball. I was reaching for the ball, really extended, and the referee called it. We were being physical, but I didn’t think it was worth a red card.
SNN: How did you feel when you got the red card?
Rachel Buehler: I was in shock. I turned around and wondered what was going on. I thought maybe it was a PK, and then I realized I had a red card. I never expected it. I actually asked my teammate, “Does that mean I have to leave the field?” I was in complete shock.
SNN: How did it feel not to be able to play the next game?
Rachel Buehler: It was definitely hard to not play, but at the same time I had complete confidence in my teammates. The team did amazing in the semifinals; we won the game and got to the finals, which was our goal.
SNN: What happened in the final game, from your point of view?
Rachel Buehler: I think Japan just did not give up. At the beginning of the game we dominated and showed very strong, with a lot of opportunities. But Japan just kept fighting. First they got one goal, and then they got another. They did an amazing job and they wanted it very badly. We wanted it very badly too, but that’s just how soccer is. It’s a crazy game.
SNN: What’s next for the team?
Rachel Buehler: The next big event we have will be Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver in January. We will face all the teams in our region to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.
SNN: How important is bonding to the strength of the Women’s National Team?
Rachel Buehler: I think the bonds that our team has are what allowed us to be as successful as we were in both the Olympics and the World Cup. That quarter final game against Brazil was just pure heart and teamwork. I was so inspired. I was watching that game from the stadium, and I was so inspired by my teammates. Just the way they came together against adversity and fought to the end. I think our unity is what has allowed us to be so successful
SNN: Are there any of the other players you are particularly close to?
Rachel Buehler: I’m really close with a lot of the girls, but Stephanie Cox and Heather O’Reilley are two of my very close friends. I also played in college with some of the girls; Nicole Barnhart and Kelley O’Hara went to Stanford with me, so I know them very well.
SNN: What do you think about your teammate Hope Solo on Dancing with the Stars?
Rachel Buehler: I think it was awesome that Hope was on. What an experience and what great exposure for women’s soccer for her to be on such a widely watched show. She worked very hard and I think she improved a great deal and did very well. I’m happy for Hope and proud of her.
SNN: Did you watch her on the show?
Rachel Buehler: Yes, as much as I could. I watched her a lot of the season.
SNN: Would you go on Dancing with the Stars?
Rachel Buehler: Yes, if I had the opportunity; that would be awesome. I don’t know if I’m the best dancer, but I would definitely have a lot of fun.
SNN: Finally, how do you think America ranks in men’s soccer against the rest of the world?
Rachel Buehler: I think America’s men’s program is definitely growing, and I think that’s really promising. I think the way the youth structure is changing, with the Academies for the boys, is going to improve soccer for the men in America.
About Platini Soaf, founder of Kick-It-Away Platini Cancer Foundation
Growing up in Morocco, soccer was Platini Soaf’s life and his passion. It was a passion that would take him through the ranks of player and coach at many levels and eventually bring him to the United States. In the early 1990s his journey brought him to San Diego where he became a coach for the Surf. During that tenure, one of his players was a young Rachel Buehler, the future USWNT defender.
Soaf’s career took him away from San Diego, including time coaching with teams in Germany, Costa Rica and Mexico, but eventually he returned to California as head coach with West Coast Futbol Club beginning in 2000. During that time he worked with the UCLA women’s soccer team and was named Region IV ODP G89 Regional Head Coach in 2006. Then in 2011 life threw a challenge at him when he was diagnosed with Hairy Cell Leukemia. His friends, family and the soccer community rallied to help him with the financial and emotional trials as he battled against cancer.
Vowing to “live life to the fullest” and give back to the community that helped him, Soaf established Kick-It-Away, a non-profit dedicated to providing support to members of the soccer community facing their own struggles against cancer. The organization’s goal is “to enable these sports professionals and athletes to receive life-saving medical treatment, regardless of their ability to pay.”