By: Meg Van Dyk
It’s common for professional athletes to claim they were born with a ball in their hand, or at their feet. For most athletes, this claim is little more than an interview cliché. But not for Sky Blue FC defender Mandy Freeman.
The youngest of three, Freeman was born to be on the pitch. By the time she could walk, her two older sisters, Ashley and Tiara, were already running up and down soccer fields throughout Florida.
A few years later, Freeman’s mother enrolled her into the local soccer club. She turned out to be a natural, someone with a true knack for the sport.
“I was pretty much always there, watching them, day after day. So a moment came when I just had to play. There was no other choice,” Freeman said. “It just came natural to me. It was completely a family affair. At some points my mom was the coach and at others it was one of my sisters. We were always at the field.”
Freeman says much of her skill — and tenacity — comes from desperately trying to keep up with her older sisters as they ran circles around her.
“My sisters always wanted me to be great,” Freeman explained. “They played at such a high level and, if I was going to practice with them, they weren’t going to be soft on me. I tagged along to every soccer camp they went to, always the youngest player, like the extra bonus sibling. But I think it helped me, even today they are the ones that are always pushing me to be better.”
By the age of six, Freeman was playing on a travel U9 team. Her talent was so obvious that she quickly was asked to play with kids three years older than her and four years older.
Sometimes that push from her sisters, along with her desire to succeed, meant she’d actually befar away from her family.
“After growing up in Florida and living in the same house the whole time, I really wanted to get out and get new experiences,” Freeman said. “So, I began looking at colleges that were out of state. My sister mentioned a school in California that she played against when she was in college. I remember her saying how good they were and how competitive their program was.”
The school was the University of Southern California, which was 2,552 miles away from Freeman’s Florida home. Freeman took her sister’s advice and applied. In 2013 she was offered and accepted a full scholarship to USC.
After an incredibly successful collegiate career, Freeman became the first professional athlete in her family when she was selected 10th overall in the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League
College Draft. Now, instead of simply trying to keep up with her older sisters, Freeman is leading the way as she enters her third year in the NWSL.
Freeman will have to rely on the tenacity her sisters helped develop as she rehabs a season- ending achilles tear this year. Thanks to her family, she knows there’s much to learn as sherehabs, watches her teammates play, and waits for the time when she has a ball back at her feet.