JBLM soldier helps bring Team USA back to prominence

By Joe Lacdan, U.S. Armed Forces Sports on August 8, 2022

At local parks in Fairfax Virginia, Haley Roberson endured her own form of boot camp.

Years before she joined the Army, her mother, Cassandra, put her through soccer hell on grassy fields every day after school.

For three to four hours day, Haley practiced her juggling and passing under the Virginia sun. When she'd make a mistake or couldn't complete a set, Cassandra would have her daughter doing pushups or running laps. She even had Haley watch video of the game.

Ironically her father, Rodney, a former Marine Corps drill sergeant didn't put the fear in his daughter, - mom did. "She hated me because I was hard on her," said Cassandra, a former personal trainer. "But I needed her to succeed."

Haley, an Army chemicals officer stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, recently led the U.S. Armed Forces Women's Soccer team as one of the top goal scorers at the 2022 Military Women's World Cup. Her play combined with Army Capt. Kailey Utley propelled the Americans into medal contention in the Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) World Military Women's Soccer Championship and the best U.S. finish since 2004.

That tough love from her mother, eventually helped make Haley one of the nation's Top 100 soccer prospects.

"There were times I didn't want to do it," Haley said of her training sessions with her mother. "But by the time I was 15, 16 I saw the difference in how I was developing."

Cassandra urged her daughter to continue her soccer career by attending college in the South, where friends and family could watch her compete. Cassandra said she and other young girls didn't have the opportunity to play the game growing up in Alabama. She wanted her daughter to show friends and family an African-American girl who excelled in a white-dominated sport.

Haley developed into a top soccer prospect, drawing the attention of several of the nation's top programs, before she finally selected Auburn University. It had only been one season when Haley had to leave the program and eventually the university when she and some of her teammates didn't have the right team chemistry. Roberson had always flashed potential as a scorer and Auburn wanted to position her up front but at the time, Roberson refused.

Instead she transferred to Troy University where she found her niche, directing the Trojans' defense in the backline. But she never saw herself as a leader or someone who teammates could count on. She shunned leadership, preferring instead to contribute quietly in the background.

"I always struggled with the spotlight," she said. "I was always a good player but I was not prepared or wanted to take on the role or responsibility of that."

After graduating from Troy with a broadcast journalism degree and master's degree in 2017, Haley competed in a Swedish professional league she decided she wanted to do something more and looked into joining the U.S. military, eventually deciding on the Army.

"(Joining the military) was always something that was kind of in the back of my head and was never forced, I just was so busy playing soccer," Roberson said.

Being a platoon leader at Joint Base Lewis-McChord changed Roberson in ways she couldn't have imagined. For the first time, she had junior soldiers looking to her for advice. She did her best to solve problems and encourage her troops to take college courses.

That experience helped Roberson, now a first lieutenant, achieve a new level of maturity.

During a Team USA training camp in Tulsa, Oklahoma she returned to playing outside back but U.S. coach Derrick Weyand experimented with her at center forward.

But after a grueling three weeks of training camp at Fairchild Air Force Base, Weyand moved her permanently to an offensive leadership role. For the first time in her career aside from a brief stint in high school, Roberson played on the front line.

The move resulted in Roberson's first career hat trick at any level, when she poured in three goals in the tournament-opening 10-0 over Belgium.

Roberson's six goals during the five-game tournament rank second only to Cameroon's Ebika Tabe. "She knew the team depended on her and she carried (the responsibility) on her back," Cassandra said.

After defeating Germany 2-1 to remain in medal contention, the Americans' 2022 CISM run ended with a 3-0 loss to South Korea in the bronze medal game.

Still, the U.S. became a CISM contender again in Spokane with a new influx of talent.

"As a team, the (goal) was to get better every day and I think we showed that," Roberson said. "The exposure for the team is increasing and with exposure comes more talent."