As you might expect from a player with her surname, Laurel Ivory is a pretty solid customer. Indeed, the USA goalkeeper is so resilient, it was hard to keep count of just how many saves she made in her side’s three games at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016. Unfortunately for them, those stops were not enough to help the Stars and Stripes through to the next round, after successive defeats to Ghana and Japan - both matches they had initially led.
What's more, Ivory also exhibited a high degree of mental resilience, when talking to FIFA.com just moments after leaving the field at the Amman International Stadium following the 3-2 reverse against the Japanese that spelt the end of USA’s tournament. “The last two games have been unfortunate: they were games we should and could have won,” said the custodian, her gaze firm and her chin up, determined to face the disappointment head on. “Unfortunately, we haven’t achieved what we’d wanted to.”
And though she admitted that, in the end, the best team won, she also felt that during long stretches of the game, the US had held the upper hand. “We really had Japan against the ropes but I’m sure that, at half-time, something happened in the dressing room that changed their mindset,” said Ivory, who made a host of decisive saves over the course of the match.
“They [Japan] were trailing [at the interval] and they managed to turn the game around completely. I gave everything to try and stop them scoring and I tried to help my team-mates as well as I possibly could. We were fantastic in the first half, especially in defence, but we weren’t able to hold out for the whole game.”
While some of her colleagues were still crying inconsolably in the dressing room, Ivory had already moved past that stage, and was equally quick to downplay her individual display. “Playing at a World Cup is something we’ve dreamed about since we were little, and that dream ended tonight. For that reason it’s hard, right now, to focus on the positives,” said the West Florida Flames keeper.
“I’ve given my best and tried to do my bit to put my team in the best position possible. But if in the end that’s not enough to win, you can’t allow yourself to be satisfied with a good [individual] performance.”
In it for the long haul
That is just one of many lessons Ivory will take from her time at Jordan 2016. “I’ve learned so much from this championship, it’s changed my life,” said the winner of the Golden Glove at this year’s CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship. “This is my first World Cup, my first experience of conditions almost like those in pro football. To be honest I’ve loved it and I’m really keen to stay on this path.”
Her dream of a bright footballing future, however, predates her World Cup debut by some distance, with Ivory catching the football bug when first kicking a ball around aged four. And after being heartbroken in mid-2013 upon missing out on selection for a regional representative side, it was her mother Jackie who stepped in to raise her spirits, asserting that the race to her goal was a marathon not a sprint.
It is this long-term perspective that is helping the young No1 keep her head now that her Middle Eastern sojourn is now over. “Of course it would have been fantastic to win this U-17 World Cup. But we also know that we [the USA] have never won this competition and, even so, at senior level we’re the world champions,” added Ivory, who was called into the national team set-up in September 2015.
“It’s a long-term philosophy: our whole career and footballing futures are at stake. We all have the ambition of one day reaching the senior side and this tournament is a big step forward in itself,” she said, as the interview concluded. “We needed to taste the atmosphere at a global competition; we needed to know how it feels to lose at one, and the emotions you go through in these situations. Everything we’ve experienced here is important for the future of this team.”