Aug. 22, 2002
ATLANTA - Just more than eight months ago, Danielle Slaton sported the captain's armband and celebrated with her college teammates. In her last game at Santa Clara, Slaton helped the Broncos become only the fourth team to defeat the mighty University of North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. They were national champions.
This Saturday, Slaton will be trying to win a championship for her professional club, the Carolina Courage. As a rookie, she doesn't act as team captain, but her play at left and center back was good enough that Founders Cup II will be Slaton's first uniformed appearance since being named the WUSA's Defensive Player of the Year.
"Not at all. Oh my goodness," Slaton said when asked if she was expecting the honor. "I'm happy. I'm excited. There are so many great defenders in this league, to be named the Defender of the Year is really flattering."
Slaton was also a finalist for Rookie of the Year, but that award went to Abby Wambach of the Freedom. On Saturday, Slaton and Wambach will be renewing acquaintances in Founders Cup II. The pair have had their paths cross as teammates on the United States national team, and at last year's College Cup where Slaton did a remarkable job of marking the taller Wambach.
"Abby is a phenomenal player," said Slaton. "Every time I play against her she definitely pushes me to be at my best, because I know if I'm not she's going to get around me and get behind me."
Even though Wambach was Washington's leading scorer in 2002, and has been called the best attacking header in the league by some coaches, Slaton refuses to isolate Wambach when discussing Saturday's title game.
"Obviously, Abby is a focus, but they have such an amazing attack that we're focusing on their entire attack and the things we need to do to stop them as a team."
Slaton's attitude regarding Saturday's defensive matchups runs congruent with her ideas about being named Defensive Player of the Year. That is, the team comes first, and the goal at hand is victory in the Founders Cup. Neither personal accolades nor her aching right knee will permit Slaton's focus to be deterred even the slightest bit.
"My major focus, and our major focus, is being here at the Founders' Cup," she said. "All the awards, yeah they're great, they're special, but our main goal is to come home from this weekend with a win."
That may be more candor that would normally be expected from a 22-year old. But Slaton traces her national team roots back to her teens. Her experiences were not lost on her upon entering the WUSA.
"I definitely think playing at that international level helped me," she said. "Definitely, the WUSA is a higher level, a step up, from the collegiate level. But playing with the national team helped make that transition easier. I've played against and with some of these players already. So that helped give me confidence when I was stepping on the field with them in the WUSA."
Just about the only thing not going all that well for Danielle Slaton these days is the right knee. It cost her a few games late in the season, and has relegated her to bench work of late, with head coach Marcia McDermott electing to use her at the end of games rather than the start.
Surgery is an possibility during the off-season, an option that could cost her a chance to represent the United States in its World Cup qualifying quest at the U.S. Cup that begins late next month. But still, the focus remains the same. Winning the Founders Cup.
"One more game. Ninety more minutes."