Becky Sauerbrunn never misses a minute of a match

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 12:14 AM

What would it take for Washington Freedom Coach Jim Gabarra to remove defender Becky Sauerbrunn from a Women's Professional Soccer match?

"I don't know if I would ever do that," Gabarra said, laughing nervously and shaking his head. "I don't have a reason to take her out - and I don't want to break the streak."

Sauerbrunn will start Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Independence in the first round of the playoffs, and unless she suffers a substantial injury, she will remain on the artificial turf at Farrell Stadium in West Chester, Pa., until the final whistle.

She has played all 4,050 minutes (45 matches) in the Freedom's two seasons in WPS and is the only player in the league to never miss a moment. At the University of Virginia between 2003 and '07, she set the program record for career minutes played and starts. Her only absence in 91 matches were the last nine minutes of the 2007 opener against Delaware.

Overall, in those six pro and college seasons, she has played 99.93 percent of a possible 12,582 minutes. Even last fall, when she joined a Norwegian club for a few months, Sauerbrunn said she played every minute.

"I don't think about it, but the girls call me 'Iron Woman' every day and tease me," she said. "It's a combination of luck and preparation."

Aside from an occasional muscle strain or leg abrasion, Sauerbrunn's endurance has not been tested. No severe sprains, tears, ruptures or breaks, not even bed-confining flu.

"There is a reason that she never comes out of a game: She is extremely consistent and versatile," said Freedom co-captain Cat Whitehill, who last year partnered with Sauerbrunn in central defense, a position that the St. Louis native played throughout her college career.

This season Sauerbrunn played defensive midfield, central defense, left back and right back before becoming a fixture on that left corner. Last weekend, her long ball over the top of the Atlanta Beat's back line set up Abby Wambach's late goal in a 1-0, playoff-clinching victory.

Sauerbrunn, 25, has been instrumental in Washington's late-season resurgence. Since a 10-game winless streak, the Freedom (8-9-7) has conceded just four goals during a 4-1-2 surge.

After shifting her around the formation, Gabarra settled on Sauerbrunn at left back because of her ability to not only defend but to influence the attack with confident runs and piercing service.

Sauerbrunn doesn't fatigue often, but when the demands of a busy stretch catch up with her, she is granted a break from vigorous training drills and exercises - something Gabarra offers to all worn players.

Sauerbrunn and teammate Homare Sawa were among five WPS players to play every minute in the 2009 regular season. This year Sauerbrunn and Freedom rookie Nikki Marshall are among a group of five that includes Brazilian star Marta, the league's player of the year for two seasons.

In college, after starting all 21 matches in her freshman season, Sauerbrunn redshirted in 2004 in order to prepare for, and play in, the FIFA under-19 Women's World Cup in Thailand. She played every minute of six matches as the Americans finished third.

Her nonstop contributions in Charlottesville continued in 2005 and '06, but in the first match the following year, with the Cavaliers rolling to an easy victory, Coach Steve Swanson replaced her with a young player.

"He still gives me a hard time about it because I was pretty angry and I had no reason to be angry," she said. "I didn't say anything but he could tell I was bummed out. Defenders don't get a lot of stats - we're not scoring or assisting on a lot of goals - so it was something to be proud of. I got over it."

In 2008, Sauerbrunn played for the Freedom's development team before being drafted by Washington ahead of the WPS's launch in 2009.

"She is dependable and consistent," Gabarra said. "And we never have to worry about her needing to come out of the game."

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