“I’m fine with it. Simple. It’s fine,” were the words Andi “Sunny” Sullivan spoke as she sat down for her “Meet the 23” interview, which allows the 23 Women’s National Team players to answer questions while painting their names along with the “Always Possible” imagery on an easel.
Those words could be used to describe Andi Sullivan by her teammates. As a captain for the Washington Spirit, Andi has been a leader on and off the pitch. She gets to lead her hometown team, which drafted her #1 overall in 2018, fresh off a National Championship and winning the Mac Hermann Trophy, the highest individual honor in collegiate soccer. The future for Sullivan looked bright, some would even say “Sunny.” A mainstay in the Youth National Team system, where she was chosen as the 2013 National Soccer Coaches' Association of America (NSCAA) national Youth Player of the Year, but found out that after college, hype alone does not earn you a spot on the senior national team.
Andi Sullivan has had to fight to get back into the fold, which included leading her team to the 2021 NWSL Championship, in the midst of that Spirit’s, and the league’s, most tumultuous season.
Sullivan is a classic overthinker. Most media activities seem more daunting for her than they’ve turned out to be. “Okay, I’m not as stressed as I was expecting to be,” she says as she sits down for an interview. Much of her journey as a professional soccer player, a career she has always wanted, has been stressful and full of near misses.
Nicknamed “Sunny” by her YNT teammates for her bright yellow cleats and sunny disposition, she got called up to the senior national team while still in college. During this time, Sullivan tore her ACL during a college match in 2017 and fought to come back by 2018, where she was in the national team picture for much of the year, before injuries and other factors took her out of the running for the 2019 World Cup squad.
In the midst of this, Sullivan’s hometown team, the Spirit, which she began captaining in 2019, was immersed in an unhealthy and, at times, abusive culture that would be laid bare in a 2021 Washington Post article. The outside world looked to Sullivan to lead, and she carried the load for her teammates, both on the pitch and at press conferences and in interviews.
Andi Sullivan is usually nervous, but it is her ability to block out the noise and present a calm and intelligent presence that makes her a frequent starter for the USWNT in the middle of the pitch. Over the past two years of the cycle, “Sunny” has become the calming force in the middle of the pitch, the bright light that her teammates can look to as they traverse a major tournament with a new coach and a new system.
“I will just say, having been both of your teammates, I’ve never felt that [anxiousness] on the field, ever. I’m always like “they’re gonna get the job done. They’re gonna have my back, I’ll have their back.” These are the words of Lynn Williams on her popular podcast “Snacks” when speaking about Andi Sullivan and Sam Mewis, who both describe themselves as anxious players off the pitch. “The anxiousness is less so on the pitch,” Sullivan says in the same episode, noting that focusing on the football on the pitch actually calms her anxiety and lets her focus on being the best teammate she can be.
Knowing what Sullivan, who will be playing in her first World Cup, can offer on the pitch is important to help fans with their USWNT viewing.
Over the past two years of the cycle, USWNT coach Vlatko Anonovski has called on the talents of Sullivan consistently, after presumably cutting her as one of the last players for the 2020 Olympic squad, a moment that she has spoken on previously. She has been asked for much of that time to slot in as a 6 for the national team, a position that many do not count as her most natural. She has slotted in as the lone 6 and in a double pivot along with players like Lindsey Horan, being asked to secure the middle of the pitch defensively while allowing players like Rose Lavelle, Horan, and fellow Spirit teammate Ashley Sanchez to go forward and join the attack and create goal scoring opportunities with their creativity and 1-v-1 ability on the ball.
Sullivan has done a good job in this role, and was slotted into the starting 6 position in the USWNT’s most recent match, the send-off game vs. Wales, where the US held Wales scoreless, with Sullivan playing for nearly 80 minutes of the match.
While the work Sullivan has done for club and country as a defensive midfielder has been necessary, her best position on the pitch is likely the 8 position, that of a box-to-box midfielder. The Symbolic Systems major, who transfers her anxious energy off the pitch, to the pitch, where she tends to play a cerebral style of football, also has great dribbling ability and can help carry the ball up the pitch when the US decides to play out of the back. Her passing ability is under-utilized, as Sullivan has the touch and placement to break an entire line with a single pass to the attacking players. She can pick out the right pass each time if given enough time on the ball, and is an underrated distance shooter who can test even the best goalkeeper if given the green light to try.
Andi Sullivan will be a “light” that her teammates will look to as a consistent starter on the pitch throughout the World Cup tournament. A leader in the midfield, she is the metronome that will steady and calm a team full of first time World Cup players, herself included. If the US goes where it is “Sunny”, they will go far.
Theme Song for Andi Sullivan: Keep On The Sunny Side - The Carter Family