SPOKANE, Wash. –
On a sweltering Friday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, Rachel Corboz stands motionless with the sun to her back as she looks upon a wall of Cameroon defenders.
Corboz and France have battled a high-scoring Cameroonian team to a 1-1 draw in the championship game of the Women’s World Military Cup in Spokane, Wash., on July 22.
Corboz lines her free kick, as she has practiced dozens of times. The center midfielder unwinds her kicking motion and sends the ball into the air. The 26-year old boots the ball with such power that Cameroon backup keeper Christmilienne Onomo’s outstretched arms cannot stop it from finding the inside left corner of the net.
The score which came in the 80th minute of the championship match proved to be the game winner. “I was really confident,” said Corboz. “My mentality shifted right away to ‘I’m going to score this.’”
White jerseys surround Corboz at the east end of Spokane’s Union Stadium. Her French league teammate, Julie Pasquereau, wraps her arm around Corboz’s head. Although 10 minutes of regulation remain, the French women sense the momentum has shifted in their favor.
One of the biggest moments of Corboz’s soccer career came while playing under a different flag on the other side of the country where her French-born parents raised her.
“I never thought I’d have an opportunity to play in a world cup,” Corboz said. “So being able to win it all is something really incredible – something I’ll never forget.”
Corboz, a French-American who grew up in New Jersey and starred for Georgetown University, now competed as a French Land Army reservist at these games which encourages camaraderie and friendship among the world’s militaries through sport.
“I knew it was a possibility that I could play for the French team given I'm a dual citizen [in France and the U.S.],” Corboz said. “But under these circumstances is definitely something I had never imagined.”
Corboz’s three goals in France's last two games lifted her team to the gold medal, although she had not scored a goal in the first three games and through the first 360 minutes of the tournament. Corboz, however, notched a game-high four assists in France’s 8-0 opening victory over the Netherlands. She had some close calls including a 30-yard left footed rocket that hit the upper crossbar vs. the Dutch.
But the scoring balance reflects the brilliance and depth of the French team, which combines precision passing and cutting with fluid athleticism. The French outscored its opponents 19-2 and went undefeated during the five-game tournament.
The French play as one collective, which each woman three steps ahead and knowing where their teammates will be. Passes more often find their target.
With adept players like Corboz and Sarah Palacin, the French team’s offensive leaders, the team quickly established itself and the most skilled squad in the 10-team field.
Corboz, who has experience playing with two French professional teams fits perfectly within that framework.
Corboz’s parents raised their three children in the New Jersey suburb of Green Brook Township, but made sure their children never forgot their family’s origins. They spoke to them in French at home and during the holidays they went back to France stay with their grandparents. The Corboz children spent their summer months in their native country to experience French life with relatives.
“I always had the French culture kind of in me,” said Corboz. “And whenever I returned to France, I always felt that.”
Corboz in many ways still identifies as an American, but her playing style more closely resembles her French teammates. Corboz grew up idolizing U.S. National Team member Tobin Heath, a fellow New Jersey native regarded as the most skilled American player in the women’s game. Corboz modeled some of her game after Heath but whose style more closely emulated the European style of soccer: high on technical skill and passing.
Corboz said she watched the U.S. Armed Forces Team’s 10-0 win over Belgium on July 11 and it reminded her of the American style of soccer she remembered from college.
“I think I'll always have that American side to me, but also that French side,” Corboz said. “It's funny, because whenever I'm in the US, I feel my French side come out. Whereas when I'm in France, I feel more American.”
Corboz’s future seemed etched on the soccer field. Her father, Michel, played semi-pro soccer in France and her brother, Mael, who starred for the University of Maryland as a midfielder, now competes in a professional league in Germany. She followed the footsteps of her sister, Daphne, to play with her briefly at the Washington D.C. school. Daphne now competes as a midfielder for Paris FC.
“I always looked up to them and always wanted to do what they were doing,” Rachel said.
AMERICAN WORK ETHIC
Corboz earned invites to USA Soccer national team training camps and made the U20 squad in 2016. During Corboz’s junior year at Georgetown, she established herself as one of the top collegiate players in the U.S., earning All-America first team honors, amassing 11 goals and led the nation with 16 assists.
During her junior year, the Hoyas went 20-3-3 and earned their first appearance in the NCAA College Cup, falling to eventual national champion USC, 1-0 in December 2016. As a senior she again led Georgetown in total points, collecting 9 goals and 12 assists.
“As a player she was a wonderful technician, maybe the most technical player we’ve ever had here,” Georgetown coach Dave Nolan said. “In terms of having field vision and having a sense for the game, in any sport you always talk about the best players having eyes in the back of their head. Rachel could see things two or three steps before anyone else.”
After her four years with the Hoyas Corboz had set her sights on playing professionally in France. She didn’t even enter her name in the National Women’s Soccer League draft until the last minute. Seattle Reign FC expressed interest in her, but by then she had already decided to play overseas.
Corboz admittedly struggled in her first season playing overseas with the French club Fleury 91, as she had to briefly adjust to playing a new position while learning the French style of football. Corboz noted some differences as American footballers will communicate more on the field, even shouting vocal encouragement where French players keep talking to a minimum, she said.
She said that in France the pro players kick fewer long balls, instead keep the ball on the ground with precision passing and footwork.
Corboz switched to Stade De Reims, a club based in the French Grand Est city of Reims, northeast of Paris. As the club’s team captain, she scored four goals and tallied 5 assists this past season, as the Reims finished seventh in 12-team Division 1 league, the highest level of French women's soccer.
“She’s really come of age and matured as a player,” said Nolan, who watched Corboz’s double goal game vs. Cameroon online.
Corboz believes her hard work ethic came from her American upbringing. It carried her in her rise to becoming one of the Big East’s top players. Corboz said she tried to encourage that work ethic during Military World Cup practices at nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.
The French coach, Marc Maufroy first approached Corboz about competing for the French military team in January, and she later took part in four training camps.
Yet the French side in her stems from being able to pay attention to detail and being ready when her number gets called, as in the game-winner vs. South Korea July 20, which clinched Team France’s appearance in the gold medal match.
In the 90th minute of that contest, the French made magic.
Lina Thivillon passed to Anissa Belkasmi who back heeled the ball behind her to Thivillon. Thivillon then charged toward the South Korean net, drawing defenders, Thivillon then fired the ball back to a wide open Corboz, whose right-footed shot bounced off the left post and into the right corner of the net.
During the two-day trip to the United States, Corboz acted as a spokesperson for her team to translate questions and answers for teammates and coaches in French and English.
She also taught her teammates about American traditions and differences in etiquette and culture.
“It’s actually been a bit tough for some of them coming [to the U.S.]” Corboz said. “A lot of them it’s their first time in the U.S. so everything’s a bit different for them.”
Corboz said that she would like to compete for the French military team again if she gets the call but remains open to other professional opportunities including a possible return to the U.S. Nolan said he thinks Corboz may follow her sister to the French National Team next. Daphne joined the team in 2018 as an injury replacement.