West Ham Women FA Cup Final: Bri is the big cheese from United States
PUBLISHED: 08:30 03 May 2019
Little midfield dynamo can't wait for Wembley
Having grown up in the sunshine of southern California, coming to east London at the start of this season was always going to be a huge culture shock.
But for 24-year-old Brianna Visalli, it has been well worth it as she contemplates Saturday's FA Women's Cup Final at Wembley.
The American stands just five feet two inches in her stockinged feet, but she is one of the strongest, most hard-working players in the West Ham midfield.
And she can't wait to step out on to the hallowed turf at Wembley on Saturday.
“It is all kind of crazy,” says Bri in her perky Californian accent.
“It's my first year over here and if you had said at the start of the season that West Ham would be in the FA Cup Final, then people would have laughed,
“I think the more experienced players would have laughed and even Matt Beard would have laughed.”
Women's football is huge back in the States, but they are unclear on what the FA Cup final is all about.
“I have been trying to explain about this game to my friends back home and all I could compare it to is the Super Bowl,” she laughs. “I had to tell them, though, that our final would be a better match than this year's terrible Super Bowl!”
So how did Brianna get into 'soccer' in the States? Well, she started from a young age.
“I grew up in Southern California and started playing soccer from the age of four, though it was mainly recreational – I was just picking up daisies really!” she says.
“I went to Pepperdine University where I played and then I was drafted to the Chicago Red Stars, though I never got to play for the main team.”
Visalli has a British mother which qualfied her to come over to England and when coach Matt Beard moved from Boston Breakers to West Ham, Visalli came with him, laughing: “When I first arrived in England, it was tough to get used to the weather.
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“It is shorts and t-shirt weather all year round in California, it is just summer, so to come to London was a bit of a shock.
“Mind you, Chicago was a lot worse, they have some serious weather out there!
“But I have to say that it has been a great first year. Culturally just meeting my team-mates, who are from all over the world, has been excellent. Everything is so different over here.
“On the field I am very competitive with myself, so I always want to do better. I try to cut myself some slack if I can, but I always want to win.”
Soccer is big business for women in the States, but Brianna sees big signs of improvement over here.
“The path for a footballer here is so very different to what it is back in the States,” she said.
“The men's game is so big here and there is a lack of Academies compared to back home, but things are improving hugely in the women's game over here.
“I am biased of course, but I think the Super League is one of the best leagues in the world.
“Things are also getting better in terms of sponsors like Barclays so it is not only us who thinks that.”
Manchester City provide the opposition on Saturday and West Ham will definitely be the outsiders, but Visalli does not think it matters.
“We will be the underdogs, but we were in the semi-finals against Reading, so we are looking for that to happen again,” she said.
“That is the joy of the FA Cup, it is so unpredictable and it doesn't really matter who the favourites are.
“I think the semi-final was the biggest crowd I have played in front of, but this will probably be 10 times bigger,” laughed Bri.
So how will her nerves be when she steps out at the world famous Wembley Stadium?
“I will be nervous, I'm sure, but hopefully I can keep that under control,” she said.
“In the semis when it came to the PK's, my legs were all noodly, but we all managed to get through it and now we are looking to do the same in the final.”