The woman who was named this season's Most Valuable Player in the WUSA, the U.S. women's professional soccer league, was German Maren Meinert. The Boston Breakers forward had planned to skip the Women's World Cup, but she had a change of heart.
Meinert's goal this season was to help her professional club team, the Boston Breakers, win the league championship. While the Breakers won the WUSA's regular season and earned their first playoff berth, they lost in the semifinals on penalty kicks to the eventual champion, the Washington Freedom.
The 30-year-old Meinert had planned to go back to Germany for good after the season, but officials with her home country's soccer association talked her into returning to the national team.
"My coaches and my association made me believe that I could help the German team in the World Cup," she explained. "But I made a late decision because I did not want to affect my thinking about the Breakers' season, so I finished that first, went back to Germany, and then we talked to each other and they made me believe that I could help the team."
So now Maren Meinert is back in the United States and was named Player of the Match in Germany's opening World Cup group game, an impressive 4-1 victory over Canada in Columbus, Ohio.
Meinert can score goals as well as create opportunities for her teammates, so she plays forward or midfield. She was the WUSA'S Most Valuable Player this season, leading the Boston Breakers to 10 wins, four losses and seven draws. She scored nine goals and had 10 assists for Boston, which ended the 2003 season on an 11-game unbeaten streak. Meinert told VOA Sports she felt honored by the award.
"It does not mean as much as getting a championship with my team," she allowed, "but it is my first personal award that I got, and I have never been Player of the Year in Germany, so it is great for me to be Player of the Year here. And I know that I became the Player of the Year because of my team. And I think it's a great honor for the Breakers and for me to be MVP."
Meinert had also been named Most Valuable Player of the WUSA's All-Star game in June.
Maren Meinert said she began playing soccer at age seven. "In Germany because we do not have girls teams at such a young age, so we play all together with boys. Then I was on the girls' team when I was 15 and stayed with the same team for 15 years," she said. "Then in 2000 I won the German championship with Duisberg. That was my team and my home town. And then I played for Brauweiler for like six months, and then got the offer to go to the WUSA."
Meinert played for three years in America for the WUSA and she told VOA Sports they were her three best years in soccer.
Even though she had not planned to return to the league in 2004, she felt the sadness when five days before the Women's World Cup began, the WUSA said it was ceasing operations because of financial difficulties.
"It must be hard for the American national team players who have all that trouble with the league right before the World Cup," Meinert said. "But I think it is a strong group, strong persons in that group. And we all hope, everybody who has played in the WUSA the last year, hopes that the league can continue, maybe in a different style, maybe in 2005, I do not know. But I am still optimistic that women's soccer has a future here."
As for Maren Meinert, after this women's soccer World Cup she will return to Germany and, among other things, work with overweight children. "They come to me after school and I will teach them like how to play little games, how to move, how to feel their bodies. It will be a part-time job," she said. "I will do some coaching, like young girls coaching once a week. I will try to relax a little bit, like to spend more time with my husband, to get the weekends off, and then I will see."
German soccer star Maren Meinert says in a couple years she would like to start a family. But right now she is focused on trying to help her nation win a world championship.
Germany plays Japan in a World Cup group match on Wednesday at 2145 UTC in Columbus.