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Opinion

The US move that stopped Matildas hero Teagan Micah quitting football for AFL

Teagan Micah has been an important part of the Matildas’ Olympic campaign. (Photo by David Lidstrom/Getty Images)
Expert
30th July, 2021
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Six weeks ago, Teagan Micah made her Matildas debut – now she is a star of Australia’s qualification for a maiden Olympic semi-final.

Micah saved a penalty and came up clutch time and time again in Australia’s 4-3 victory over Great Britain.

Micah’s rise might feel meteoric. It may even feel like a bolt from the blue. But this moment has been years in the making. The 23-year-old’s path isn’t the typical one taken by Australian players.

It starts in a familiar enough place. At 18, she played for the Western Sydney Wanderers in the W-League. A scout for the University of California, Los Angeles had been contacting her, trying to lure her over to college football.

“For so long, I didn’t want to go to America. And that was the stigma,” Micah told ESPN’s The Far Post.

“It was like if you go to America, you go to college, you’re out of the national team. Out of sight, out of mind kind of thing.”

After some convincing from teammates at the Wanderers who had taken the college route, Micah spoke to the scout and had signed a scholarship within a month.

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In a way, Micah’s fears weren’t totally unfounded. Barring those dedicated to following the college game, the Victorian-born, Queensland-raised keeper wasn’t on the radar of Matildas fans.

Teagan Micah

(Photo by David Lidstrom/Getty Images)

On the other hand, Micah was getting an education – both tertiary and football. In addition to completing a psychology degree, she played 83 times across a four-year career for the Bruins.

She ranks among the all-time great keepers at UCLA, sitting second all-time for saves and third all-time for clean sheets.

And despite Micah’s initial fears, the national team was watching. In 2019, in her senior year, she was selected as third-choice goalkeeper for the World Cup in France.

“I feel like I’ve gone from a definite [third-choice goalkeeper] to pushing for game time,” Micah said on The Far Post the week before the Olympics started.

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It would be fair to argue she’s done more than just push for it. After her debut against Sweden in the June friendlies, she has gone on to play a half against Japan and started in three consecutive games in Tokyo.

Her performance against Sweden in June and Japan pre-Olympics showed she was good enough to be in the conversation for first-choice keeper.

She was assured on the ball, able to make the big saves, and didn’t look out of place.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson had already broken the Lydia Williams-Mackenzie Arnold goalkeeper duopoly by selecting Micah in the initial 18-woman squad. Against Sweden, he went one step further.

Micah started the group-stage clash in what was only her third senior cap. Despite the scoreline, she held her own. She started again against the USA and again in the Matildas’ quarter-final.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Big games need big players.

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Though Micah stands at 176 centimetres, she was so much bigger against the Brits.

She denied Caroline Weir in the first half of extra time when the game was poised at 2-2. Throughout the game she was able to claim calmly, stretch that little bit further, and get a fingertip to it.

Micah played out from the back, distributed the ball well, and took her time when she needed to. It was the performance of a woman with 50 caps from a woman who has only played five times for the Matildas.

This July could have been so different for Micah. A whole other football code different.

“I think I wouldn’t be here playing football if I didn’t go to America. I was struggling a lot before I left. I didn’t know if I really wanted it,” she said.

“And I have said it so many times and I say to my parents if I didn’t go to America, I hand on my heart think I would have quit and played AFL. So I think going to America kind of saved me in that way and just reignited the love for the game.”

A semi-final against Sweden in Yokohama now beckons. As does a three in four chance of winning an Olympic medal.

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