Success is nothing new to North Carolina Courage‘s Cari Roccaro. A two-sport star in high school, Roccaro’s accomplishment-filled soccer journey has taken her from New York to the Midwest to Texas and back to the East Coast in North Carolina.
High-Level High School Success
Roccaro’s high school career on the pitch was memorable enough. It was so unique that it actually started in eighth grade when she was allowed to play with the varsity team at East Islip High School in New York. “I think it definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone and allowed me to be surrounded by players that were bigger, faster, stronger, and way more mature than me,” Cari told BGN. “So, yeah, I think that forced me to definitely step outside my comfort zone and not be afraid to play big even though I was young.”
A five-year starter and three-year captain, Cari recalled, “I was actually the left-back in a back four of three other seniors and me when I was in eighth grade, so I had to really learn to just step up and be confident with the rest of the back line and communicate with the people in front of me and not really have my age matter, which I think definitely played a role in my leadership abilities moving forward and, obviously, allowed me to learn how to play against girls that were way more experienced than me and older than me. It forced me to rise to their level, which was awesome for me. Yeah, high school soccer was super fun, such a treat, and I loved my five years playing.”
She also excelled in track, setting a school record in the 400-meter dash. Does she still hold the crown at East Islip in the 400? “Oh my gosh, I actually have no clue if I hold that record anymore,” she responded. “I don’t even know how I’d be able to find that out. Yeah, I broke that record I think when I was in ninth grade I believe.” Cari doesn’t remember her exact time, but she said it wasn’t anything too crazy, probably 58 or 59 seconds. With her being modest about her high school glory in the race, I asked Cari how a North Carolina Courage 400-meter dash would go. “Lynn, I think. Abby Erceg. Oh, in order. Yeah, you know what, I’d give Lynn the nod ‘cause she’s super-fast. I’d give Kiwi second. Oh, Ryan Williams too,” she answered. “I’d feel like she would turn up. Oh yeah, definitely not me, for sure, but I would do my best.”
A Starlet in South Bend
With her speed and skill, Cari racked up honors on the pitch like ESPNHS and Parade All-American, New York Gatorade Player of the Year, and three-time all-state selection at East Islip before she attended Notre Dame for her college years. “I loved playing at Notre Dame. Obviously, when I stepped foot on campus I was like, this place is absolutely amazing,” Roccaro recalled. “The soccer was great. The academics are great. The sense of community is great. The opportunities that arise for you at Notre Dame are amazing, and I just think that I was fulfilled on and off the field, which is really important.”
She elaborated, “And in the classroom as well, so it wasn’t just on the field playing, but it was all aspects of life that I enjoyed there. Obviously, playing was amazing, the stadium is amazing, and my team was great. Those are some of my friends for life now, and the connections I’ve built will last me beyond my four years. Yeah, it was obviously such a privilege and treat, and I was honored to wear the Irish jersey.”
New York State of Mind
She was the fifth pick in the 2016 NWSL College Draft by the Houston Dash. A major surgery ahead of her debut that season allowed Cari to get familiar with a comedy legend that the world recently lost: Seinfeld and King of Queens star Jerry Stiller. “When I was injured in 2016, I couldn’t really do anything except sit on the couch after my hip surgery, so I basically started and finished King of Queens,” she said, clearly leaning towards the Kevin James-led show over the historic show about nothing in a battle of NY-based TV comedies. “I watched all the episodes out of order. I would just DVR them every night on the couch and then watch them the next day. I think I ended up watching pretty much every episode out of order, and I love that show and he’s my favorite character in the show. I feel like he probably played a similar character in Seinfield. Yeah, he was great and he was hilarious. Sad to see him go, but he definitely gave me some laughs.”
Roccaro also weighed in on another classic New York topic: pizza. “Well, if I’m in the city, I’m going to Rose’s Pizza. It’s in Penn Station, like in the train station area. That’s where I’m going if I’m in New York,” she said. Where does she fall on the neverending Chicago style vs. New York-style? “I actually just had deep dish for the first time, I believe, in November when I visited Chicago. It was very good, but I think I like New York pizza better because all the food’s better in New York, I feel like,” Cari responded. She hasn’t established her go-to pizza spot in North Carolina yet. “If I’m craving pizza, I google New York pizza, and whatever pops up near me I feel like I’ll just try. While she thinks she may have tried a place that may or may not be called Rizzo’s in Raleigh that was good, she has definitely found some quality pizza in a couple of places in the Tarheel State. “Ricci’s! Definitely have been there. I really liked it there,” she said. “And also like, Mellow Mushroom, but that’s a chain, but they’re really good.”
2019, a Year for Trophies
During last season, Roccaro got to watch some of her teammates win the 2019 FIFA World Cup with the USWNT. “Oh my gosh, that was so cool. I feel like it was more than just my teammates on the Courage, but it was a bunch of my friends that I grew up playing with that I was rooting for,” she recalled. “Obviously, I’ve been a huge US Soccer fan my entire life, so it was just cool all around to watch girls I’ve looked up to find success, but then watch some of my best friends find success as well.
“Yeah, I was super proud. It’s cool because you get to see the work they put in and you get to help them be prepared, so I feel like I played a little role in it as well. It was a really cool feeling, and I’m super proud of them, and I can’t wait to watch the Olympics next year and root them on again. Proud is an understatement for sure,” explained the USWNT’s 2014 U-20 World Cup captain.
The 25-year-old got to lift a trophy herself in 2019 as the Courage repeated as NWSL champions, appearing briefly in both postseason matches. “Yeah, it is super fun to be a champion in the NWSL,” she explained. “I think I had a little bit of a lull in my career where I never knew what it was like to even make the playoffs, so then to come here in 2018 and win, and then to go again in 2019 and win it again at our home stadium was really cool.”
“I think that it just showed how hard that our team worked and how special this group is and how much Paul created a culture that allowed us to be successful. I wouldn’t want to win with any other group of girls. I think that a lot of people on the outside looking in don’t understand how special this team is and how close we are and how hard we work behind the scenes when no ones watching. I think that makes it that much more special knowing that the journey was really tough for us and we did face a lot of adversity during the process for those two championships, and we ended up coming out on top. It was like a little reward for all the hard work we put in, which was amazing.”
Back for a third season with the Courage, she loves revisiting the good times over the past two years and is motivated to keep that good run going. “It’s always fun to think about those past two years. I look back at pictures and videos of those seasons as a whole and the championship days and how much fun it was,” Cari said. “It’s really cool because our (roster) really hasn’t changed too much; there’s been a couple players switched in and out and retirements or whatever, but we kind of have that core group going still, and I think it’s really cool to continue on with that group that has stayed in tact to kind of build on what we’ve already created, which is really fun and motivating. I think that it is important to recognize that not every season is going to be the same as the one before, which is cool though, because that does motivate us to kind of say, ‘Okay, it’s a fresh start, clean slate, new group, new season, new year’. Yeah, it’s very motivating for us because we’re all super hungry for success.”
A Watt Wedding
Since that last title, Cari also had the chance to celebrate a special day with her former Houston Dash teammate, Kealia Ohai Watt. “That was so much fun! It was in the Bahamas, and it was a very intimate group, and it was friends and family that were able to make it down there,” she said about the wedding between the Chicago Red Stars player and her NFL star husband, JJ. “It was beautiful. The weather was beautiful. The ceremony was beautiful. The after-party was so much fun. There was so much dancing and music and tons of love and laughs. It was amazing, amazing all around. I am so happy for Kealia and JJ; I wish them nothing but the best. It really was special to watch them tie the knot and see that the love that they have… you really could feel it. It was a really special weekend. I am very honored that I was able to be there and support them. Yeah, glad I was able to make the trip.”