Für die Liebe zum Spiel (For the Love of the Game)
Author's note: The following video clip is from the first night that I met Columbus Eagles midfielder Micaela Powers. The former Wisconsin Badger came to the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) team in late March following a successful career at the University of Wisconsin.
It was this quote that caught my attention during an interview.
It was in this moment I knew that Powers had a unique story to tell. How could a player this skilled look to hang up the cleats before the age of 24?
She graciously told her tale to me for International Soccer Network.
It’s a warm Tuesday night in early May, Micaela Powers prepares to clock out from another busy day at her job in tech sales. She heads home to gather her equipment and begin the ritual of commuting to another training session with the Columbus Eagles.
She found her way to the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) franchise in mid-March after finishing her playing career at the University of Wisconsin in 2016. According to the former Badger, she was “born on the soccer field” following in the footsteps of her older sister.
“Seeing how good my sister was, I wanted to be as good if not better than her,” she said. Powers didn’t grow up in a traditional American sports family. Growing up in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, she had the traditional American childhood, with one major exception. Although Powers was born in the United States, she is technically a German citizen.
“My mom and dad met when they were teenagers,” Powers said of her European connection. “My dad traveled Europe with a band and they stayed in homes during their time abroad. He stayed at my mom’s house with her family. At the time there was a fascination with Americans in Europe especially back then in the music world. My mom was really intrigued by him. They kept in touch and my mother flew to the United States and they began courting one another.”
Because of her dual citizenship Powers recalls speaking German and English growing up, before English rose to prominence once she began attending school. Despite being in the United States, Powers remains very connected to her German lineage. “We try to go back to Germany as much as possible,” she said. “I try to get back as much as I can.”
During her childhood, Powers began gaining national attention for her skills on the soccer field, even earning a call-up to the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team. This is where worlds collided for the young midfielder. Powers recalls interacting with players from Germany in the team hotel. “I brought some of my friends and we explored (the hotel). I started talking to some of (the German players) in English and then I whipped out a little German and they were like ‘Woah where did that come from?!”
The midfielder also utilized her understanding of the German language on the field, sometimes to gain an advantage. “We played them the night before and they were speaking German on the field and I knew exactly what they were saying.”
Powers fancies herself as a true German footballer. Growing up she idolized legends such as Michael Ballack and present-day heroes like Thomas Müller. “The reason I love Müller is that he is a jack of all trades but a master of none,” she said expanding on her admiration of the Bayern Munich forward. “He can play everywhere and he makes everything look so easy. For me simple soccer is the most fun soccer. Müller is the epitome of simple soccer.”
The former Wisconsin Badger may idolize Müller, but one player with notoriety idolizes Powers for her ability to remain composed under duress: Former National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) first overall pick and current United State Women’s National Team member Rose Lavelle.
Lavelle and Powers are the best of friends. The two players grew up alongside one another, went through the Olympic Development Program (ODP), shared national team experiences, and played all four years of college together at the University of Wisconsin.
“Micaela is just an awesome person,” Lavelle said of her former teammate. “I think she is someone who always has your back no matter what. She’s someone who has always pushed me to be better. I think we were pretty competitive with each other growing up, and I think it both made us into the players that we both are today. I loved being her teammate, I loved playing against her, she’s a great person.”
Powers would learn to lean on Lavelle during portions of her collegiate career. She began her career at the University of Wisconsin injured, something that rattled the midfielder.
“I had torn a ligament in my ankle in the W-League playing for the Dayton Dutch Lions in the summer,” Powers recalled. “It went wrongly diagnosed and they thought I just had a high ankle sprain. I was doing rehab but I was still really uncomfortable and I got to college and they asked ‘Why the heck can’t you cut?”
Powers had snapped the deltoid ligament in her ankle. This didn’t set well with the midfielder, as the setback would signal the start of a long journey to recovery. Not only was Powers disappointed about the injury, but so were her Wisconsin teammates. Rose Lavelle recalls the disappoint Micaela experienced during her freshman year.
“You feel for her, she was the most highly touted player in our class,” Lavelle said. “For her not to be able to play in our freshman year because of that ankle was really disappointing for her obviously, but for the players on the team, because she is somebody that would have helped us that year.”
Despite the vote of confidence from her teammates, Powers continued to experience mounting frustration.
“Everyone saw me as this out of shape, gaining weight, not a consistent player. It was the hardest thing that has ever happened,” she said. Powers remembers having a conversation with a member of the coaching staff who told her, “If you don’t do this, you should probably find a different program.”
That didn’t sit well with the midfielder as she made a mental note of the conversation and used it for motivation to fuel her passion during her rehabilitation. “I said you are going to fight me tooth and nail for this and I’m going to show you why you signed me. I would not take no for an answer,” said Powers.
Lavelle saw the fire in Micaela’s eyes and realized there wasn’t going to be anyway that she would be denied and would rejoin the Badgers. “She’s such a gifted player technically that the knock she suffered wasn’t going to set her back,” Lavelle said.
Micaela returned to the pitch with a vengeance, helping the Badgers claim a Big Ten regular season title, and win the Big Ten tournament during her tenure in Madison, Wisconsin. As they say “all good things must come to an end.” For Rose Lavelle and Micaela Powers, their time was coming to an end at the University of Wisconsin. Both players set course for different directions in their lives.
For Lavelle she was preparing for the NWSL Draft, and Powers was preparing for life after soccer. One final moment that both players shared was Lavelle’s draft day, with her going first overall in the NWSL Draft, Powers was overcome with emotion. “When she got drafted, everything came full circle for her. I was extremely proud of her and teared up and posted a picture to Instagram as she sat right next to me.”
Lavelle remembers the occasion, but credits Powers for getting her to where she is present day.
“It was emotional to see that chapter come to a close and look back to see how much she pushed me and helped me get to where I am,” said Lavelle. “When we were at ODP I think we were the two players that played up a year, I think from that moment we were super competitive and then over the years it transformed into this friendship. It was really cool and it’s sad that I don’t get to play with her again, but it’s something that I’ll remember and always cherish.”
After her time was complete at Wisconsin, Micaela Powers didn’t want to set foot near a soccer field ever again. She took to social media to say she was officially retiring. Powers didn’t stay away long as a job would bring the Wisconsin graduate to Columbus, Ohio, where she met current Eagles player Summer Bourcier.
Bourcier is one of the more vocal players on the team and has an incredible ability to be persuasive. “I know you miss playing, why don’t you come to practice,” said Powers paraphrasing the recruiting pitch. While it sounded good on paper, the former Badger’s passion for the game of soccer was gone. If she was going to comeback, she was going to do it on her terms.
She showed up to her first Eagles practice, where by her own admission didn’t do her best. She recalls calling her parents and saying that she played “like shit.” Luckily that practice was only a fluke as the accomplished soccer player successfully knocked the rust off and returned to her past form.
In her first season with the Columbus Eagles, Powers has emerged as a leader on the team and poses a physical and a scoring threat anywhere on the pitch. Since her debut she has earned the respect and admiration of her coaches and teammates. Micaela Powers is back playing soccer and doing it for the love of the game, and it shows every time she steps on the pitch.