The globe is counting down to the opening match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia on Thursday 14 June and sadly for UEL/West Ham stars Cara Connatser (Sports Management student) and Ellie Zoepfl (Masters Business student) their home nation, the United States, didn’t qualify for the finals. Nonetheless, Your Universe caught the Texan goalkeeper and East Coast winger in a cheerful mood and ready to discuss their love of the sport, how it’s shaped their lives and all things connected to the beautiful game – inside and outside their country. Photo shows Ellie (left) and Cara (right) with the Cup medals they recently won with UEL as part of this year's League/Cup double.
What football team do you support in this country?
CARA: “Well since I wasn’t super-affiliated with anything beforehand I guess I’m cheering for West Ham, because we both are on the West Ham ladies team.”
ELLIE: “I also support West Ham because we both are on the West Ham ladies team.”
Hard to say anyone else right now isn’t it? And how well do you think England will do in the World Cup this year?
CARA: “Well, better than the United States given that the United States isn’t in it! But yeah, I think they’ll do alright.”
ELLIE: “I think they’ll do OK and I think that’s the team that we’re rooting for at this point now that the US isn’t in it.”
England have never beaten the US in a World Cup. Do you think American soccer is respected enough in this country?
CARA: “MLS? I think it has a decent amount of respect but I don’t think it compares to the EPL and we don’t take it as seriously back in the States. It’s American football that people are more focused on, so…I think football as a whole (is respected), maybe not the MLS.”
ELLIE: “Oh, I think American soccer is growing and getting better. They’re putting more focus on it by starting academy teams in the US. But it’s not as big of a focus in the US as it is here. In the English Premier League you get kids that have just played forever and know the game and go to games all the time. In the US it’s just not the same. But they’re getting there so in a few years they’ll be close to their potential.”
What life lessons do you think football has taught you, both as a player and as a fan?
CARA: “Oh man, how do we even count? I’ve been part of a team since I was 4, so teaching me responsibility, accountability, just giving everything I have. It’s taught me more life lessons than anything else that I’ve ever done in my life.”
ELLIE: “It’s been the best thing that’s happened to me. It’s such a great thing to be able to lean on your teammates for all of life’s ups and downs. Any other challenges that you have in the real world, you have tools now: hard work and accountability and smarts to figure it out from all that you experience in soccer.”
Any other positive impacts that it’s had on your life?
CARA: “I’ve got a lot of friends but when I think of the people that I’m closest to, they’re usually my teammates. If you’re working towards something together that obviously builds a bond between you two but when you start working for each other to get that common goal, that’s when you build friendships that will last a lifetime.”
ELLIE: “I think the same has happened (to me). I have a wedding coming up and my bridal party is pretty much all my teammates that I’ve ever played with.”
What position do you play in?
CARA: “I am a goalkeeper. So I get hit in the face for fun.”
ELLIE: “I play in the midfield out on the wing. Mostly you see me out on the wing and forward.”
Funny thing, Jens Lehmann (former Germany goalkeeper) once claimed research in his country found goalkeepers to be the most intelligent member of the team.
CARA: “I agree.”
Maradona or Pele?
CARA: “Oh man…probably Pele.”
Messi or Ronaldo?
CARA: “You know, I think Messi. Though Ronaldo is an amazing player, he’s a superstar on his team. Messi can build up those around him as well. But she’s probably gonna pick Ronaldo.”
ELLIE: “No, no, no…Messi. I think Ronaldo kind of does everything. But Messi is my favourite player to watch and to me he’s just the most entertaining.”
How do you feel about the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in the World Cup this year?
CARA: “I don’t like it. There’s just so much back-and-forth on it. I mean I see the necessity of it, just because other sports have incorporated it. I just think it needs to be farther along in order to install it into something as serious as a World Cup.
ELLIE: “I understand the idea behind it but I’m more of a traditionalist and old school. I don’t like the disruption to the game so I’m not super-excited about that in the World Cup because I think it’s gonna cause a lot of controversy, but…it is what it is.
So if the winning goal in the World Cup Final was offside and there was no VAR to prove that, you wouldn’t have a problem?
CARA: “I kind of agree with what Ellie says, just whatever the referees and linesman see, that should be what goes.
Can you see yourself ever becoming a coach or manager once your playing days are over?
CARA: “I’ve always said no just because I wanna back out and go start my career, but I just feel like I love soccer too much to not become a coach or not help others love the game the way that I do.
ELLIE: “Definitely. I’ve coached before, I had a 9 year old girls’ team and it was fantastic – it was probably one of my best experiences, just giving back and kind of relearning the game when you’re teaching little kids. So yeah definitely, I could see myself doing that.”
Jose Mourinho. Hero or villain?
CARA: “Oh man…”
He’s never managed West Ham so you’re OK.
CARA: “I dunno. What do you think? I’m sorry, I can’t choose!”
ELLIE: “Neither! (both laugh) He’s not a hero and he’s not a villain.”
In European Leagues we have certain marmite teams that everyone seems to love or hate. Is there an equivalent team in the MLS that’s positively hated by everyone who ISN’T their supporter?
ELLIE: “I would say LA Galaxy, just because they get all the stars from Europe that had big careers and bring them over when they’re close to retiring. I think everyone’s a little jealous that you can’t get that. So I love to hate LA Galaxy a little bit.”
Baseball, American football, basketball, golf, boxing, athletics, swimming and ice hockey. Now MLS. Where in the list of those sports does soccer now stand in terms of popularity?
ELLIE: “Still close to the bottom.”
CARA: “American football, baseball, basketball...”
ELLIE: “….hockey. Those four I would say 100% are bigger than soccer. When you ask people, ‘Oh what did you go to?’, I’ve rarely heard anyone say MLS unless they had kids that play and they want to go watch.”
CARA: “I mean when you go hang out with your friends you don’t normally go to a MLS game. I haven’t watched a MLS game on TV in years.”
ELLIE: “My parents watch it.”
CARA: “Somehow that doesn’t shock me.”
ELLIE: “DC Utd fans. Yeah, it’s always on in my house but I think I’m one of the few. So what is it, American football, baseball, basketball, hockey…?”
CARA: “I would say golf is watched more than MLS. Motor racing is way up there, not just NASCAR but motorcycles and speed racing, that’s around the level of MLS for us.”
ELLIE: “In America though I will say that a lot of kids will play soccer. It’s just that they don’t watch it and I think that’s one really big difference between here and America. You have to wake up early to be able to watch Premier League in the US and I think that’s why a lot of kids don’t watch it growing up.”
CARA: “I honestly did not enjoy watching soccer unless it was my team that I was supporting, until I came here. And now we’ll just watch EPL all day.”
ELLIE: “The Premier League is so much better when you’re watching in the stands. The crowds, everything…I went to the Man Utd game a few weeks ago. The atmosphere there was amazing.”