Danielle Foxhoven waiting to strike
It hardly seemed fair. Danielle Foxhoven's feet already hurt more than enough to make her sufficiently miserable as she navigated the pitch in cleats at least a size too small. If the lingering Russian winter insisted on supplying the sleet otherwise chilling her to the bone at that particular moment, it could at least numb her aching feet in the bargain.
Instead, each frozen step proved doubly painful. That didn't even take into account the coach whose rebukes she couldn't understand but who she was sure liked her only slightly more than the unreformed Grinch liked Cindy Lou Who.
Then came a shot by a teammate from well outside the 18-yard box. As Foxhoven recalled the sequence, the goalkeeper parried it away, but not out of harm's way. Lurking in the vicinity of the penalty spot, the American's foot found the loose ball and sent it into the exposed goal, a goal scorer's instincts pushing all other thoughts temporarily aside.
It was Foxhoven's first goal for FC Energy Voronezh, and it held up as the winner in the Russian league game.
And people think being the third forward on a team with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair is a challenge?
These days Foxhoven is the other forward for Portland Thorns FC, the team that emerged from the new league's allocation process with two of the biggest stars the sport has to offer in Morgan and Sinclair. Foxhoven is the other local product who starred at the University of Portland, where Sinclair won a pair of national championships. She is the other young American who piled up goals in college, as Morgan did at Cal before emerging as a global star.
She is also making her own mark. Playing mostly as a second-half substitute, she has scored three goals in not even half as many minutes as the stars. Two of her goals were game winners.
"She sees the game a little differently than other people," Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. "She's very technical, and as we've seen in our season and also from her in college, she has a nose for the goal. She understands how to finish. She's one of the rare people in the women's game who don't just shoot; they're looking to finish."
She is also glad to be back in Portland.
Culture shock in Russia
The fourth-leading goal scorer in University of Portland history, no small feat when the only names ahead of you are Sinclair, Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan, Foxhoven was weeks away from reporting to the Philadelphia team that drafted her in Women's Professional Soccer last year when the league folded in late January. She knew she needed experience if she wanted to wait out any future domestic league, not to mention needing a job in the present if she wanted to consider herself a professional soccer player. She knew, too, that opportunities in European leagues would be at a premium with so many suddenly unemployed veteran players flooding the market.
Tasked with finding her a place to play somewhere, anywhere, her agent came back with Russia -- specifically Voronezh, a city of not quite a million people that sits more than 300 miles south of Moscow, where the country narrows between Ukraine to the west and Kazakhstan to the east. In other words, a long way from the Willamette Valley.
"I felt like I was in no place to turn anything down," Foxhoven said. "And I was excited about going to see a new place."
She made a long flight to Turkey by herself in February, a somewhat surreal experience for someone only a few months removed from road trips to places like Malibu, Calif., and Spokane, Wash., and joined her new team for a training camp in that country. It seemed initially like a pretty good life, the team billeted in a posh hotel by the beach for a couple of weeks.
Which only made the culture shock that much worse when they landed in Moscow in a snowstorm on the return trip, drove long hours south to Vorenezh and pulled up by the concrete-walled living quarters shared by the players.
Welcome to Russian professional soccer.
She didn't have a phone. She had to go into town to even send email. This was a crash course in self-reliance.
"They gave us Internet and they paid for it," Foxhoven said with a chuckle that betrayed the impending punch line. "Which means they didn't pay for it, and we never got it."
A Swedish teammate who spoke English became a close friend. She and a Brazilian teammate met somewhere between their native English and Portuguese and forged a friendship in Spanish. And she played soccer. Or she tried.
Her Russian teammates eventually warmed to her -- the goals helped break the ice, figuratively if not literally. The coach? Not so much.
No college program is more committed to playing soccer, with all that phrase implies, than Portland. But Foxhoven found a Russian game built on long balls and direct play and a coach who loathed any pass that didn't go forward.
"Soccer was easy because you communicate through the sport," Foxhoven said of the adjustment. "Getting the coaching points and stuff, that was definitely the hardest part for me. And my coach wasn't very good at understanding that I couldn't understand what he was saying. He was definitely a yeller. I think that he really liked me as a player because he knew that I could offer his team a lot, but I don't really think that he liked me."
When her six months were up, she took the scenic route home and crossed Europe by train. She ended up in England in time for the Olympics to watch friend and former college teammate Sophie Schmidt play for Canada in an the epic Olympic semifinal between future teammates Morgan and Sinclair.
Choosing a challenge in Portland
The opportunity to sign with the Thorns was too good to pass up, in part because it put the Colorado native back amid friends and family (her brother Zack plays for the Portland Timbers' youth team) in the city she considers a second, if not increasingly a first, home. But it was also an opportunity precisely for the reason that it would also be a challenge for any forward.
Sometimes the only thing that can get you through a hard experience is passing time. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't make it go any faster or anything; you can only change your attitude about the situation because time won't go any faster.Danielle Foxhoven
"I knew going into the season that the probability of me playing, or especially starting, was pretty small just because of the names that we had coming in," Foxhoven said. "I was excited to be a part of a team that had those two players on it. ... I never got the opportunity to play with [Sinclair] at UP, and she's been my idol for a really long time. I wanted that opportunity to be able to learn and play underneath them.
"I will say that it has been hard because I feel like I've done well and gotten a lot of really good feedback from the coaches and from fans. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm just happy to play as much as I can."
Parlow Cone suggested that what separates Foxhoven as a substitute is her ability to quickly find the game, rather than forcing the issue and trying to do too much. It fits a personality that chose the University of Portland even when she knew it would mean comparisons to Sinclair, Milbrett, MacMillan, Megan Rapinoe and all the stars who preceded her. A personality that wouldn't think twice about going to Russia. Former Pilots standout and current Thorns teammate Angela Kerr never played with Foxhoven in college, but the two long ago forged a friendship. Kerr describes an easygoing person who worries less about suffering expectations than gaining experience.
"She's always been realistic with herself going into different situations, where she doesn't put so much pressure on herself," Kerr said. "She actually chose to be in Portland, knowing she was going to be behind Morgan and Sinclair. She took that as more of a learning experience, being able to play behind two of the best forwards in the world."
It would make sense if Foxhoven kept as few reminders as possible of her Russian misadventure. She is eager to give Europe another go, but she felt taken advantage of in Russia and learned her lesson about being at least a little picky. So it's surprising to look at a photograph of the inside of her left forearm and see eight letters of Cyrillic script tattooed there. The ink work is a recent addition. The letters spell out the Russian word for patience.
"I think that I learned a lot of patience when I was in Russia," Foxhoven said. "Sometimes the only thing that can get you through a hard experience is passing time. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't make it go any faster or anything; you can only change your attitude about the situation because time won't go any faster.
"I think that in any circumstance in my life now, that's the attitude that I have or want to have. And I sometimes have to remind myself."
Being the third forward for Thorns FC beats most soccer experiences. She knows it's a good gig, one important to the team's success in the present and beneficial for her own future. A bad gig is one that leaves you wincing with each step on a frozen field far from home. Still, she doesn't plan to be the other forward forever.
She'll wait for her chance, patiently. Goal scorers know what to do when they get one.