NISKAYUNA – That’s … that’s Carli Lloyd over there.
Christina Calabrese had never seen this version of her 11-year-old daughter Emma.
This is the same kid? The same kid who once marched into the New York State Office of the Attorney General in Albany, where Christina works as an assistant AG, “like she owns the joint”?
The OAG was holding an informational town hall meeting for employees and their families about the COVID-19 pandemic, and “Emma got right up there and started talking to her [Attorney General Letitia James],” Christina said with a laugh on Wednesday.
“That’s her character. They’re besties now. I’m sure Tish James doesn’t know who I am, but she sure knows who Emma Calabrese is.”
Meeting Carli Lloyd? Different story.
Emma Calabrese is a sixth grader at Iroquois Middle School, and a talented soccer player who competes in the Albany chapter of Northeast Rush, passed tryouts to be selected to the Eastern New York U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP) and works on her game on the side with the respected Beestera Soccer Training.
What truly separates her from most of the kids her age, though, is that Emma has also voraciously embraced the work ethic that reflects one of the signature qualities that made Lloyd, Emma’s idol, a U.S. Women’s National Team legend.
So when Christina and Emma’s dad, John, came up with the idea of a Christmas present this winter to bring Emma and a friend to a Lloyd youth clinic near Lloyd’s hometown in New Jersey, little did they know that, as much benefit as the instructional part of it might have, simply meeting Carli Lloyd likely will have even more immeasurable and invaluable impact on this young player on the rise.
Even if it was, as Emma said, “nerve-racking.”
“Oftentimes you see people who interact with celebrities or government officials, and they get very nervous,” Christina said. “And Emma, I’ve never seen her so nervous in my entire life. To me, she’s [Lloyd] just a soccer player, what’s there to be nervous about? Because I don’t know anything. And Emma was petrified. She was really, really on edge.
“It was really exciting,” Emma said. “We talked to her about her life and how she got to where she is now.
“Well, I was nervous just because she’s really famous, and it was, like, nerve-racking to meet her.”
“I think that’s huge,” said coach Mike Matera, the former Siena College player who co-founded Beestera. “A young player will hear stuff from their parents, they’ll hear stuff from their coaches, but to hear your idol echoing those messages, maybe in a different way, they’re going to take that a lot more seriously.
“And I know, even after I talked to Emma’s parents, what Carli Lloyd said about training on her own and pushing herself everyday, that really stuck with her. And it’ll be in her head when she’s tired some days and push her through those tough ones.”
Unlike Lloyd, a two-time FIFA Player of the Year who mostly patrolled the middle of the field while helping the USWNT win two Olympic gold medals and two FIFA Women’s World Cups, Emma plays up front as a striker.
What she shares with Lloyd is self-assuredness, and what she tries to emulate is Lloyd’s motto, represented by the hashtag #BetterEveryDay.
The self-confidence has always been there, her mom said, and is a characteristic that didn’t take long for Matera to recognize.
“Hands down, Carli Lloyd is her favorite player, and I think because Emma’s 11, and she gravitates to people she thinks are like her,” Christina said. “So Carli has the long brown ponytail. Carli seems like a normal person, and she tries really hard. And she’s also very energetic. And has no qualms about speaking her mind. She’s a strong woman, and Emma from the very beginning — some people call it sass, some people call it brattiness — but Emma has always had an opinion and had no fear expressing it.”
“She’s really fearless,” Matera said. “She’s amazing. Anything I’ve asked her to try, she has tried, and everything I’ve pushed her to try and do more, she’s done more. She’s the most coachable person in the world. As coaches, we love curious players, players that ask questions, that want to become better and are motivated to become better. That’s her.”
Being inquisitive and willing to challenge yourself is one thing.
Grinding out extra work away from practice through what can seem like mundane routines is another, but Emma has embraced that element, too, following the Carli Lloyd hashtag.
It helps that Matera gives her “homework” drills that are designed to also be fun, since Emma keeps score against herself so it seems like a form of game and not work.
“Yep, she has a little training space there in the fireplace area that she passes the ball against. So we’ll see if she ends up breaking the fireplace, but so far, so good,” Matera said with a chuckle.
“The worst thing, as a coach, is when you’re trying to push someone so much because you know they’re capable of a lot more, and they’re not reciprocating that, and Emma’s the complete opposite of that. She’s a coach’s dream.”
“I try [to play like Carli Lloyd],” Emma said. “I play like, I would say, at a high pace and always getting the ball moving and having my own kind of style of playing.”
In Beestera, the coaches ask players what their goals are, then tailor the individual approach in the program to fit those.
In Emma’s case, eventually playing at the interscholastic level for Niskayuna High School is an obvious part of her path, but just one step to bigger things, however that will be defined.
In the meantime, the word “scanning” comes up in the Emma conversation, as her coach has been concentrating on broadening her vision of the whole field to a more sophisticated level. Christina doesn’t purport to have had any foundational knowledge of soccer, but naturally she knows who Lionel Messi is.
“Lionel Messi is so good because – I always joke with the kids, you think I’m a watchful mom? – Messi could be anybody’s mom and be better than any of us,” she said. “Because he constantly knows where everybody is on the field, and that’s why he’s so great, because he can think ahead about where people are going to be, while knowing where they are now. So scanning’s kind of one of the things Emma’s learning right now in order to be an effective striker.”
“I like how the position is usually played, how I can get open to help my team get goals, and sometimes win,” said Emma, who was rooting for Messi’s Argentina team during the World Cup in December. “I like how he’s always getting his head up and he’s always scanning the field for open passes or ways he can get the ball.”
To say that someone was born to do or be something in particular is to rocket a shot to the back of the cliche net.
In Emma’s case, there’s some actual support behind that, as Christina can attest, based on her distinctly different pregnancies with Emma and her older brother Bodie.
“My son was first, he’s 13 now, and that kid never moved. Never, never, never moved,” Christina said. “So I go from thinking, always the mother’s worry, ‘Oh my gosh, is he OK?’, to going to Emma.
“People would see her moving in my stomach. And every single time, every [sonogram] technician would say, ‘Oh, wow, you’ve got a real kicker on this one.’ ‘Oh, this girl’s going to be playing for the World Cup someday.’ It was always a funny comment like that, because she never stopped moving her legs.”
They’re still going.
It would be absurd and irresponsible to predict what Emma’s ceiling will be as a soccer player. She’s 11.
But considering the fact that she’s modeling herself after a certain star with the long brown ponytail, who refused to cut corners to find out how good she could be, you get the feeling that Emma’s shot will get the full follow-through.