While international football has been suspended forever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some international tournaments will return this coming summer. With the CONCACAF Gold Cup from July 2nd to August 1st and the Summer Olympics from July 23rd to August 8th, four former soccer players from Virginia are ready to make important contributions to their respective nations.
Forward Daryl dike
Despite beginning his first year in Virginia as a reserve, U.S. men’s team striker Daryl Dike ended his 2018 season with five goals, an assist and an ACC All-Freshman Team award. The following year, Dike started all 23 games for the Cavaliers, leading the team to a national championship appearance and himself to an early exit to Major League Soccer.
Voted fifth overall in the 2020 Orlando City FC MLS Superdraft, Dike exploded into the professional football scene. He had an impressive rookie campaign, scoring eight goals and collecting four assists. Dike is no longer a reserve at the Cavaliers bench, not only has he opened the eyes of the USMNT, which he was appointed to in November, but also after securing a loan move to the English Championship with Barnsley FC in January is clear This dike is now an international commodity.
While his name wasn’t featured in the preliminary Olympic qualifiers announced on Tuesday, it could turn out to be a boon for Dike as USMNT coach Craig Berhalter may favor the 6-foot-2 forward for the Gold Cup. While the Olympics generally have younger and inexperienced players with a cutoff of 24 years, the Gold Cup will often highlight the best that the men’s national team has to offer. If selected for this summer’s Gold Cup squad, Dike hopes to cement his place among the elite U.S. center-forwards while playing alongside national team stars such as Christian Pulisic and Weston Mckennie.
Winger Derrick Etienne
Named the 27th Lookout by College Soccer News in 2015, Haitian national team midfielder Derrick Etienne began his college career in Virginia with great expectations. Although his time with the Cavaliers was short, Etienne received the ACC All-Freshman Team award and used his college experience as a stepping stone to signing his first professional contract in March 2015.
While Etiennes proved to be a roller coaster ride in American professional football for the next five years, when he changed teams five times, Etienne found consistency in international competition and steadily rose to the top of the Haitian national team. After he was cut by the New York Red Bulls in 2019, his outstanding game during the Gold Cup in summer 2020 earned him a contract with the Columbus Crew. With 21 appearances in the regular season, Etienne scored a crucial goal in the MLS Cup in December giving the Columbus Crew their second championship. This summer, the midfielder is hoping to expand his trophy case as the Haitian national team look to resume their iconic 2019 Gold Cup run, where they completed a Cinderella run to the semifinals.
Defense attorney Emily Sonnett
Emily Sonnett, originally recruited as a midfielder in midfield, rose to the challenge and moved to the center-back position in the 2012 season due to various injuries in the Cavaliers’ backline. Sonnett’s change of position was named 2015 ESPNW Football Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and it turned out to be a career-changing decision. Her consistent play on the Cavaliers’ backline not only brought her to a first overall selection in the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League Draft, but also to her first appearance in the senior national team.
Sonnett has been a consistent member of the USWNT since her debut on the U-18 national team in 2011. Since then, Sonnett has participated in the 2016 Olympic Games, the 2019 World Cup and several CONCACAF tournaments. On the club side, the former Cavalier has proven that her talents are independent of their surroundings and act as an anchor for clubs in the USA, Australia and Sweden. With the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, Sonnett certainly hopes to add another country to her list of global supremacy.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn
After USWNT captain and defender Becky Sauerbrunn was named Gatorade Player of the Year in 2003, she appeared as a freshman in Charlottesville and played and started in all 21 regular season games of the Cavaliers. In her next three years at Virginia, Sauerbrunn was the measure of consistency, making 69 appearances and leading the roster to several expanded campaigns in the NCAA tournament. But even before she won the Cavaliers without conceding a goal, the 14-year-old Sauerbrunn had already caught the attention of the national team.
Now, at 35, Sauerbrunn has spent more of her life in the US football system than outside of it. Although she did not appear for the first time in the senior national team until she was 23, Sauerbrunn gained over 10 years of crucial experience as a teenager and competed annually with the best that the USA had to offer in the field of youth football for women. She even missed her entire second season in Charlottesville to prepare for and take part in the 2004 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in Thailand.
Far from her days in Charlottesville, Sauerbrunn will again represent the United States on the international stage as captain of the USWNT this summer. Sauerbrunn is a member of the national team for three consecutive World Championships and two Olympic Games in a row and will command the backline as she continues to make history as the 14th USWNT player with the highest number of countries.
With the opportunity to represent their respective countries on the international stage this summer, July and August cannot come early enough for these four former cavaliers. At the same time, four months may prove to be too short as the Gold Cup and Olympic Committees scramble to prepare for these events in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As with many sporting events over the past year and a half, planners for these events need to balance the safety of athletes in the face of the uncertainty of the virus in order for the Gold Cup and Summer Olympics to go smoothly. Given the strict schedule for these events, both competitions may have to accept a cancellation if games cannot be safely performed and need to be postponed. Likewise, any organization must anticipate the possibility of community dissemination and the setting of host communities to involve thousands of people from around the world.
While the Olympics are currently scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan, the host city of the Gold Cup has yet to be announced. In both competitions, where athletes from around the world are invited to stay in these designated cities for extended periods of time, citizens of these host countries may be wary of possible super-spreader scenarios. According to a poll by the Japanese broadcaster NHK, almost 80 percent of Japanese citizens surveyed believed that the Olympic Games should be postponed or canceled altogether.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding these international soccer competitions this summer, from the NBA bubble to the Australian Open, the sport has found a way to prevail during this pandemic, albeit under somewhat special circumstances. As a result, the question for organizers of the Gold Cup and the Summer Olympics may not be so much what precautions they will take, but rather how strictly and to what extent those precautions will be enforced. For Dike, Etienne, Sonnett and Sauerbrunn, more precautionary measures can mean less freedom. However, these sacrifices may be necessary if the former cavaliers are to return to the top tier of football.