How an earthquake altered Jun Endo’s journey to NWSL and World Cup.

Meet Jun Endo, the pink-haired 22-year-old Japanese midfielder who trains for Angel City FC without shoes on. It’s a sight to behold: she can juggle the ball thousands of times in a row, high and low, low and high, outside foot, inside foot, laces, shins. Watching her feels like witnessing something personal — a private relationship between ball and human. But her extraordinary control is born out of extraordinary circumstances, each touch informed by her story.

Endo grew up in Shirakawa, Fukushima, where she learned to dribble when she learned how to walk. Her father’s a coach and at home, he always let her be free. Her mother is a schoolteacher, bubbly, warm, and colorful, and as a family, freedom and expression were important.

Unfortunately, her life changed when an earthquake struck during gym class when she was just 11 years old. The tsunami was hitting, walls of water triggering catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and the death toll mounted — 18,500 people were gone. Endo went through a period of depression, but the ball was the one thing she could control. She played by herself, inside, and in the hallways and cramped spaces, she began to explore just what she could do with a ball at her feet. It was there that Endo shaped her identity as a player: a master of technique.

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