The key to success is consistency.
The ability to maintain a high level of performance - as an individual and as a collective - greatly increases the chances of achieving goals.
Consistency creates positive habits, increases confidence and defines a winning mentality - all traits possessed by Champions and title-winning teams.
The United States Women's National Team are certainly no strangers to such success: the four-time World Champions and four-time Olympic gold medallists boast a glittering trophy cabinet and a star-studded 'roster' featuring some of the best and biggest names in the game - one of whom: City defender Abby Dahlkemper.
As a team, they are unsurprisingly ranked as the best in the world; considered the standard bearers for women's football - or 'soccer' - and are admired for their elite mentality and belief, as well as their talent.
Many of the Stars and Stripes' current crop of superstars grew up idolising USWNT legends of the '90s: Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, Abby Wambach...
And for those young American girls, the dream of playing professional soccer for their national team was a distinct possibility - unlike in England at the time, the pathway to stardom for budding female footballers was clear and defined.
Dahlkemper was one of those youngsters hoping to follow in the football 'cleats' of her heroes and today, she stands tall as a World Champion and soon-to-be Olympian, having fulfilled that ambition.
Having represented her country at youth level (captaining the Under-17s), she has now cemented her place in the heart of the US defence, earning the most minutes for the team in 2019 and 2020.
Her inclusion in Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski’s Olympic squad came as no surprise, given her impressive run of games and clean sheets. The centre-back, who won her 70th cap in their penultimate game before the tournament, is one of 17 members of the squad who helped the US to World Cup glory in 2019.
Dahlkemper started every single game in France - one of just two players to do so and the only outfield player to achieve the feat. In total, she featured in 622 minutes of a possible 630 (and preserving four shut-outs) on the road to their fourth world title.
The key to maintaining such focus and building endurance? A strong work ethic and hunger to improve. Teammate and close friend Sam Mewis, who starred for City in the 2020/21 campaign, described her compatriot as 'self-critical' with a burning desire to better herself and learn from every experience.
“I try to take advantage of every opportunity that has come my way and be open to learning and developing - not being satisfied with where I'm at. Luckily, I was able to help the team on the field for the World Cup and I grew as a person and a player so much throughout. I never took any second or minute for granted the whole tournament.”
It is that very aspiration to improve and challenge herself that brought her to England. One of many high-profile names to be lured by the FA Women's Super League, Dahlkemper joined City in January of this year, following in the footsteps of Mewis and Rose Lavelle (and earlier, Carli Lloyd) in making the move across the Atlantic.
Quick, physical and composed with fine distribution, the 28-year-old saw Gareth Taylor's side as the perfect fit, praising the Club's commitment to the women's game and philosophy of playing beautiful football, building from the back and dominating possession.
Watching the FA WSL, she had admired from afar the tactical awareness and technical ability of her future teammates and saw the move as a chance to fine-tune her own ability, against some of the world's best strikers, whilst embracing a new country and culture - all experiences she hoped would aid her growth. She put pen to paper on a two-and-a-half-year deal, which raised a few eyebrows as a relatively long-term contract for an American player - particularly a newlywed who had only married partner Aaron Schoenfeld in early January - but it was her intention to make the most of her opportunity to develop her career.
“Change is uncomfortable sometimes in life but that's a good thing. You can learn and experience new things. I definitely try to relish the opportunity in the moment. I just want to make myself the best player I can be and you have to make sacrifices to do that. I'm growing and learning a lot.”
Driven and determined, Dahlkemper also credits the influence of her mother in her career. Though an avid basketball player in her youth, her mum Susan opted to give up the sport but inspired her daughter to pursue her dreams, instilling the values of 'mental toughness, independence and kindness' which Abby believes have played a crucial role in her own goals.
Dahlkemper lives her ambition for her mother, whose biggest regret was not following her own, 'giving into adversity.' Though that is not to say the defender has not endured adversity herself - in late 2016, she faced her biggest challenge yet when she developed sepsis in her right toe: an infection that endangered not just her career, but her life.
“I remember waking up to excruciating pain... It's scary thinking about how close I was - it affects the body very fast... It's such a humbling experience, looking back. I'm very thankful to be alive and to be back, still playing the game I love.”
It was a serious setback but one she battled back from incredibly. In April 2017, the defender returned to action, eager to pick up where she left off - starring at Club level and breaking into the USWNT senior set-up. She would go on to play every minute as the North Carolina Courage lifted the NWSL Shield - named the NWSL's Defensive Player of the Season and included in the NWSL Best XI. Deservedly, her efforts powered her way back into international contention and having endured the disappointments of U17 World Cup defeat and omittance from the U20 tournament, she responded in style.
Today, she has secured her place in central defence as one of the first names on the USWNT teamsheet and has savoured plenty of success on the international stage, including of course, the World Cup. Playing alongside Mewis at college level with the UCLA Bruins, where she clinched the National Championship in 2013 and won the Honda Award for athletic and academic achievement and community involvement, the pair would talk of their hopes of donning the red, white and blue jersey one day.
One of many UCLA graduates to be drafted into the NWSL, Dahlkemper joined the Western New York Flash, following success with W-League outfit Pali Blues and a brief spell in Australia with Adelaide United, and won the NWSL title in 2016. Her switch to the Courage yielded further glory with back-to-back league titles and a hat-trick of Shield triumphs, as well as individual acclaim for her stellar contribution in preserving a watertight defence.
In City blue, she has made 13 appearances since joining at the start of the year, though her entrance has proved to be something of a baptism of fire. With injury to Club captain Steph Houghton, the American has had to learn quickly but she believes she has already seen improvement in the technical side of her game. Rondos in particular apparently have aided sharpness of movement and touch.
Competing at her first Olympic Games this summer, she will look to help her country to regain the gold medal, after their shock exit at the quarter-final stage at the 2016 tournament in Rio. Such is her status as a Stars and Stripes stalwart, you would not put it past her to clock up more significant minutes in their pursuit of further glory...
By Caroline Oatway