GW Lacrosse Alum Fortunato Aids USWNT World Cup Run
Amid the hugs, confetti and blissful chaos of a long-awaited celebration, Emily Fortunato had a call to make.
When her mother's face popped up on the cell phone, Fortunato's tears started streaming right there on the field at a sold-out Stade de Lyon.
The Americans were FIFA Women's World Cup champions again after a 2-0 win over the Netherlands. Why, her mother wanted to know, was she crying?
"I was like 'I'm so exhausted, I'm so happy, I'm all the feelings,'" said Fortunato, a GW lacrosse goalkeeper from 2004 to 2007 who served as one of four athletic trainers with the USWNT throughout the tournament. "I think for everyone all the emotions of the past two months just came out.
"We were so happy and excited that we did it. We were champions. Our mission was accomplished."
For Fortunato, the scene on July 7 was the ultimate payoff for weeks of grinding behind the scenes in support of the USWNT's efforts in France. The Red, White and Blue never trailed on their unbeaten World Cup run on the strength of a record 26 goals over seven games, but that didn't mean it was easy for anybody involved.
Fortunato was part of a medical team that put in long hours to make sure all 23 players were available to head coach Jill Ellis for the final victory. She watched from a perch high above the action as the group's "eyes in the sky" before gleefully making her way down to join in the party.
Down on the pitch, Fortunato swelled with pride watching U.S. players pull on new jerseys emblazoned with four stars to represent the country's record fourth World Cup victory.
"Just to have any bit of a hand in their success to go back-to-back as World Champions, it's very humbling and rewarding and definitely something that we'll have those memories for a lifetime," Fortunato said. "We put that fourth star on that shirt, every single one of us, and I'm very proud and honored to say that."
A 2007 graduate of the Athletic Training program in GW's Milken School of Public Health, Fortunato said her time as a student-athlete in Foggy Bottom balancing a demanding major with her lacrosse responsibilities helped her develop the hard-working attitude necessary to carve out a career working in pro sports.
"That mindset has never left me to this day," said Fortunato, who remains GW's all-time leader in goals against average (9.95). "You've got to do whatever it takes to get the job done, just managing your time and busting your butt."
Fortunato's path to the USWNT started with a gig assisting the Washington Freedom of the defunct league known as Women's Professional Soccer fresh out of graduate school in 2009.
There, the New York native had a chance to work with current National Teamers Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, who put in a good word on her behalf with U.S. Soccer. She was invited to take part in her first National Team camp in 2013 and continued to help out whenever she could.
Fortunato worked with the Washington Spirit in the National Women's Soccer League (2013-2015) and Washington Mystics in the WNBA (2015-2017) before landing her current role with Utah Royals FC in the NWSL. (She also had the chance to help out at her alma mater during her Mystics stint, serving as head trainer for the GW gymnastics squad that won the 2017 EAGL championship.)
It was difficult to fit in much extra work with U.S. Soccer while Fortunato was with the Mystics because the WNBA's summer season overlaps with the major international soccer tournaments.
Now that she's back in pro soccer, Fortunato has had more flexibility to get involved on the national level, handling a role that's equal parts challenging and rewarding.
"No one really sees all the treatment and all the care and the late hours that we put in," said Fortunato, who was also part of the U.S. contingent in Uruguay last November for the U-17 Women's World Cup. "We call ourselves 'the team behind the team.'"
In France, Fortunato stayed busy in an effort to keep the U.S. squad fit and fresh. She was part of a training staff that navigated a few minor injuries, notably a hamstring strain that kept Golden Ball winner Megan Rapinoe out of the semifinal, to get everyone suited up for the final.
The game days were especially taxing with postgame treatment stretching well into the night followed by early wake-up calls to move the whole operation onto the next city on the schedule.
Fortunato landed her own piece of the spotlight thanks to an Instagram post from Carli Lloyd in which the trainer fired a football from a hotel balcony on target to the two-time FIFA Player of the Year below in a cold tub.
That football has a GW connection, Fortunato explained with a laugh. It was purchased on a spring break trip to Florida during her days with the Colonials well before it landed in a video that's been viewed nearly 500,000 times.
"I'll be honest, it was my second throw, but we were both so pumped," Fortunato said. "That was pretty far, and Carli didn't have to move very far to catch it."That thrill, of course, paled in comparison to the jubilation that was coming.
After her tearful call to Mom, Fortunato savored the epic celebration in France before the bash moved back stateside. The support team had its own float for the ticker tape parade on July 10 in New York City.
The ride down a packed stretch of Broadway known as the Canyon of Heroes helped Fortunato to better appreciate the magnitude of the accomplishment.
"It was just really cool," Fortunato said by phone from Utah, where she's preparing for the second half of the NWSL season. "There were little boys and little girls there holding up USA signs, just so many people chanting and supporting the team. You really realized how it was just so much bigger than us. We had this nation behind us, and it was really cool to be a part of."