Sitting in class last October, Andi Sullivan couldn’t help wondering how she had got there.
Ten days earlier, Sullivan tallied a goal and an assist in Stanford’s 3-2 road win against Oregon State. Five days later, she played 74 minutes in her first appearance with the senior U.S. women’s national team, a 4-0 win over Switzerland in Utah. Four days after that, the Lorton, Va., native played all 90 minutes in a 5-1 victory over the Swiss, providing an assist on a goal by Christen Press before 23,000 fans in Minneapolis.
About 12 hours after that breakout performance, Sullivan was back on campus in Palo Alto, learning about statistics in her 9:30 a.m. Probabilistic Analysis class.
“I was like, ‘Yesterday I was playing in front of 23,000 people, and now I’m in this classroom,’” Sullivan said. “‘This is the most absurd life I could have ever imagined.’”
For Sullivan, the whirlwind has only just begun. The 21-year-old midfielder must choose between turning pro early or playing her senior season at Stanford this fall. Beyond that, she has her sights set on traveling to France to play in the 2019 World Cup, a lifelong ambition that became significantly more realistic after her assertive performances last fall — even as she currently recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in November.
The Washington Spirit will be keeping a close eye on Sullivan this summer. The Spirit holds the top position in the National Women’s Soccer League distribution ranking order, which determines who gets first dibs on U.S. national team players entering the 10-team circuit. Washington, currently without any such players, hopes to snag teenage sensation Mallory Pugh with that pick, though they could claim Sullivan if Pugh opts for a different path and Sullivan decides to turn pro early.
“I’ve known and watched Andi develop for many years and think she has tremendous potential,” Spirit coach and general manager Jim Gabarra said in a statement. “I was extremely happy and proud of her time with the U.S. Women’s National Team last fall and think she’s poised for a long and successful career as a pro.”
For now, though, Sullivan plans on completing her senior season in Palo Alto. The South County High School product said she would be thrilled to suit up for any professional team next year while acknowledging that playing for the Spirit would be extra special, should things shake out that way in January’s NWSL draft.
“I’ll go anywhere and I’ll play and hopefully I get drafted,” said Sullivan, who grew up attending women’s professional matches at Maryland SoccerPlex, current home to the Spirit. “But I absolutely loved growing up in the DMV and playing soccer in the DMV.”
With her reputation growing by the week last fall, Sullivan seemed bound to skip her senior year at Stanford and embark on her professional odyssey in 2017. She led Stanford with 11 goals and seven assists en route to being named Pac-12 Player of the Year. Following her appearances against Switzerland, she was the only collegiate player to get called up for two international contests against Romania. It was all part of an accelerated path that gained traction in 2014, when she captained the under-20 national team in World Cup qualifying despite being the youngest player on the roster.
That path hit a roadblock on Nov. 18, the day after the Spirit traded for the No. 1 slot in the distribution ranking order. In the 101st minute of a scoreless second-round NCAA Tournament game, Sullivan charged toward Santa Clara’s right back, jumped to block a clearance and landed awkwardly on her left leg.
“I’ve never hurt my knee before, but I knew right away something was wrong,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan was carried toward the bench with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Santa Clara scored seven minutes later to end the top-seeded Cardinal’s season.
Sullivan’s recovery has proceeded smoothly. Her daily physical therapy focuses primarily on strength training — she’s basically queen of the Romanian dead lift at this point — and she recently started hitting long balls again. Sullivan hopes to be full-bore by midsummer.
Perhaps Sullivan’s only negative turning point was swapping her university-issued golf cart for a bicycle to get around campus.
Regaining form for the fall season might be Sullivan’s short-term goal, but her real driving force remains helping the U.S. defend its World Cup title.
“My goal has always been to be on a World Cup team and an Olympic team,” Sullivan said. “It’s huge motivation for my recovery. I want to do everything I was doing before, but I want to do it better. It’s not just about getting back where I was. I want to get back so I can make that team.”
And if her “absurd life” were to wind its way into the Spirit’s path?
“Playing anywhere would be fun, and I’m excited to move on to that part of my career, but I just love D.C.,” Sullivan said. “It feels very much like home to me, and I think it would be a cool experience to grow up playing in the area and then come back and play and feel like I’m defending my home.”