Alex Curry relishes World Cup journey
by Mark McDermott
Many years from now, perhaps when she is a grandmother sitting with a granddaughter on her lap trying to explain what it was like in the old days before women were presidents and received pay equal to men, Alex Curry will remember a single sound. It was a sound she heard seven times in the last five weeks, but which in memory blends into a single joyous blare: the whistle at the end of every match during the United States Women’s National Team’s march to the 2019 FIFA World Cup.
Curry, who as the embedded reporter for FOX Sports was one of the only people other than the U.S. team members themselves to share every step of this World Cup journey, was on the field every time the whistle sounded.
“It sounds like pure joy,” Curry said. “Everything you’ve worked for, the sacrifices you’ve made, the doubt you’ve overcome, and the passion and dedication it takes to accomplish a dream — all that comes together in that one moment.”
“To be there, the feeling you got down on the pitch…It’s just this explosion of emotion,” Curry said. “It was just so cool. I have chills just talking about it.”
The aftermath of the final whistle in the championship victory over the Netherlands was one of the most singular moments in the history of sports. The U.S. team, led by Megan Rapinoe, transcended the game itself. Sports Illustrated aptly described the 2019 USWNT as “the most meaningful team in history” as well as the greatest U.S. women’s soccer team ever.
They had utilized their platform to talk about things like equal pay and human dignity, and as the whistle sounded, the crowd of 57,000 people at the stadium in Lyon, France, began chanting, “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
“It was like everyone understood what these women were fighting for, on and off the pitch,” Curry said. “Everyone felt that…I don’t know if it was relief or excitement, but that power: ‘Yes, you can. Yes, we are good enough. Yes, you deserve.’”
Curry, a Manhattan Beach native who was a soccer star at Mira Costa High School and went on to win a national championship as a student-athlete at San Diego State University, both witnessed the team achieve its dreams and realized a dream of her own — experiencing a World Cup firsthand. The actuality of the experience exceeded her wildest dreams.
“It was such an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Curry, who just returned home Tuesday. “It surpassed any of my expectations, from the team to the players to the event itself to the crazy amount of USA fans out there the entire time. Every game felt like a home game, minus the France game, which was pretty crazy…I am still in awe. Was I just there? Did I do that? It was five weeks, and now that I’m back, it’s like it just happened in the blink of an eye.”
Curry, who works regularly as a sideline reporter for FOX regionally covering the LA Angels and LA Kings, caught the notice of the national network while filling last July as co-host of FS1’s Undisputed with Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless on the day Lebron James announced he was coming to LA. Last fall, she covered both nationally televised college football games and USA soccer. She excelled, and covered the USWNT’s every game on its way to earning another World Cup bid. In March, FOX announced she’d be the embedded reporter with the team.
Curry flew to England the first week of June to catch the end of the team’s training camp. She’d last seen the team May 12 at a World Cup send-off series against South Africa in San Jose. The team she found in England, where they’d gone ten days before the World Cup to train at the Tottenham Hotspurs’ facility in London, seemed like a different team.
“They were staying and sleeping on the grounds, living, practicing, all together, 24/7,” Curry said. “I think it was the smartest thing they did. It created this perfect bubble and this bond and support system. I didn’t show up until the last three days at Tottenham, and I noticed it right away — this is night and day. Something clicked.”
“It was no media, no distractions, just the 23 of them coming together, buying in, being on the same page,” Curry said. “Just living and breathing one ultimate goal, to win the World Cup…It was like a magical Zen garden for all of them.”
The results were immediately apparent on the field. They were the last team to play in the “group stage” of play in their opening game against Thailand, and came out firing on all cylinders in an explosive 13-0 romp.
“That first match, just seeing all the goals and just the pure joy, you kind of got the feeling, ‘Okay, they are going to be really good,’” Curry said. “It was a crazy first World Cup match for me to cover. From the get-go, you could see the camaraderie and friendship. They called themselves ‘the 23 best friends.’”
“I’ve worked with a lot of teams but I’ve never seen a team so closely knit. It was so inspiring to see that kind of support, especially with women. All 23 bought in and everyone was on the same page and had this calm confidence. That was when I realized, ‘Oh my goodness, this is going to be an incredible ride.’ They had this feeling, and you could feel it — this strong, powerful belief, ‘We are going to go all the way.’”
Although the team entered the World Cup as defending champions and favorites to win again, the outcome was far from certain. Several legendary players from the 2015 team, including Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and Christie Rampone, had retired, and the team had suffered some stunning losses — including losing to Sweden in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals, the team’s earliest exit ever in a major tournament, and a loss to France in the SheBelieves Cup in 2017. Rapinoe had struggled with injuries and was no sure bet to ever return to peak form.
Only in retrospect does their march to victory seem like the storybook tale it has quickly become, complete with the happiest ending imaginable. On Wednesday morning, Rapinoe spoke at a victory parade in New York City, and her words rang far beyond the field.
“We have to be better,” Rapinoe said. “We have to love more, hate less. We’ve got to listen more and talk less…It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.”
No player in the world has likely ever experienced more pressure than Rapinoe over the course of the last month, nor has any player ever responded the way Rapinoe did, winning the Golden Boot (top scorer) and Golden Bell (MVP) awards for the tournament. She did so while engaging in a dispute with the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States (she drew his ire early in the tournament after saying she’d decline a visit to the White House) and while enduring a painful hamstring injury that forced her to sit out the semi-final against England and surely impacted her every move throughout the World Cup. Three times in the knockout rounds, she faced the ultimate pressure: taking a penalty kick on the world’s biggest stage. Three times she delivered, including the game-winning goal in Lyon.
Curry saw it all close-up, including the World Cup-winning kick on Sunday.
“I was looking right in her eyes,” Curry said. “I was right behind the net. She was so steely, so calm, so not worried. So I wasn’t worried. ‘No doubt she is going to make this.’ Just not a blink, but this look of power — you could feel her confidence: she’s got this, she’s got everything. It was an honor to be along for that.”
Rapinoe had that same look in her tournament-defining performance against France, in which she scored both the team’s goals days after coming under fire from the president.
“She scores those two goals and she is just filled with so much love, and so much love for everybody, which is the kind of example we need in the world right now,” Curry said. “Megan is a very special human. She was the leader, the leader on all fronts — the noise she had to deal with, and to just thrive off it and raise everyone higher. She’s one of my favorite athletes of all time.”
Another of the World Cup’s signature moments came in that game against England, a young up-and-coming team many thought was poised for an upset. It was announced just before the game that Christen Press, a Palos Verdes native, would start in Rapinoe’s place. It wasn’t public knowledge at the time — Rapinoe stood on the sidelines, as if ready to play if needed — but her injury was fairly serious. But behind the scenes, another story was unfolding. Press, who Curry described as the team’s emotional leader, was quietly enduring the loss of her mother, Stacy Press, who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in January after a short bout with cancer.
“She doesn’t really talk about it,” Curry said. “She stays focused on the job at hand…She is in charge of the emotional state on the team. Everyone had a very specific role and that was hers. She is the most calm, just well-centered human being I’ve ever seen, someone who just seems to understand the world. Her role is making sure everyone on the team is in a good place, mentally and spiritually, and the way she talks is so humble and so supportive.”
In that game against England, Press trotted onto the field with a team missing not only Rapinoe, but who would also lose one of its other offensive stars, Rose Lavelle, who likewise suffered a hamstring injury midgame. Press is a lithe, quick athlete known for the grace of her footwork and speed of attack, but there is something else she is known for among coaches and teammates — a strange aversion to heading the ball, so much so that according to Sports Illustrated her college coach nicknamed Press “the turtle.”
So naturally in the 10th minute of a tense defensive struggle, Press jumped up from a tangle of players and headed the ball into the net for the game’s first goal. As she ran across the field in celebration, she raised her arms and looked to the sky above in a rare moment, for her, of unbridled emotion. As Press posted on Instagram afterwards, the gesture was for her mother.
“I am because of you,” Press wrote.
After the game, Rapinoe becomes overwhelmed — another rarity — while talking about Press.
“Rapinoe, at the press conference, started crying,” Curry said. “Just to see Press have that moment, to know what she has been through, was so special.”
And so when the World Cup came to a close, and Curry waded through the team’s celebration in the locker room, the emotions she encountered were unlike anything she’d previously experienced.
“It’s crazy, because I’ve been around a Stanley Cup victory when the Kings won, and I’ve been to a World Series, when the Astros beat the Dodgers, but it’s something a little extra when you represent your country,” Curry said. “You are standing for so much more than the game, because it’s bigger than the game. To see this team do it with so much grace and heart and passion and love and support of one another, I felt honored to be brought along for this journey, and so grateful to get a front row seat for all of this. It was so special. I was smiling ear-to-ear and feeling my body tingle the whole time.”
It’s not a feeling that goes away, Curry said, and one she suspects will be with her the rest of her life. Curry was herself on one of the world’s biggest stages; the FOX broadcasts reached highs of 20 million viewers (notably, 20 percent higher than 2018’s men’s World’s Cup) and her postgame interviews were used worldwide. There is no coming down as she returns to regular life, post World Cup.
“You don’t need to,” she said. “You carry it with you, and use it daily as a reminder…you can always fill your life with that feeling and that happiness and you can share it and pass it on and just let it always live with you.”
It’s also why she’s always been drawn to sports, which ultimately are less about who wins or loses or who scores what goal. At its best, what occurs on any field or court becomes about the transcendence of the human spirit.
“It’s always beyond the game,” Curry said. “That’s the cool thing about sports, how it brings people together and brings joy. You might be having the worst day ever but this allows you to come together and have just pure joy. Sports are so cool. It can bring people together and change people’s lives…And it can inspire the next generation. Think about how many young girls watched this World Cup and now believe they are good enough.”
“When I was coming up, there weren’t a lot of women I got to look up to and watch in my industry. Just to have these strong independent passionate women who are supporting each other and reaching their goals together — I think that is what this was all about.”
She also took away a lesson for living her own life, and maybe one day it’s something she’ll share on that faraway porch as a grandma.
“If you have a dream, and you work hard enough, and you truly believe and it’s a deep belief in that dream, anything is possible,” she said. “Because there are going to be doubts, there are going to be failures, there are going to be people trying to bring you down along the way. But if you continue to be strong in what you believe and do it with passion and heart, anything is possible.”