By David Kiefer
Stanford Media Relations
Rachel Buehler is 24 years old and has no children. So, why do her teammates call her "Mom?"
There is, after all, a sensitive side to the United States national team and former Stanford defender.
"That's the 'Mom' thing," said Ali Riley, who plays alongside Buehler with Women's Professional Soccer's FC Gold Pride and did so at Stanford. "You can go to her for anything. You can trust her on and off the field."
And there's the other side, and the reason teammates call her "Buehl-Dozer." She's the player who simply refuses to lose, and has the speed, strength, and dominance in the air to control a match.
"She will do anything to prevent a forward from getting behind us," Riley said.
Perhaps it was the combination of those two personalities that intrigued coach Pia Sundhage enough to name Buehler captain of the national team, making her one of 12 women to ever receive such official designation. The list includes Julie Foudy -- another former Stanford star who held the post for 13 years -- as well as greats such as Michelle Akers, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, and Carla Overbeck.
Buehler, primarily a central defender, shares the captaincy with Christie Rampone, 35, a veteran of more than 200 appearances with the national team and, with two daughters, truly fulfills the "Mom" label.
"Pia came to me with the idea and asked if I was interested," Buehler said.
Once Buehler returned to earth, Sundhage explained that she was looking for a "good complement" to Rampone, and a younger player who could grow in that role with the next generation of American talent.
"I try to lead by example, be positive and provide encouragement to my teammates," Buehler said.
"She has a big heart," Sundhage told espn.com. "She has the best attitude and is as professional as can be. She will be a good role model."
That's not hard, said Jay Cooney, an assistant coach at Stanford and with the Gold Pride.
"She's earned this from working hard," Cooney said. "If she needs to improve something, she'll work it until it gets better, and people will follow her lead. You can't ask somebody to work if you're not going to work yourself. She's the first in the training room and the first on the field to warm up, and she always has been."
Cooney has seen that work ethic from a different perspective. He was in the stadium in Edmonton, when Buehler, who was having an outstanding tournament at the Under-19 World Cup in 2002, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee just minutes into the championship match.
Two weeks after returning to the field from extensive rehabilitation, Buehler tore the ACL in her left knee.
Perhaps that's one reason Buehler said "the last few years have been a dream."
Her serious approach to fitness has contributed to injury-free soccer since, and has allowed her to rise to the top of the sport. She earned her first full national team cap in March 2008 (after earning second-team All-America honors at Stanford in 2006 and '07), won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing that summer, and now captains a the first-place Gold Pride.
"I thought I would be in medical school," Buehler said. "But everything has happened so quickly."
Like wearing the armband.
On July 17, Buehler took the field in East Hartford, Conn., for a friendly against Sweden as the national team captain.
"It was an awesome moment," Buehler said. "I felt so honored and so humbled. I thought of the girls who came before me. Those ladies were my heroes."
The U.S. won, 3-0, and will begin qualifying for the 2011 World Cup later this year. Her leadership will be vital.
"I'm really Christie's helper," Buehler said. "I definitely feel a lot of responsibility, and more weight on my shoulders. But, at the same time, I'll do whatever I can to help."
Meanwhile, medical school will have to wait.
"She didn't want to apply to med school and defer because she didn't want to take somebody else's spot," Cooney said. "That's the type of kid she is."
Sundhage might agree. Asked for her reasons for Buehler's appointment, Sundhage said, "She never lets you down."
Just like Mom.