Brianna Ryce had an opportunity to play in the attacking third during the offseason, and it turned out to be quite an experience.
She had played forward her entire career and scored twice (game-winning goal against Cincinnati) while adding one assist as a freshman at DePaul.
In an effort to solidify the defense, Ryce was switched to defender last fall---the first time she had ever played that position.
Ryce made a smooth transformation, teaming up with Kylie Nordness, Rachel Pitman and Nina Kodros to form the best back line in the BIG EAST Conference as the Blue Demons gave up the fewest goals.
Defensive-minded DePaul advanced to its first BIG EAST Championship title game in program history and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Nordness was selected All-BIG EAST First Team and Pitman All-BIG EAST Third Team while Alex Godinez was honored as BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year. Elise Wyatt and Rebekah Roller made All-BIG EAST Second Team.
When Ryce got a chance to play forward again, it didn’t take long for the sophomore to make an impact on the women’s U-20 international soccer stage.
In her first game as a member of Trinidad & Tobago’s national team, Ryce scored a goal in a 2-0 victory over Honduras Jan. 10 in the opener of the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship in the Cayman Islands.
One newspaper account described the goal as a “wonderful glancing header off a cross from Patrice Campbell.” That same story also described her play as “brilliant” throughout the match while displaying “some silky skills.”
Ryce, who gained Trinidad citizenship through her grandmother Janet Wright, was named Player of the Match.
“I had been playing center back the whole season at DePaul, but I had the chance to play forward with Trinidad,” Ryce said. “It felt like I had a release and could do whatever I wanted.
“It was my first time playing up top since my freshman year. I came into the Honduras game with a lot of energy. It’s more fun to be an attacking player.
“I saw Patrice dribbling down the right side and I knew she delivered good crosses. I was on the opposite wing and made my run late. The defender didn’t see me coming. I was about four yards in front of the net when the cross came. I put my head in front of it and flicked it."
What came next caught Ryce by surprise.
“I didn’t expect it to go in,” Ryce said. “I wouldn’t consider heading the ball to be one of my strongest features. It was a quick play.
“I was so happy---it was great. That was my first CONCACAF goal. I also had an assist in our 4-0 win over the Cayman Islands.”
Ryce helped lead the Soca Princesses to second place in Group B and a shot at qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup with the top three teams advancing.
In Trinidad’s best U-20 showing in its history, Ryce & Co. led Costa Rica 3-2 in the 85th minute of the Jan. 19 third-place game when Costa Rica found the equalizer.
Just five more minutes and Ryce would’ve qualified for the U-20 World Cup.
Instead, Costa Rica scored four goals in extra time for a 7-3 victory.
“We were up 3-1 at halftime against Costa Rica,” Ryce said. “It was shocking for me when they scored the tying goal in the 85th minute. That was heartbreaking. We were right there, so close to qualifying for the World Cup.”
Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona said that Ryce’s team was on the brink of becoming the first to represent the Caribbean Islands at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Carmona said the U-20 women “displayed grit and determination to become real contenders in the Cayman Islands’ World Cup qualifying tournament.
“I can tell you I felt a great sense of national pride and joy when I saw how those young women fought on behalf of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago,” Carmona said in a local newspaper account.
Ryce flew to Miami last December for the two-week tryouts and training with about 30 other players.
“The first week was two-a-day training,” Ryce said. “Then we had a scrimmage against a Florida regional team and back to two-a-days. I found out I had made the team after being given flight and travel information to the Cayman Islands.
“I felt both happy and relieved. It was a relief all that hard work had paid off. I had played on the Trinidad U-17 team that advanced to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but we didn’t make it out of group play. That experience made it a lot easier with the U-20 team because I knew what I had to do.”
Ryce came back to Lincoln Park a more complete player after performing well in the Cayman Islands tournament won by the USA.
“This gave me experience playing on a different team with a different style of play,” Ryce said. “I didn’t know many of my teammates, and it was a lot different from playing at DePaul. I learned to be more of a professional in adapting to a different system. You have to be completely invested in the games.
“After playing center back last season, there were a few doubts about playing up top. The CONCACAF tournament reinforced that I can still make an impact at the forward position.
“It was like: ‘OK Bri, you can still play the position, and now you can be impactful both offensively and defensively.’ I was able to carry over some of my defensive skills from DePaul to the forward spot with Trinidad.”
Ryce’s versatility at both ends of the soccer field will no doubt pay dividends for the Blue Demons in the upcoming fall season.