It’s 10 minutes before practice in the Chicago Red Stars’ training room, and midfielder Julie Ertz is curled up on a massage table, cupping the arches of her feet.
She suctions her skin into a small, pressurized globe, a process that calls to mind medieval torture but allegedly relieves tightness. Her toenails are painted periwinkle blue. A small cross tattoo is tucked behind her ear like a flower.
Ertz winces as she pops the seal of skin, then hops off the table and runs the tender pockets of her feet over a golf ball. She has high arches, a foot shape better suited to ballet than soccer and one that causes her intense discomfort every time she hits the pitch.
“I was 23 in the last World Cup,” the team captain says matter-of-factly. “Now I need to listen to my body more.”
On the floor, various teammates receive their own treatments: icing knees, heating quads, feet submerged in buckets soaking ingrown nails. They chat amiably about the dubious sartorial cred of Uggs, big versus small dogs, new restaurants, Gossip Girl— the free-flowing, unconcerned conversation found in groups with decades of shared history and unambiguous commonalities. Every few minutes, forward Michele Vasconcelos’ toddler, Scarlett, is rolled through the room in a plastic pushcart, a small soccer ball bouncing in the front.
“It was fire,” Ertz shares about the foosball tourney she and a few other players got into