Indigo Gibson is out of place. While she’s played center defense for nearly her entire life, in her inaugural season for the Bears she finds herself at the unfamiliar outside back position in her inaugural season as a Bear — a position that she doesn’t exactly feel relaxed in.
It’s 2014 and the then-No. 22 Cal is playing USC, a must-win match as the Bears are coming off of consecutive losses to both Washington and Washington State. With 12 minutes left, the game is tied, 1-1.
Gibson, supposedly uncomfortable at the position of outside back, carries the ball expertly up the flank and lobs a cross into the box, finding the head of Arielle Ship and assisting a goal that will seal a necessary win for the Bears.
But for anyone who knew her, the play was no surprise. While she wasn’t playing her natural position, her field awareness gave away her natural aptitude for the game — it was clear she had soccer in her veins.
Gibson wasn’t supposed to be born on May 1, 1996.
She was thrust into the world 10 weeks early, a circumstance that rendered her future uncertain. Upon entering the world, Gibson weighed just three pounds one ounce — placing her in that slim one and a half percent of babies who are born in the “very low birth weight” category.
“She was in the hospital for two months, and my wife and I would go in and see her day in and day out before we could take her home,” says Gibson’s father, Neil.
But despite that tough start, Gibson’s entry into the world of soccer was not delayed one bit.
For the Gibson’s, the game is a family affair: her father Neil played collegiate soccer in England and briefly professionally in the United States while her mother, Paulette, played at UC Irvine. With a genealogy like that, Gibson was raised a soccer player.
She started playing herself around the age of four, in recreational and AYSO leagues. But that quickly lead to more competitive levels — club, high school, youth national teams and eventually, NCAA Division I. Throughout every age and stage, though, one thing has remained the same: the unity of the Gibson triumvirate.
“My dad used to be really hard on me because he knows a lot about soccer,” Gibson says. “Both of my parents know when I’m having a good game and when I’m having a bad game, but it’s good because now I’m critiquing myself and I know that I can look back and tell myself what I could do better.”
Gibson’s father coached her in her AYSO days, the time in which it becomes clear who is cut out for serious soccer and who should stick to a more novice level.
“I remember a game when she did this one thing, and I could just tell that she could play the game,” Neil says. “It was one unique thing that she did where I went, ‘There it is, she gets it.’ ”
After that, things got serious. Gibson began to attend youth camps for the US National Team and did so until she was about 17 or 18, even going to the USWNT’s U-23 training camp this past summer. Her talent has brought her multiple opportunities on the national stage — and not just in the United States.
Because her mother is from Canada, Gibson had the opportunity to play with the U-20 Canadian National Team in 2016. She’s traveled the world to play soccer, which is fitting considering her multinational heritage.
“We call her Jason Borne: because he goes all over and gets all these passports,” Neil says. “I’m from England, her mom was born in Canada, her grandma is from New Zealand and her grandfather is from Germany.”
Gibson has travelled to England, Spain, Italy, Costa Rica and a host of other countries and United States to play soccer. For her, soccer is more than just a game. It’s an opportunity to explore the world while doing what she loves the most. Through her travels, she’s been exposed to more than just different ways of life, she’s been exposed to different types of soccer, which has undoubtedly influenced the way she sees the game.
“I love the culture (in England), and that’s my main goal — to get a different culture and a different lifestyle would be super cool and if soccer could bring me there that’s cool and if not then maybe a future career,” Gibson says.
Gibson started getting heavy attention from college coaches around her sophomore year in high school. While Cal wasn’t initially on her radar among the panoply of potential schools, once she paid it some attention, her fate was essentially determined.
“I had my visit and for some reason Cal felt at home,” Gibson says. “I felt like it was a place I could grow as a player and as a person and I made my decision almost immediately.”
The move to Berkeley would be just one of the many adventures that soccer would take her on. Although the physical move from Orange County to the Bay Area was a big one for Gibson, it has provided her with a new intellectual community as well.
“I think playing soccer has been something that helps you learn to get to know people and deal with different people,” Gibson says.
At every one of these levels, Paulette and Neil have been unwaveringly supportive of their daughter’s athletic career. In her four years at Cal, Indigo’s parents have only missed a couple of games — they even travelled to Europe with the team this past summer to see their daughter play. While most children might balk at this level of parental presence, Indigo welcomes it.
“They’re my best friends and my biggest influences in life,” Indigo says. “I’m an only child so it’s been really cool to go through college and have their support. They come to all my games and they come support me through everything. I think I can look at them as best friends and I can always go to them with stuff.”
Neil believes this connection has emerged because of Indigo’s premature birth: the type of dire situation that renders the parent-child connection even more robust.
“She had a rough start, and I think that has translated into us supporting and going to all these things,” Neil says. “A lot of times kids don’t want their parents around, and we’ve gone to every game, because we love being around her and we love watching her play. … I think we appreciate it a bit more because of the challenges that we faced.”
For Gibson, soccer has taught her lessons about how to deal with failure, how to confront and overcome one’s breaking point and how to build foundational relationships with others. But while it’s lead her face to face with some of life’s most difficult situations, it also helps her to cope with them.
“Everyone has stress in life no matter what it is,” Gibson says. “And I think everyone has that one thing that shuts it off, like I can go on a soccer field and I feel at peace. I feel like this is what I should be doing, it’s my happy place. Being on the soccer field and competing and being able to experience all the amazing things that I’ve experienced, it’s my calming place.”
While some of her peers have quit throughout her time at Cal, she has remained an integral player on the Bears’ squad. This season, her final one as a senior, she catalogued the most minutes of any field player in the regular season, and even when she’s felt discouraged by the game, she’s found a way to push through — and that’s because of her almost hereditary love for it.
“I don’t think I ever wanted to quit, I definitely think there were times when it pushed me to my limits and it made me question what my role was, what was going to happen in the future,” Gibson says. “I definitely think that there’s a breaking point for everyone but once you get over that hump and realize, OK, I’m just gonna keep going then that contributes a lot.”
Soccer has moved Gibson from Orange County to the Bay Area and beyond — to different countries, continents and cultures. While she doesn’t know where exactly it will take her next, she’s willing to ride the wave wherever it decides to break.
“I’m hoping I can go abroad,” Gibson says. “I want to keep playing because soccer has been a constant throughout my whole life so I think any opportunity I can get to keep playing would be great, but I’m keeping my options open. I’m hoping for the best.”
Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]