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From astronaut to USWNT, Red Stars’ Tierna Davidson has always dreamed big

Bridgeview, IL - Saturday April 20, 2019: 2019 NWSL regular season home opener between the Chicago Red Stars and the Portland Thorns FC at SeatGeek Stadium. (Contributed photo/ISI Photos)

Tierna Davidson’s dream was to be an astronaut.

Not in the adorable way children do when they’re first told they can do anything they want with their lives, but in a real way. She intended to take flying lessons and attend military school until her sophomore year of high school, when she committed to play soccer at Stanford.

As it turns out, soccer wasn’t a bad backup plan.

“My mom still has the essays that you write when you’re 8 or whatever years old saying, ‘I want to be an astronaut, and I want to go to these schools because I think that I will be able to become one if I go there,’ ” Davidson said.

Davidson, who was drafted first overall by the Red Stars in January, is the youngest member of the U.S. women’s national team that will compete in the World Cup this summer.

If you had asked the 20-year-old when she was making her way through club soccer if she would eventually play for one of the best teams in the world, Davidson would have answered no.

She envisioned attending the Naval Academy or West Point and playing soccer while studying to make it to space one day.

“I went and met the coach at Army, and I was thinking about it and wasn’t sure if this was for me,” Davidson said. “But I thought this was a good level where I could get good playing time and also pursue what I want to pursue.”

It wasn’t easy finding women’s soccer on national television, but Davidson didn’t have to worry about that. She had two superstars nearby. Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press played at Stanford, which was less than 10 minutes from Davidson’s hometown of Menlo Park, California.

Davidson’s father, Greg, attended Stanford, and they would get to as many games as they could. O’Hara and Press quickly became two of Davidson’s role models.

Davidson was a rising star of her own, but if you would have asked her what her future held, her response would not have been a Cardinal jersey with her name on it.

“When I first switched to club soccer, I technically wasn’t very proficient,” Davidson said. “I was athletic and I liked to play and I could kick a ball and I was left-footed, but I didn’t really rein it in.”

Davidson began playing soccer at 2 years old. It wasn’t organized, but she was kicking a ball with her older brother, Rory. She graduated to youth league, then middle school and eventually to one of Northern California’s premier club teams, De Anza Force.

Davidson describes her youth years as being bumpy. She played left forward because, well, she’s left-footed. It was an obvious place to put a youngster who had Davidson’s power with her left foot, but it didn’t feel natural to her. It wasn’t until she was a high school freshman that she switched to center mid and hit her stride.

“My club coach told me, ‘I really think you should look at Stanford,’ ” Davidson said. “I remember thinking he was crazy and that I wouldn’t get any playing time there. I didn’t even consider it as an option. He told me they had a really good engineering program and was really pushing that whole shtick with me, so I said, ‘Fine, I’ll email them.’

“Obviously, they could come to a lot of our games because we are a Northern Cal-based team. They would just kind of pop over. Then one day I got a text from my coach that said, ‘They want to meet you.’ I was like, this is not real life!”

Stanford made an offer, and Davidson committed in March of her sophomore year.

Davidson’s career was nothing short of stellar. She started every game her freshman season, helped lead Stanford to an NCAA championship as a sophomore and was named the College Cup Most Outstanding Player in 2017. She also was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore.

She decided to leave college a year early and declare for the NWSL Draft. Her decision also gave her the chance to be selected to play for U.S. coach Jill Ellis and with some of her childhood role models on the national team.

“When we made the trade the year before [to acquire the No. 1 pick from the expansion Utah Royals], there were rumors that she might [leave college early],” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said. “So we were hopeful. There were two other really good players in the draft that we rated for that pick, as well, but I think we always held out hope that it would be ‘T.’ When we found out she was coming, we were ecstatic because we knew how fortunate we were to be getting that kind of a player at that age and the long-term value she can add to the club.”

Davidson signed with the Red Stars in March, and on April 25, she received the call she had been waiting for since she let go of her dream to become an astronaut. Ellis was on the other end letting Davidson know she would be playing in her first World Cup.

Most of her peers were planning their 21st birthday parties, prepping for finals or trying to figure out which internship to take. Davidson was preparing to play on soccer’s biggest stage.

Her entire career, Davidson has walked a fine line between humility and confidence, but the days of not believing she has what it takes are long gone.

“You have to have the humility to get better, but also the confidence to be able to play well,” Davidson said. “I just hope that there are younger girls out there that have more confidence. As a society, we have to instill more confidence in younger players. There just aren’t that many professional athletes out there that are female. That’s part of it, but that’s changing.”