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UCI Alumna CoCo Goodson hits it big in the NWSL

Former UCI standout, CoCo Goodson now plays for New Jersey's Sky Blue FC in the NWSL.
Photo couresy of UCI Athletics

In the spring of 2010 a young athlete by the name of Courtney "CoCo" Goodson stepped onto the soccer pitches at University of California in Irvine (UCI). By the time she left, Goodson (who grew up just outside of San Diego) took with her a ton of awards, accolades and a fierce determination to bring her soccer talents to the pros.

Goodson became one of UCI's first two All-Americans in their 27-year history of the program and was voted the 2010 Big West Defender of the Year. She helped the Anteaters record 19 wins, tying a conference mark for most overall victories. The team also collected its first Big West Conference regular-season title, becoming the first team in conference history to go unbeaten and untied at 8-0-0.

The 5-foot-11 center back was also honored on the Soccer America MVP Second Team as well as voted Big West Offensive Player of the Week (despite being a defender) and honored on the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week after scoring a pair of game-winning goals in two games.

In Goodson’s first year starting as a defender at UCI, the Anteaters posted a school-record 11 shutouts and held opposing teams to a 0.75 scoring average. The Anteaters also became only the second team in Big West history to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

During her two seasons at Irvine, the squad made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first two times in school history. Goodson's skill helped improve Irvine's possession, elevating the team's scoring production from 37 without her in 2009 to 49 goals during her junior season.

I recently caught up with Goodson between matches in the newly formed National Women's Soccer League (NWSL). Her team Sky Blue FC finished 4th among 8 teams last season where they were eliminated in the playoffs by 2013 league leaders, Western New York Flash.

Q: First of all, I have to ask the obligatory question, how did you get your nickname CoCo? Who gave it to you?

CoCo Goodson: I have a younger sister who is 20 now. So she's three-and-a-half years younger than me and she couldn't say Courtney. It was just Co and then it was CoCo. It just stuck. People who I've known for years still don't know my real name is Courtney.

Q: You grew up in Southern California, not far from San Diego, where youth soccer is just huge. Were you a total soccer kid? Did you play AYSO and youth clubs and things like that?

CG: I actually didn't start playing soccer until I was about 8 years old. My dad played baseball, so I played softball and swam. I actually started playing in my little town Ramona and just kind of branched out into the greater part of San Diego. But I loved going to the WUSA games and the San Diego Spirit. I went to almost every single one of those games.

Q: Who were some of the players you looked up to then?

CG: Julie Foudy, who was on the team at that point. And my long time trainer, Jen Lalor-Nielsen was on the team and I've been training with her since I was in 8th grade.

Q: So, when did you discover that you had this knack for soccer?

CG: My first sport was always softball, but I just loved the intensity and the running and just the high pace of soccer.

Q: I've known of you since your playing days here at UCI but you actually went to University of Texas right out of high school first, right?

CG: Yes. I went there for a year and a half and then transferred to Irvine.

Q: Was there a reason for the transfer?

CG: I wanted to be closer to home and I knew that my parents could come to every single home game and to a lot of our away games if I came back to Southern California.

Q: Well, we're glad you did because that UCI team was a fantastic Cinderella story (almost), making it into the NCAA Sweet 16. What was one of the things you learned from playing on that great UCI team?

CG: I think we were always the underdog and we were kind of like the dark horse of the NCAA tournament. That was a lot of fun for me, just because I did come from a smaller school where no one had really heard of me that much. So, I always kind of liked that (underdog) mentality.

Q: Was there a point where you realized that you could become a professional soccer player?'

CG: My first couple of years playing soccer, that became my goal and that's what I always wanted to do. I knew if I worked hard enough and I had the physical capabilities to do it, I could do anything I really set my mind to.

Q: You were drafted right out of college by the Philadelphia Independence of the WPS. What happened with that because you never officially played for them, right?

CG: No, the league folded. So, I went overseas and played in Holland for a season. Then straight from Holland I came to New Jersey when I was drafted by Sky Blue.

Q: That's awesome. Did you get a call in the middle of the night or how did that happen?

CG: There were a couple of drafts and I think I was taken in the supplemental draft. When I saw my name come up (I was over in Holland), I called my agent and I was like, 'Hey, what does this mean? (laughs). Does this mean I can come back to the U.S.?' That was cool.

Plus I always looked up to Christie Rampone because she plays the same position that I do and that was just one of the highlights of that. I learned so much just in those first two weeks being next to her.

Q: When you think back on last season, what's the highlight for you?

CG: I think we had a really great team who got along. It was just awesome. I've never been on a team that had so much fun no matter what we were doing. We won and we lost together and there was no bickering. It was just like everyone loved what they were doing. I mean we're playing soccer (laughs) as like our job! That's what we all dreamed of when we were kids. And I think we definitely didn't take that for granted.

Q: You played in all 23 matches last year including the playoffs. You logged 1,980 minutes – the most on the team, the most in the league (although you tied with a few other players). That says a lot about you.

CG: I think last season I was definitely extremely fortunate not to get a serious injury. I played with little nicks here and there but for the most part I was injury-free.

Q: I think that Sky Blue has two of the best goalkeepers in the league with Jill Loyden and Brittany Cameron. What's it like to play in front of them and from a player's perspective, what makes them so great?

CG: I just think they're just natural leaders. I know they always have my back and they're coaching me throughout the game. And not yelling, but just trying to make us better and we make them better every day. Our goalkeepers and our back line are very coachable and I think we work very well together.

Q: At 5-foot-11, are there any players who you have a hard time marking? I would think not too many.

CG: I think Abby Wambach and I have battled for headers every now and then. So, that's a challenge. I enjoy going up against Abby because she's one of the best and you get better when you play against her.

Q: Walk us through your game day routine.

CG: About two and half hours before game time I like to eat and shower. And then drive by-myself to the game just to get in to that game-mode. I just like being calm and focused – really just preparing myself. Other than that, I don't really have any game rituals or anything like that.

Q: You always seem to be someone who is super sweet off the pitch, then you get into the game and you turn into this really fierce competitor. Is that something you had to work on or does it just come naturally to you?

CG: It definitely comes naturally. I'm not the same person on and off the field. Off the field, I love what I'm doing and I love that I'm able to sign autographs for little girls because I remember being that little girl. But on the field, I don't hear or see the crowd. It's just me and my teammates against the opposition.

Q: How did you spend your off-season?

CG: I came back to Irvine and I finished the Fall quarter at UCI. So, I came back and finished school. I went home to Ramona and trained younger kids. It's nice to teach that generation. I've never really coached before, so when they get something or you tell them to do something differently and they get it right, it's such an amazing feeling.

Q: What's the one piece of advice you would give a kid who dreams of being where you are someday, playing professional soccer?

CG: If that's your dream, keeping working for it. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't make it because they don't know what you're capable of doing. Only you know what you're capable of.

Q: Okay, now for some fun questions! If you were stranded on a deserted island and you could have one of your teammates with you, who would it be.

CG: Only one? If I were to pick one teammate to be with me on a deserted island, I think it would be Sophie Schmidt. Because she's very inventive and creative. So I think she would come up with really cool ways to stay alive (laughs). It's always an adventure with Soph!

Q: You've made your fortune and you buy an NWSL franchise. What city do you put the team in?

CG: San Diego for sure. You can't beat the weather and there are so many soccer fans in San Diego it's crazy. I think they could really get behind a pro team.

Q: Name one athlete (past or present) who you would like to have one workout session with.

CG: I think my dad has influenced this a lot, but probably Derek Jeter. Just because he was my hero growing up and he's always been that one person who can get it done. He's very clutch, he's the captain and the leader. He's never gotten into trouble off the field and just a very clean-cut guy.

Q: Okay, we're heading for 10 years into the future. The NWSL is still alive and thriving and you're still active in the league. Are you a player, a coach or working in the front office?

CG: I'd be 33 years old. If my body held up, I want to say a player but I don't' know (laughs). Most likely a coach.

Q: What's your favorite ride at Disneyland?

CG: I love Disneyland! Disneyland is literally my favorite place. My favorite ride would have to be Indiana Jones.

Q: When you're away from Southern California, what's the one thing you miss most (besides Disneyland)?

CG: Mexican food. Nobody beats San Diego's Mexican food. Even in Texas, they have Tex-Mex but that's not the same at all.

Q: Thanks CoCo for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to me today!

CG: Thank you! I really enjoyed it!

To listen to the entire CoCo Goodson interview, log on to Women's World Football Show, episode #14! For more on the NWSL, subscribe to my NWSL column and follow me @NWSL_Examiner on Twitter.

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