Nov. 4, 2003
by Aaron Juarez
Sports Staff Writer, The Santa Clara
The No. 10 jersey in soccer has a storied history behind it. Traditionally, a team's most skilled and creative player wears it, beginning when the Brazilian star Pele retired.
Since then, such greats as Argentina's Diego Maradona, France's Zinedine Zidane and the United States' Michelle Akers have worn the number to glory. All three have won a World Cup and are recognized as a few of the best that the game has ever produced.
When asked why she wears No. 10 for the Santa Clara women's team, junior midfielder Leslie Osborne is momentarily embarrassed, her modesty leading her to dispel any notion regarding a connection between the number and such legends of the game.
"I've just worn No. 10 since I started playing soccer," Osborne said. "Every team, they've always given me No. 10, and here they gave it to me again. It's my favorite number."
As a captain of the women's soccer team, Osborne's example and leadership has helped spark the Broncos to a nine-match winning streak and first place in the West Coast Conference standings.
"Leslie's a natural leader, a leader on any level," said Chris Petrucelli, head coach of women's soccer at the University of Texas and of the U.S. Women's under-21 team, for which Osborne plays. "She has been a positive force for our team from beginning to end."
Also speaking to the magnitude of Osborne's leadership ability is the fact that she is a non-senior captain, a rare honor, according to Santa Clara Head Coach Jerry Smith.
"Anytime we have a non-senior captain, they have certainly stepped up off of the field," said Smith. "That person must demonstrate that they are someone who can make a difference and help the team off the field. On and off the field, Leslie meets and exceeds our expectations as a leader."
Freshman goalkeeper Julie Ryder, who played club soccer with Osborne before coming to Santa Clara, stayed with and went to classes with Osborne when she made her visits to Santa Clara last year. Osborne's leadership and example has made a big impact on Ryder both on and off the field.
"I trust the decisions she makes," said Ryder. "She's like a big sister to me, helping me whether on the soccer field or with school."
Added Petrucelli: "We had a lot of younger players on the [national] team, and though Leslie was one of our younger players she was still taking teammates under her wing. Her teammates and coaches love her."
Osborne's unselfishness embeds itself in her game, as well. She prefers creating opportunities for her teammates and putting their needs ahead of her own.
"Playing with her since we were 16, it's become part of our culture to put the team ahead of ourselves," Ryder said. "We have a motto which describes our approach to the game, 'Wholesome Discontent.' What it means is that she is humble but is always wanting more. The motto came from the national team and it describes Leslie very well. She is very hard working, she respects everyone and she is very selfless."
Osborne's modesty, though, belies her impressive soccer resume. Having played for the U.S. Women's Youth National teams since she was 16, Osborne has acquired a wealth of experience and achieved plenty of success on the international level. In 2002, Osborne was part of the U.S. Women's under-19 squad which won the inaugural FIFA Women's U-19 World Championships in Canada, scoring twice in the tournament. Earlier this year, she was a member of the U.S. Women's U-21 team that captured its fifth-straight Nordic Cup in Denmark. Facing hostile crowds and some of the best young players around the world has helped prepare Osborne for facing college competition here in the United States.
"International competition is a lot bigger than the Final Four, but at the same time it has prepared me to play better in college," said Osborne. "It's a lot more aggressive and a quicker style of play where you need to know where to play the ball before it comes to you."
Coming off of a season in which she was named Santa Clara's Offensive MVP and helped lead the Broncos to their second straight College Cup Final, Osborne has picked up right where she left off, scoring four goals in her last three games. She leads the team in goals with eight, including a hat trick against Pepperdine two Sundays ago.
Yet scoring is something she doesn't necessarily prefer to do. The versatility in Osborne's game also allows her to play effectively on both the offensive and defensive sides of the field.
"When someone is versatile, they are a complete player," said Smith. According to Smith, Osborne lacks any real weaknesses, which allows him to play her in any position with the assurance that that position will be optimized.
Osborne mainly played defense for the U.S. Youth National Teams and came to Santa Clara originally as a defender. Eventually she shifted to a defensive center midfield position, though she has seen some time as a forward when the Broncos decide to press the attack. Presently, she has settled back into the center midfielder's spot, where she feels more at ease patrolling the midfield and being in the crux of the action.
"I think I'm better at defensive center midfield, I get more touches on the ball and I'm more involved in the game than I am up front," said Osborne. "Up front I like contributing to assisting and scoring and helping our team in finishing [plays]. Now I have a different role on the defensive center mid., but I really like it."
With this role, Osborne can make more of a difference in a match, creating offensive chances for the forwards or helping defenders shut down an opponent's attack. Osborne's main concern is winning, and being in the middle of the action helps achieve that goal.
"She's one of those players where all that matters to her is winning," said Petrucelli. "She doesn't care if she scores or gets her name in the papers, she just wants to win."
While winning allows the team to share the success and take the credit, which is how Osborne prefers it, losing provides a problem of its own. As a captain and leader with Santa Clara, Osborne knows where the spotlight will usually be shone on when things don't go well.
"With the national team, I don't think I have as big of a role," said Osborne. "I'm not captain of the full team, so I know that there are a lot of people responsible, the spotlight is spread around. At Santa Clara, I feel like when we lose, a lot of [the spotlight] is towards the captains."
Said Smith: "Captains are most responsible in affecting our performance. Leslie sees as the spotlight her responsibility to make the team better and she takes to heart what we say about upholding the standards of Santa Clara soccer."
Although Osborne's modesty will only allow her to consider No. 10 as nothing more than her favorite number, her leadership and achievements embody the tradition of what a "No. 10" really is: the leader and creative force of the Santa Clara women's soccer team.