Margaret Purce is challenged by Lieke Martens of Netherlands during the International Friendly match between Netherlands Women and USA Women at Rat Verlegh Stadion on Nov. 27, 2020 in Breda, Netherlands.
In her very first international match, Margaret “Midge” Purce didn’t exactly make the best first impression on U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
A minute after kickoff against Costa Rica on Nov. 19, 2019, a teammate passed the ball to the right back when a bit of disaster struck.
“The ball goes directly under my foot like I lifted too high, and it goes out of bounds,” Purce recalled on a podcast with U.S. Soccer.
And guess who was standing on the sidelines right behind Purce? USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
“I kind of looked at him, and he looks at me and I just run away immediately,” Purce said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘It cannot get worse. Give everything you have because nothing could get worse.’”
Later, Purce said that Andonovski asked her: “What did you think in that moment?”
To which Purce responded: “It was like I thought it was going to be a really long game.
“He was like, ‘Did I make mistake?’”
Purce then laughed.
As it turned out, it was no mistake. Purce played the entire way of a 6-0 victory. Andonovski has called Harvard University’s first USWNT player back to the squad five times since.
As talented as she is, a humble Purce had several people to thank for her success.
During her youth days, Purce’s father James drove her to games every weekend as her biggest fan through the long climb of moving up the soccer ladder. Like many children, Purce at first played just for the fun of it.
“It’s such a long process,” she said. “My dad was a really huge part of being able to tell you to keep the faith. There are a lot of times I questioned my own abilities and my route because I feel like I live in a time where we have child prodigies in soccer. You see them doing crazy things. I can’t sugarcoat how painful I think the process can be, and the number of times that I’ve doubted myself.”
Purce had plenty of talent herself.
She wore the red, white and blue for the U.S. Under-17, U-20 and U-23 national sides. When it came to college, Purce did not attend one of the Division I schools known for soccer, such as Stanford, North Carolina or Virginia. Her father had other ideas.
“When I was visiting all these schools I was like, ‘These schools are so cool. I want to go there,’” she said. “I remember driving with him and talking about some schools. These are great schools, Stanford, UNC, UVA, all top tier academia. He looks at me and goes, ‘Are you stupid? To kick a ball? You’re going to Harvard.’
“I was like, oh, OK. It was the best thing in my life. I loved everything about it. I met the most amazing people and had some experiences. I’m very happy with the decision.”
Ivy League rivals probably weren’t happy with her decision to attend Harvard. She scored 42 goals in 69 matches, earning two Ivy League Player of the Year Awards. Purce, who graduated with a psychology degree with a desire to pursue a law career, was a first-team All-American in 2016.
She was taken as the ninth overall selection by Boston Breakers in the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League draft, was selected by the Portland Thorns in a dispersal draft after the Breakers folded and was traded to Sky Blue FC before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Her performances caught Andonovski’s attention.
After playing several games at right back, Purce was moved up front, scoring her first international goal in her third appearance in the 86th minute of a 6-0 win over Colombia on Jan. 22, heading home a Carli Lloyd cross.
“We know that Midge is a good forward,” Andonovski said in a recent press conference. “Obviously we saw something in her that may help us or help her become a good fullback and we’re going to continue working as we go forward. But when we need a forward, obviously she’s good enough and she showed that she can do a good job there.”
Purce admitted she didn’t remember what her reaction was. In fact, she sounded like an Academy Award winner thanking everyone during her acceptance speech.
“I blacked out,” she told the podcast. “A lot of people have asked me how I felt in that moment and I feel so terrible that I don’t have a better answer. I felt so humbled in that moment. I just thought of all the work that, not just myself, but other people in my life have put into my development, mostly my dad. This man used to drive me every weekend to the soccer practices with no thought that this would ever happen, just because I liked running around. My brother (JP) has been so supportive. I’ve had coaches who have been so supportive and friends. There’s just been so much going into this moment. I just really felt grateful, just to even experience that.”
Her teammates awarded Purce the game ball, which she gave to her brother.
“I was really nervous the night before,” she said. “I don’t know what position I’m going in. I wanted to do really well. He just was like, ‘You’ll be great.’ It was just so simple. He was like, ‘I wish you knew how great you are going to be.’ It kind of flipped the switch for me.”
Purce credited USWNT teammates Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis who helped her adjust to her new surroundings. Dunn has similar experience as Purce, an attack-minded player in the NWSL who plays on the USA backline.
“I can’t express how indispensable Crystal Dunn has been to my positive experience on the national team,” she said. “Sam was my roommate when I got my first cap. Before training, she (said), ‘You’re going be great. You’re going to be great, Midge.’ It meant so much for someone of that caliber, to have such high regard for my game like it. ... Crystal will come over like, ‘You look a little stressed. What’s wrong? What’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t have the best training.’ She’s like, ‘Girl you’re fine just like you’ve been pushing.’ She’s really been like a big sis.”
Andonovski is expected to name his 18-player roster for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 soon. That’s five less players than the 2019 Women’s World Cup champions had on their roster.
Purce isn’t thinking too far down the road about making the team.
“I feel like Jon Snow,” she said, referencing the “Game of Thrones” character. “I know nothing about what their plans are. If there’s anything I’ve learned from being in camps, you may think you know but you have no idea what’s going to happen. I want to continue to perform at a high level.”
Purce is beginning to make an impact off the field as well.
Last year she was elected to a six-year term on the Board of Overseers at Harvard, pushing the school to divest from fossil fuel investments and commit more resources to climate-focused initiatives. She is also the executive director of the Black Women’s Player Collective, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing opportunities for Black girls in sports and beyond.
“It was formed during the (2020 NWSL) Challenge Cup during a very tumultuous time,” she said. “At that time, there was an abundance of conversations about race in America and all over the world, and about truth, and the discrepancies between what people felt was going on, what people thought, other people were going through.”