US Soccer’s Young Player of the Year works back from injury

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              FILE - In this April 5, 2018, file photo, United States' Tierna Davidson moves the ball against the Mexico during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Jacksonville, Fla. Davidson was recently named U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
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Instead of wallowing in her ankle injury, defender Tierna Davidson did a lot of cheering — and even some self-styled coaching — from the sidelines.

U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year saw her stellar national team debut season cut short by a fractured ankle while playing for Stanford in September.

She could only watch as the national team qualified for next year’s World Cup, and also as Stanford extended a 45-match unbeaten streak en route to the NCAA College Cup semifinals. She tried to make the best of it.

“I feel like maybe I embraced more of a coaching role at Stanford. There were many fans that sat above our bench who were telling me they could hear me screaming — whether it be just yelling at my teammates to do well or yelling for a good tackle, or actually giving different instructions,” she said. “It was hard for me not actively to be on the field, but doing as much as I could was a good experience to have.”

Now well on the road to recovery, the 5-foot-10 defender wants to show she’s worthy of a spot on the World Cup roster.

The California native’s eventful year started with a call-up to the national team’s January camp. Then 19, she went on to start in her first-ever appearance, a 5-1 victory over Denmark.

“I would say one of the hardest things obviously is the speed of play. It is faster than college,” she said about making the successful jump to the national team. “You get less time on the ball, less time to make decisions and less space to operate in. And then also in my position specifically, there’s a lot of communication that has to come from me, in terms of directing the players in front of me and whatnot.”

She played mostly at center back in her 12 national team appearances, all starts, and she belied her age with both her composure on the ball and technical savvy. Her first goal — a header off a corner kick — came against Chile.

But less than a week later, she fractured her left ankle in a Stanford match against North Carolina.

Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe said Davidson’s injury was a big blow but the team responded in her absence. And Davidson was their biggest cheerleader.

“It’s something that I marvel at all the time with all my teams at Stanford, is that when we lose top players the level of play almost goes up. Which doesn’t make sense to me, because obviously losing Tierna is huge for our team because she’s a team leader and one of our top players,” Ratcliffe said. “But I think they care about each other so much that they don’t want to let the player that’s now watching down. They see Tierna supporting the team so much that they rally, and everyone steps up to an even higher level.”

Stanford was ranked No. 1 during the regular season and went to the College Cup semifinals with a 45-match undefeated streak, but fell to eventual NCAA champion Florida State.

Last weekend, the lanky 5-foot-10 defender focused on the draw for next summer’s World Cup in France. The United States, ranked No. 1 in the world, landed in a group with Thailand, Chile and old nemesis Sweden.

The U.S. women open soccer’s premier tournament on June 11 against Thailand in Reims.

“We really gave her a lot of minutes this past year, with the anticipation we would need at least three centerbacks,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “Obviously we have J.J. (midfielder Julie Ertz) who can also play in there, so I think we have good depth at that position.”

Although Ellis will not name her World Cup roster until closer to the tournament, Davidson hopes her recovery has moved along enough that she’ll be able to get back in the lineup for the 10 matches the United States has before departing for France. The team will hold its traditional training camp in January.

“Man, it’s definitely going to hinge on how quickly I can get back into the swing of things in January and beyond,” she said of her chances to make the World Cup roster. “But through 2018 I felt like I performed nearly as well as I could. I felt like I was an important part of the team and I felt like people were getting more comfortable with me in the mix.”

First, Davidson has to consider school. A management science & engineering major, there’s the possibility she could take a quarter off while she chases her World Cup dreams.

There’s also the possibility she could go pro with a year of eligibility remaining.

“No decisions have been made,” she said. “I’m just trying to get through finals before delving into what the next couple of months will look like.”