Sept. 15, 2003
By Jon Cooper
Never did the expression "It's always darkest before the dawn" have a truer ring than for Kylie Bivens on the evening of Aug. 24.
Bivens and her Atlanta Beat teammates had just suffered a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat to the Washington Freedom in Founders Cup III. Adding insult to injury, Bivens was the last defender in sight as Washington's Abby Wambach buried the championship-winning goal in overtime.
But what began as a bitter night ended bittersweet, as the 24-year-old Claremont, Calif., native received a call from U.S. National Team Coach April Heinrichs, telling her that she'd been named to the U.S. World Cup roster.
"It took a little of the sting away," said Bivens, the second player selected by the Beat in the 2001 Draft - after Sun Wen. "Still that loss was so hard to swallow. I was, obviously, pleasantly surprised.
"I don't really think I put [The Founders Cup loss] behind me," she continued. "But I got to keep playing. I didn't have to end my soccer season on that game. Not getting to play another game until next season, that would have been hard."
So instead of going home, Bivens eagerly awaits her opportunity to take her place on the field alongside the likes of legends Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Tiffeny Milbrett, Kristine Lilly and Beat teammate Briana Scurry. She admitted that she's fed off the enthusiasm of the veterans, many of them holdovers from the 1999 World Cup championship.
"The older players have just been waiting so long for it to come around again and they're excited that it's back," she said. "Everyone seems really sharp because they've had a whole season to sit and get there. I feel just really positive, which has made it a lot easier for me.
"Training's been just as hard as I imagined it would be, but fun," she added. "Every time I get to practice I'm always getting a little bit better. I mean, how could I not be when I get to practice against the best players every day? It's been fun, it's been challenging, but everybody's been really positive and been very welcoming to me, since I'm somewhat new."
Bivens, whose seven caps are second-fewest on the team - only Shannon Boxx, making her national team debut, has fewer - is part of a wave of World Cup first-timers that include Wambach, Aly Wagner, Catherine Reddick, Siri Mullinix, Angela Hucles and Boxx that will provide some young legs to a U.S. team that is the oldest in the tournament (average age: 28).
While when she will take the field is still up in the air, Bivens feels comfortable now that she knows where she'll be.
"Last year with the national team I wasn't playing defense. I was playing midfield," she said. "So I've had a total position change. The fact that I had a WUSA season of playing right back has completely changed my confidence level."
Atlanta Beat Coach Tom Stone believes that Bivens' confidence and maturity make her a perfect fit for U.S. squad.
"I think April was weighing a bunch of things, the quality of her as a player, but also the qualities she possesses as a person, as a teammate, as a competitor," said Stone. "What she saw from Kylie was a player who was not out of place dealing with Hamm and Wambach for 90 minutes, but somebody that played with her heart the entire contest and left the field in tears because she cared so much. Those are qualities of a player that [Heinrichs is] probably wanting to invest in right now.
"Her overall maturity and ability to deal with the ups and downs of the game, I think in that area she has really matured," Stone added. "She's always been technical, she's always loved to go forward, she's always been a good passer. I think that's something that April, from a technical standpoint, was probably really excited about."
Bivens is excited about the fact that the tournament is finally in sight and the reality of what's ahead is beginning to sink in.
"I don't think it will hit me until that first game," she admitted. "All the older players are saying, 'Wait until the first game. The opening ceremonies, and all that stuff.' Once you see the crowd and everyone chanting, 'USA.' It should hit me.
"I just hadn't been really preparing for it," she added. "I mean I always wanted to make a World Cup team and be on the national team, but it was never my mindset. Now it's kind of overwhelming but I'm very thankful."
As the World Cup dawns, Bivens hopes her - and the U.S. team's - brightest days are still ahead.