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M.A. Vignola ‘came in ready to play’ in her USWNT debut

M.A. Vignola controls the ball in her USWNT debut against South Africa at Cincinnati's TQL Stadium. (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

It might have been her first U.S. women’s national team appearance, but M.A. Vignola was ready for it.

The 25-year-old defender made her USWNT debut in front of her hometown crowd Thursday in Cincinnati, playing the entire second half of the 3-0 win against South Africa. A former standout at the university of Tennessee, her college head coach Joe Kirt said it was exciting to see her debut for her country.

“M.A.’s been through a lot and to see her come out at the end of it and make an appearance to go represent her country is – she’s always had that ability, but it’s really special,” Kirt said. “So excited for her and what she’s put in. Her journey hasn’t always been a straight line, but she’s continued to excel and manage whatever comes her way. To have this opportunity at home, so, so excited for her and proud of her for the player and person she’s become.”

This could be the first appearance of many for Vignola. After the match, interim head coach Twila Kilgore said the defender had come into training camp ready to compete.

“How awesome is it to get M.A. her first cap in her home city where the crowd’s been amazing?” she said. “It’s just an incredible moment with her to actually see how well she took on the opportunity.

“She was gonna be in a good spot, just because of how she came in, ready to play. There’s things that we will work on moving forward, but even from her very first touch of the game, just being willing to settle it. We’re just really pleased. She’s going to have a good opportunity moving forward here to just build on her first cap.”

The biggest thing Vignola has worked on in the last year is her mental game, honing her ability to remain cool, calm and collected. While she felt the pressure of debuting for the USWNT, it did not rattle her.

“It’s just another game, but it was a little bit more pressure tonight,” Vignola said. “Wearing the crest is a big thing. And I felt a little bit heavy, but in a good way. Knowing that this is just the first and I’m ready to take on more as we go.”

For Vignola, getting to experience her first USWNT camp has been a “whirlwind of emotions.” That included getting to experience her first appearance with Julie Ertz, who was making her last. The two played together for Angel City early this season, as Ertz signed with the NWSL club this summer ahead of the World Cup.

Vignola said that it was both a “surreal” and “lucky” moment being able to see Ertz in the USWNT environment, and to share her first cap with Ertz as she retires.

As for making her first USWNT appearance in her hometown, Vignola said after the match that she hadn’t quite had time to process the emotions that came with it.

“I couldn’t overthink, I just came in with high expectations for myself, but also ready to learn and to take the notes of people like Julie, Megan (Rapinoe) and Alex (Morgan),” she said. “Having those people around me was something that I’ve dreamed of and it’s happening and in my home city, you can’t say any more than that.”