Frankie Tagliaferri - Penn State, World Cup, and the Olympics

Ordinarily, before noon on the first Saturday of October, Frankie Tagliaferri would have been preparing to step onto a pitch and play a match with the rest of the Colts Neck High School girls soccer team. But Frankie, a key player in the Cougars’ run to a state title last year, was not be on the same field with those teammates that day. Instead, she was halfway around the world in Zarqa, Jordan in the Under-17 Women’s World Cup playing in a match against Paraguay.

Frankie was named to the U-17 team’s roster this past summer, bringing her one step closer to her goal of playing on the United States’ Women’s professional, or full, team – something she envisioned herself doing ever since she dribbled a ball in her backyard with her parents when she was about six years old.

Despite all she has accomplished to date, which culminated with being named the Gatorade New Jersey and All-USA Player of the Year, as well as the Asbury Park Press All-Shore Girls Soccer Player of the Year this summer, Frankie has remained humble and grounded in her Monmouth County roots. She’s quick to praise the teammates she’s had for the individual achievements she has garnered and the titles they have won. And the local grounds she trained on as an adolescent will always feel like home to her, no matter where her career takes her.

About two weeks before the U-17 tournament began, Living in Media sat down for a conversation with Frankie, right next to the backyard she practiced kicking balls in since she move to Colts Neck from Keyport about five years ago. As she talked about her ascent through the soccer ranks and of her dreams of becoming a professional soccer player becoming closer to a reality, the high school senior spoke with a maturity and humility that belies her teen age.

LIM: Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule. What are your emotions leading up to your trip halfway across the world to play in the U-17 tournament?
FT: I was recently talking to my friends and family about it. I’ve been training for this for the past three and a half years, and the fact that it’s a week away and the games are less than a month away is shocking. I’m very excited for it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s here yet because I’ve been working so long for it.

LIM: When do you think it will all set it in?
FT: Probably when the first game starts.

LIM: What will the next week look like for you?
FT: I leave on Sunday. I have a fitness program from our trainer that I have to follow every day, like sprint workouts and speed and agility workouts every day. I’ll be going to school every day and then doing my fitness workouts after
that. I’ll go to the gym and the sauna to help acclimate to the weather, or I’ll go to the field.

LIM: How can you prepare for the weather in Jordan? Is it supposed to be 90 degrees or hotter?
FT: At first we thought it was going to be extremely hot because it is a desert. But we found out it’s only going to be high 80s or low 70s, which is good. I’m banking on that. (laughs)

LIM: You’ve traveled out of the country before. When you go over there, will you have any free time to do any type of sightseeing or tourist attractions? And have you had a chance to experience other cultures in the past?
FT: In the past we’ve gone to South Korea, Italy and a bunch of other places. If it wasn’t for World Cup qualifying, we’d stay at a resort. But we’re going out as a team, in Jordan. We’re not going to know how safe it is in a different country,
so we’re going to have to stay in the hotel the whole time.

LIM: What was the process like to qualify for the U-17 World Cup?
FT: Every two years, there’s a tournament. For my coach and the team, and me personally, it’s huge. Two years ago I played with the last U-17 cycle, and we didn’t qualify. I think qualifying this time, and realizing we have a huge opportunity that’s going to start in less than a month is a really big accomplishment.

LIM: In qualifying, you’d scored 4 goals against Jamaica. Is that the most you’d scored for the USA in one game?
FT: Yes.

LIM: Can you take us through that? What was that like for you?
FT: Like our coach says, every player plays a role on the team, whether you are a starter or a sub. So that game, I came in as a sub. I was in for about 20 to 30 minutes and I said, “This is my role today, so I’m going to do the best that I can.” I was very excited and had a lot of energy. I don’t think I’d scored more than one goal in an international game before that.
I felt really good after that. Our coach always says that goal differential really counts, so I wanted to work as hard as I could. I’m an attacking midfielder and a forward, so my job is to score and create chances. I wanted to do my job.

LIM: Do you know if you’ll be starting in any game for the World Cup?
FT: We don’t know yet. Of course I want to start. Everyone wants to start. Every game and opponent is different, so it depends on what the coach thinks is best for our team.

LIM: Do you have any personal goals for the tournament?
FT: As a team aspect, we’d want to win the whole thing. It would be the first time that the USA U-17 Women’s team would win it. As an individual, I want to play the best that I can and be one of the best players in the tournament. Our country is very well-respected on the full team level, but on the U-17 level, we aren’t that well-respected because we haven’t won anything yet. We feel that it’s time.

LIM: Is it difficult for you to transition between playing for Colts Neck High School to U-17 national team?
FT: I’ve been playing with a lot of these girls since I’ve been a freshman. Some of the them are new to the cycle, but adjusting to playing there and then back here for school and club level is different, because there it’s different
personnel. But all of them are my best friends, so to me it’s easy to just do it.

LIM: Will any family member be able to travel there to see you?
FT: My parents won’t be able to attend, but my grandparents are going. If we make the semifinals and finals, they’ll be there. A lot of the girls’ parents and family will be there too.

LIM: How does it feel to know that some of your family will travel halfway across the world to see you play?
FT: I’ve always looked at my parents before every game. That’s comforted me and got me going, just looking at them. Knowing that my family will be watching and supporting me somewhere, it feels amazing to have a support system like them. For club and school they’ve been there for everything. My parents are the reason why I’m where I am.

LIM: Why do you say that?
FT: I think every little kid can be stubborn with their parents, especially with sports. My parents have always been hard on me, but I can’t thank them enough for being hard on me because if they weren’t and just let me settle on being average, I wouldn’t be getting a place on the U-17 team.

LIM: When did you start playing soccer?
FT: When I was four years old. I was very little.

LIM: Did your parents play?
FT: Not at all. My dad played football and my mom played basketball.
Almost every little kid plays soccer, follows the pack and looks at their parents, but once I got a little older, maybe like six years old, I realized I loved the game and had my most fun when I was on the field. When I was about eight, I realized that I was pretty good and if I worked hard, I could be great at it.

LIM: Was there one moment that made you realize you had that potential?
FT: I think it was during a game on one of my club teams. I had like two or three goals that game. Afterwards, we went to go see the full women’s team play, and Abby Wambach scored a sick header, and after that, I realized, wow, that’s what I want to do when I get older.

LIM: Is there any routine or superstition you have before a game?
FT: I’m not superstitious at all, but up until I was 14 years old, I’d have a lollipop before every game. Now I listen to music before every game, like a couple of my dad’s favorite songs. When I was little, he would put on the song Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. He’d roll the windows down and I’d listen to that in the car before every game. So now I listen to that.

LIM: How long have you been with your club team, Players Development Academy (PDA), in Somerset?
FT: I was on a different club team until I was 12. I’ve been with them ever since. We have our own club games in our
regions, but we also had showcases around the country for colleges. Our club team just also won nationals with Elite Clubs National League. I scored a penalty kick in that game.

LIM: You have had an incredibly successful year, between your state title with Colts Neck High School, club team championship and being named to the U-17 roster. What’s this year been like for you?
FT: After everything my team and I have accomplished, whether for Colts Neck or PDA, it makes me want more. I want to win another title with them because those are the memories that I’m going to have forever. I want to create more of them. Some of the older girls, I view them as role models on PDA. On Colts Neck, my two closest friends, I view them as family and role models. When I’m away and start to get stressed out, I can call them and they’ll calm me

LIM: This year you’ve had to sacrifice playing part of the year with Colts Neck to play with the U-17 team. Was it difficult decision for you to make?
FT: Last year with the high school made it easier because I realized how good of a team we are together and how we accomplished so much. I’ve also been working for the World Cup, so to win with them, play in the World Cup, and then come home and play with them later, I couldn’t ask for anything better.

LIM: You’ll be a senior this year and you verbally committed to Penn State. When will that be official, and why did you choose to go there?
FT: I’m verbally committed, and I’ll probably sign sometime in the winter.
Besides the soccer program that they have, the school is amazing. The coaches, players and students on campus seem like one big family. It reminded me of home and made me feel very excited to want to go there. They say people get a feeling when they go on the campus they like, and I got mine at Penn State.

LIM: How has the local community supported you? And what has it meant to you?
FT: From a community standpoint, my friends and family have been unbelievable. All of this has given me an opportunity to talk to people like you guys. Everyone has been really supportive and they’ve helped me. My school has been awesome with everything. I missed a lot of school days last year travelling and training for soccer, and they didn’t give me any problems about it. They just said, “OK, if you need anything, let us know.” I can’t thank them enough, especially with being OK with all the days that I missed.

LIM: How do you manage to train year-round around all of your schoolwork?
FT: Sometimes I find myself up until 1 a.m., but every student does. I try to get all of my schoolwork done in school and pay attention more when I’m there, so I don’t have to study as much when I’m home. My teachers have been great about sending me work. Sometimes I teach myself things when I’m away with the national team. It’s easy for anyone to be away for a long time and just settle on not doing work and say, “I can do it when I get home.” All of the times I’ve been away, it’s made me realize that I need to get things done every day when I’m in school, at home or away. I want to make it as easy as possible on my teachers because they’ve been supporting me so much. Sometimes when I come home, I have loads of work. Seeing how much my school goes through to make sure I can do all this has made me appreciate it and realize that I have to do this for them and myself.

LIM: Have you received any advice about how to balance it all?
FT: Our national team coach tells us that soccer is a huge priority, but school is as well because they give us the  opportunity, so we can’t just push it to the side. If we need help we have each other, too. Some of the girls on the team are the same age, so sometimes we’ll tutor each other.

LIM: And how much has the support from your parents meant?
FT: They’ve been super supportive. A lot of parents could say that they won’t waste their weekends bringing their kid to a camp hundreds of miles away to go train or play soccer. Wherever I had to go, they brought me and they were at every game I ever played. Whether I was at a field or had to do fitness, or put my dad in goal and shoot on him, he was always there.

LIM: Did you take it easy on him?
FT: (Laughs). Not really. Sometimes I would get mad at them, but that’s what makes players great. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing: because of my parents, their support and the time they’ve given me.

LIM: What was some of the best advice they gave you?
FT: They’ve given me a lot of constructive criticism, and I think it could be tough love. They love me and they know what I want to do when I get older. I can’t accomplish it if I’m not working hard enough, and they’ll be the first ones to tell me if I’m not. I’m really grateful that they do that.

LIM: Was there one idol you looked up to on the women’s team?
FT: Mia Hamm. She’s always been my role model. I have a Fathead of her in my room. A couple of times I’ve watched the movie Dare to Dream before a game. It’s about the women winning the World Cup. It’s a story about how those women changed soccer in the United States, as far as respect for the women’s team. She’s a very aggressive,  hardworking player, but at the same time she’s very humble and kind. I really like that about her.

LIM: Is there any current player now you look up to?
FT: I’ve always loved Lionel Messi (of the Argentina Men’s National Team). Obviously, he’s an amazing player, but what I like about him the most is he’s a great dribbler and doesn’t get knocked off his feet when people try to foul or push him. He also seems like a genuine guy who doesn’t take things for granted and doesn’t get in trouble. He always talks about his family and career.

LIM: As good as you have been, one thing coaches have said about you is you always praise the team and your teammates first. Where does your desire to always share the spotlight come from?
FT: For me, it’s not an individual sport. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without my team, whether it’s high school, club or national. And it’s not just my team that’s gotten me these places, it’s my friends, my coaches and my family. When I say we, it’s everyone who has helped me with everything. Yes, I have these dreams of being on the full team one day and yes, I’m on the right track to being there, but I’m not there yet so I want to be humble. And I still want to be when I’m there. My parents have always told me to be respectful and kind, and they have taught me to be humble as  well. I like people who put the team first. Of course I want to score, but sometimes I like the feeling of assisting more because it’s like giving presents instead of getting them.

LIM: How do you stay grounded? Of course, it is a team game, but the truth is that you have been an outstanding player and accomplished a lot as an individual as well.
FT: I don’t like the spotlight on me. Getting those awards is a reminder of what the team accomplished that year. When I’m older and I look back at getting player of the year, I’m going to think about my team winning a state championship. In the end, none of this would have happened if I wasn’t with my team. I helped make them look good  and my high school look good. I’m glad I can do a lot of stuff for them.

LIM: What’s the process to get to full team?
FT: There’re different age groups. There’s also U-18, U-19 and U-20. U-20 is the next World Cup cycle. There’s also U-21 and U-23, and then the full team. If at any point you show that you’re good enough to play, they will bring you up, whether you’re 19 or 20 years old.

LIM: What have been some of the struggles you have endured along the way so far?
FT: My confidence. I have to be confident to be where I am right now, but every player is good. It’s hard sometimes when coaches are testing girls in different places, which can be both physically and mentally draining. It’s hard when you’re a starter and then you’re a sub. It happens to every player, and I remember Lindsay Tarpley (from the USA  national team) saying that there are going to be bumps in the road. There were times that she was a starter and a sub, and when she didn’t even make the roster. But she kept striving for what she wanted and, at the end, she made it.

LIM: Has it ever gotten to be a little overwhelming to you?
FT: Especially as a teenager it has been hard because trying to balance soccer, school, family and a social life is really tough. Especially when you see your friends going out and doing things, or you miss a family vacation because you have camp, it’s hard. Right now, with the World Cup coming up, I’ve been gone like every two weeks. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends who have been as supportive as mine have. If I’m away, they text and call me to ask how everything is going, and when I’m home they make time to see me, even if it’s for a little bit. I really appreciate that. It does stink missing some of that stuff, but I know what I want, and I’d pick sticking with soccer over anything else any other day.

LIM: Are there any other hobbies that you enjoy or have extra time for?
FT: My family has a lake house in Vermont. Every summer we go up there for a couple of weeks. That’s one of my favorite times of the year because I get to be with my family and do stuff that I love, like water sports, swimming, and campfires. Being up there and being at the beaches here, usually Avon or Belmar, is my favorite way to spend my time. I surfed once, but I water ski and water tube.

LIM: Is there anything special you’re looking forward to during your senior year, such as prom?
FT: I’m looking forward to the end of the year, where we have like a senior week and we get to have Surf Taco, Ritas, senior skip day and a volleyball tournament. That will probably be when leaving for college will seem real, and  I’m really looking forward to that.

LIM: Is there any future goal you’ve set for yourself, other than making it to the Women’s National Team?
FT: Besides winning the World Cup, it’d be so cool to be an Olympian. I want to be successful in life, too. I’ve been talking with my mom about what I’d want to study in school. I don’t know yet because everything I’ve ever known has been soccer.

LIM: What has been the most memorable moment for you so far?
FT: Out of all the memorable moments that I’ve had, including winning a state and national championship, the one that sticks out the most is playing soccer in the backyard with my parents. I did that ever since I was little. All of these moments are huge, but I think the memories as a kid are always the best memories, and those with my parents in my backyard are the best ones.

LIM: And lastly, why do you go by Frankie?
FT: (Laughs). Francesca is my real name, but I think it sounds too girly and it’s hard to say on a soccer field, so I go by Frankie.

Favorite Restaurant:
Gianni’s in Colts Neck

Favorite Movie:
Marley & Me

Favorite Band:
Florida Georgia Line

Pet Peeve:
Waiting in lines

Three People You Would Like To Dine With:
Lionel Messi, actor Chad Michael Murray, tennis player Serena Williams

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14 Nov 2016

By Paul Williams / Photo: McKay Imaging (