Red Stars' Markgraf returns to form

Chicago Red Stars defender Kate Markgraf will never forget the moment she was told 14 weeks into her pregnancy she would be having twins.

"I cried," said Markgraf while laughing.

As a mother, she was overjoyed. As a soccer player, she was terrified.

Markgraf had decided long before the doctor's late-breaking news of twins that she was going to play at least one more professional soccer season.
The thought of twins made her pause, but it wasn't enough to deter her.

On Saturday, Markgraf officially completed her comeback. In the same week as her girl-and-boy twins, Carson and Xavier, turned 11 months old, Markgraf made her first U.S. women's national team appearance since December 2008 when she came off the bench in the 63rd minute Saturday and helped the U.S. hold on for a 4-0 win over Germany before 10,000 fans in Cleveland.

"I wasn't expecting it at all," Markgraf said of being called up for the game. "I was very surprised and honored at the same time."

Nearly a year after having twins, Markgraf still doesn't feel as though she's 100 percent the player she was when she was co-captain of the national team during the 2008 Olympics. She claims she's still a couple steps slower than she was once was, but her recent call-up proved that even a slower version of Markgraf is still among the world's best defenders.

To get to Saturday's point, Markgraf is the first to admit that it wasn't easy.

"The first thing was walking without waddling," said Markgraf, who has 199 national team career appearances. "It was horrible. When you're in so much pain, you're thinking, 'What are you doing? Why are you doing this?' I knew I still loved playing soccer. I knew I could still do it."'

Markgraf wasn't sure what to expect from her pregnancy and recovery. She had given birth once -- her oldest son Keegan turns 4 in July -- but that was one child.

Having two isn't the same.

"It's a lot more difficult," Markgraf said. "Your body goes through a lot more. You're in a lot more pain. The second pregnancy wasn't fun. I do have two beautiful babies, so I would do it again."

Markgraf decided on a different path back to soccer than her first pregnancy. Instead of starting with running and getting back on the pitch, she opted to first begin building up muscle. She got in the weight room and began lifting weights.

From there, she slowly got back to running and working with a soccer ball.
To accelerate her comeback, she contacted Marquette University's women's soccer team, and its staff was glad to bring her on as volunteer coach to help her regain her fitness.

"It was awesome," Markgraf said of training with Marquette. "They're great."

With six Red Stars games now under her belt, Markgraf is slowly getting back to where she expects herself to be. Her speed, delivery on different balls and reading the game aren't to her satisfaction, but she expects that to come in time.

"I couldn't gauge where I would be," Markgraf said. "I had no idea. It's getting better. It was pretty slow in the beginning. The mental outlook is the hardest thing. You have to accept you're not the same player.

"I'm a lot farther than I thought. I wouldn't say I'm back yet. I still have a long ways to go."

As for adding two more children to the mix?

"It's awesome," she said. "I'm having a great time."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.