Four goals and a beat down
A story of women's soccer at the lower levels
The word “premier” in soccer means very different things in different places. In England, it’s the top flight of soccer. In the US, the word usually gets attached to amateur leagues. And by amateur, I mean both the quality of play and the way they are run. You’d think the English would sue over the damage to their reputation.
One such American league is the Women’s Premier Soccer League. This “high level” amateur league provides an opportunity for college players and not-quite pros a chance to play and be seen. The league suffers from a common problem with sports at that level: everyone thinks they can throw some people and a ball out there and they’ve got a team.
Frankly, it’s the players who suffer. There’s a team up in Phoenix called Del Sol (like many teams in the league, it is affiliated with a youth academy). Del Sol usually has its last match of the season scheduled against Tucson. On three occasions that I know of, they cancelled that last game, depriving both teams a chance to play.
Still, the rivalry between Del Sol and FC Tucson’s women’s team is intense. Some women on the two teams have been playing against each other since they were 8 or 9 years old. Throw in both the Tucson-Phoenix rivalry and the U of A-ASU rivalry, and you can have some nasty on-field experiences.
In 2013, Del Sol was playing its home matches in Casa Grande, a city halfway between Tucson and Phoenix. The Del Sol coach told me that they couldn’t secure a field in the Phoenix area. I thought this was weird, but I chalked it up to the fact that they ran the team as an afterthought. The well-lit and highly manicured fields, which were on the western outskirts of town, were used by Real Salt Lake’s youth academy.
Only a smattering of us made it out to watch the game. There were some parents, even though the teams were mostly adults. With all of the lawn chairs and cargo shorts, it could have easily been the crowd watching 12-year-olds at a local park.
I stood away from them, notebook in hand, a few feet off the westernmost touchline.
The difference between the two teams was immediately obvious. FC Tucson’s women’s side, at that point playing under the name "TSA FC", had a full squad of substitutes on the bench. Del Sol had two. It was going to be a long night for the women from Phoenix.
Despite scoring an early goal, Del Sol couldn’t string a set of passes together to mount a credible offense. I would have felt sadder for this predicament had it not been a team from Phoenix.
As the game stretched into the second half, Tucson was up 3-1 with little hope of a comeback for Del Sol. One scrappy midfielder for Del Sol, Sarah Islas, managed her way into the box. She’d been a thorn in the side of Tucson for much of the game, and her rough play only got rougher as the match got more frustrating for her team.
She tried to get the ball past a Tucson defender, Mykaylin Rosenquist, then a player at the University of Arizona. The two tussled for control of the ball and finally, Islas threw a hard elbow in Rosenquist’s face. In what seemed to be less than a second, Rosenquist grabbed her by the shoulders, threw her to the ground, mounted her and started pounding Islas’s face with both fists.
I saw the center referee look at the linesman. Neither could summon up any advice for the other. Finally, the referee gingerly pried the two women apart. They were both shown red cards. Tucson’s coach escorted Rosenquist off the field. I could hear her saying, “She hit my face!”
In almost a decade of writing about soccer at all levels and genders, it was the worst act of on-field violence I’ve ever been present to witness.
Maybe I should be a little ashamed to admit that I developed an admiration for Rosenquist after that. I wasn’t the only one. One Del Sol player had signed to play for the U of A despite grief from her ASU-loving family. She told me later that that moment confirmed her choice. She wanted to play with a badass.
One thing that has frustrated me about the way we talk about women’s soccer and women’s sports in general is this assumption that they play a more enlightened and genteel game. They pass more and are less prone to fouls and other nastiness—unlike those dirty, violent men, they say. I’m sure that they perspire, nay glow, rather than sweat, too. I find this particularly galling because I even hear it from people who consider themselves feminists. To me, such notions are just as rooted in backwards ideas of what’s properly feminine as the ridiculous barricades men used to erect to keep women off the field in the first place.
Rosenquist is someone I now consider a friend and I’m proud to know her. If you aren’t one of the 20 some-odd women who can get a call up to the US team, it can be hard to put together a professional career, but she’s managed. She’s even played in the final of the women’s version of the UEFA Champions League.
Islas works in marketing for GQ and Vogue magazines. I have no idea if whatever lessons Rosenquist dealt out that night have helped her career.