PHS Alum and Past U.S. Standout Webber Remains a Powerful Presence in the Goal
By Bill Alden
When Saskia Webber started playing with the Princeton Soccer Association in the late 1970s, she tried her hand at every position on the field.
Webber gradually realized, however, that she got a special pleasure from throwing herself to the ground when playing goalie.
Her predilection for diving combined with her abundant athletic gifts helped vault Webber into the stratosphere of U.S. goalies.
After starring at Princeton High, Webber went up the road to Rutgers University where she was a four-year starter and set school records for shutouts (34) and saves (522) that still stand. Her exploits for the Scarlet Knights earned her a place on the U.S. National Team, a stint that was highlighted by playing on the side that hosted and won the 1999 World Cup.
Webber moved on to the fledgling Women's United Soccer Association (W.U.S.A.) where she played with the Philadelphia Charge in 2001 before being traded to the New York Power and becoming a mainstay in the net for the Long Island-based franchise.
As she recently wrapped up her second season with the Power, Webber fondly recalled the impact the PSA had on her development as a goalie.
"That was an awesome organization, I was allowed to try anything I wanted, I was never held back or discouraged," said Webber, referring to her days with the PSA which included a lot of action on the organization's travel squads. "I developed a fearlessness in the net, not so much from guts but from a blindness of possible bad things."
Webber's fearlessness held her in good stead this season as she struggled to overcome a preseason injury. "I started off this season a little behind," she added. "I had a torn calf and I had to play catchup."
That injury proved to be only a temporary obstacle for Webber, who went on to play 13 games for the Power this season, posting two shutouts and a 1.52 goals against average. The team ended the season last week with a 7-9-5 mark, leaving it fifth of eight teams thereby missing the playoffs by one place.
"This was definitely my best year in the W.U.S.A.," asserted Webber, 32, who gave up 2.86 goals a game in the 2002 campaign. "Having experience and age always seems to help a goalkeeper. I'm better at directing traffic on the back line. We had a new coach (Tom Sermanni) come in this year and some new players and it took a while to get adjusted to the new system."
In Webber's view, her PHS experience helped supply her with the versatility to make adjustments. "It was a small school with a close-knit community that was like family," said Webber, whose family still lives in Princeton prompting her to visit town frequently. "If you weren't playing soccer you were playing field hockey or lacrosse. I loved the competitiveness of our teams."
She found a similar camaraderie at Rutgers. "That was not a tough transition for me," said Webber, who became the first women's soccer player to be inducted into Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame and received the additional honor of having her jersey number retired by the school.
"I knew a lot of the girls from travelling so much with soccer. Being on a team, you make friends quickly. Ten years later, I'm still close to a lot of those people. At Rutgers, I took things to a higher level."
The next step for Webber was playing on the U.S. national team, for which she made her debut in 1992. In her eight years with the squad, Webber compiled a 20-4-1 record.
She was a back-up goalie on the storied team that won the 1999 World Cup on U.S. soil, culminating its effort with a thrilling overtime win against China in the title game played at a jam-packed Rose Bowl that attracted the largest TV audience ever for a women's soccer game.
For Webber, being a part of that 1999 soccer phenomenon is her most vivid soccer memory. "I remember the fanaticism of the American fans, it was incredible," said Webber, who started six games in the run-up to the competition, posting a 5-0-1 mark in those appearances."It was the culmination of a lot of hard work for me, I'd been playing on the U.S. national team on and off for eight years. The title game at the Rose Bowl was just surreal."
With the U.S. hosting the upcoming World Cup, Webber has no mixed feelings even though she's now on the outside looking in. "I'm so pysched for them, I still have a lot of friends on the team," explained Webber, who last appeared for the U.S. team in 2000.
"I wish them all the luck in the world. I'd be selfish to be bittersweet about their opportunity. I've been in two World Cups and I've been an alternate at the Olympics so I've done a lot in soccer."
Webber is looking to do just a little bit more in the game. "I want to win a W.U.S.A. championship," said Webber, who plans to get into broadcasting or acting after hanging up her cleats. "I was a back-up in 1995 and 1999 for the World Cup. I want to be on the field when my team wins a title."
a person whose love affair with goalkeeping was spawned by sprawling
on the turf, the desire to be in the middle of the action comes
as no surprise.