“We just want to win Big East. When I’m here, that’s what I’m trying to bring out on the field. We’re not quitting until the whistle is blown. We’re going to fight for every goal, run as fast as we can, we’re going to do it and you’re not going to stop us.”
At just 20 years old Brianna Ryce, junior defender for DePaul women’s soccer, has the tenacity and leadership of a player well beyond her years. Last month, she played for the Trinidad and Tobago national team in the women’s World Cup qualifiers, starting all five matches of the tournament with the national team.
“I brought back, I feel like, just like, an edge and a energy,” Ryce said. “Everything is so intense because the stakes are higher so people are just putting everything out there; they don’t care, they just want to get in the World Cup.”
On Oct. 15, Ryce and the Trinidad and Tobago team began their run to qualify for the women’s World Cup, competing in the same bracket as the United States, Haiti and Guatemala. The team’s first game was against the U.S., and Trinidad was slated to be the underdog.
“A small island against one of the top teams in the world,” Ryce said. “But we came out and we only conceded one goal and that was a huge thing in the women’s soccer world because America was beating teams like Mexico, (8-0). So, people expected us to get stomped over.”
Trinidad and Tobago went on to beat Haiti 1-0 and Guatemala 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals. It was the first time in Trinidad’s history the team had advanced to the final four of the tournament. Trinidad fell to Costa Rica in penalty kicks in the semifinals and went on to play Mexico in the third place match where the winner would advance directly to the women’s World Cup. However, they were not able to defeat the Mexicans, falling 4-2.
Since they made it to the third place match, however, the team still has the opportunity to head to the World Cup.
They will need to beat Ecuador in a two-legged playoff. That match will be an intra-confederation playoff, both teams barely missing directly qualifying for next year’s World Cup. Ryce is confident that they can earn one of the final spots in the World Cup.
“Ecuador, that’s our last chance. If we beat them, then we’re in,” Ryce said. “But we should win. We’ve played them before, and we beat them.”
Trinidad and Tobago will know their World Cup fate by the end of the year. They will host Ecuador in the second leg of the playoff on Dec. 2 and whichever team has the higher aggregate score advances to the World Cup.
Through the experience at CONCACAF, Ryce said she grew as a player, especially in the game against team USA, playing against women she spent her high school years idolizing. But, once she hit the field, it was quite a different story.
“(I kept thinking) I can’t believe that I’m here right now at 20 years old, I’m playing against people that I looked up to,” Ryce said. “But then, you have to realize that, no, it’s not about that anymore. On the field, we’re all the same and we’re competing. They’re not giving any more than what we’re giving. We’re each given 90 minutes to go out there and compete.”
She found that mentality helpful, enabling her to move passed the initial nervous jitters. She said the energy of the game let her leave it all out on the field, unleashing the pent up adrenaline to propel her forward in the game.
The passion Ryce exhibited while playing internationally has certainly influenced her teammates according to fellow teammate Rachel Pitman, a senior defender on the team.
“Now she’s come back into practice and you can see what she’s learned from going and the experience she’s gained from playing in the World Cup qualifiers,” Pitman said. “She’s rubbing off on everyone else.”
Pitman herself has played internationally, representing England with the England National Team at the U15, U17, U19 and U23 European and World Cup qualifiers. Pitman said the experience has made Ryce more of a leader on the field and she has “no worries” about Ryce’s ability to do her job, further adding to the camaraderie amongst her teammates.
“When Bri played against the USA, we were away and we were in the hotel room watching her game,” Pitman said. “It was so great to see her fighting off Megan Rapinoe and players like that who are world class players… I think seeing that and seeing her perform at that level just brings it back to our team. Everyone sees how much of a valuable player she is, and what she can bring to our team.”