Jun Endo Takes On The World Cup

Angel City's forward will be proudly flying the flag for her nation of Japan in this summer's World Cup. Yet besides football, the bright and bubbly soccer star chats about TWICE, her childhood memories, and the importance of family.
Jun Endo. All photos courtesy of Angel City FC.
Now Reading:  
Jun Endo Takes On The World Cup

"It's her!" "Where?" "Over there!" "Who's she with?" "Oh my god, it's actually her!" "Where's your phone? Oh my gosh!" "Take a photo!" "Should I ask her?" "Mum, her, over there!"

Her in question is Endo Jun (遠藤純), known to fans of Angel City Football Club as Jun Endo. Her of the pink hair, her of the soaring goals and high work rate, her that has currently just sauntered into the Angel City FC main merchandise store at the BMO Stadium, just hours before she takes to the pitch.

Her that is going to be representing her home nation of Japan at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer.

As a key player for her nation, she is but one of many Japanese players - male and female - that are leading lights for Japanese football, and following in the wake of the Japanese men's successful showing at World Cup last winter, the women's team also hope to put on a performance that their country can be proud of. All of it is an honour that she looks forward to.

"I obviously grew up watching these some of the Japanese players that were playing overseas," she tells me, a few weeks after that moment in the ACFC store. "And now that I'm one of them, I feel a sense of responsibility, but also a sense of pride and some excitement about it. So, I feel excited, ready and happy to be a part of it."

Many different milestones and challenges have built her into the player she is today. In some ways, it was inevitable that she fell into soccer: as the daughter of a soccer coach and with siblings that all played soccer, it was only natural that she should also end up playing the sport. Or as she puts it: 'I didn't really have a choice'.

But sometimes lucky beginnings turn into fate; Endo found herself truly enjoying her game at every level she ascended, and through a combination of raw talent and hard work, in the blink of an eye she found herself at the peak of the Japanese soccer system, and turning pro. The memories of many moments, both positive and not-so-positive, come to the surface as she recalls her journey from little kid to soccer star.

"For example, going from middle school to high school and then from high school to college and college to pro... the expectations at each level are so different," she recounts.

The framework of Japanese youth soccer is a combination of school soccer systems and soccer academies that develop the nation's players of the future, with educational establishments being vital incubators of Japan's future game changers. Watching Japan's top university teams enables any football enthusiast a chance to see which players will get a chance to represent the Samurai Blue and which should - if they are lucky - soon find themselves scouted by the best clubs in the world. Whilst there are a variety of routes to develop and succeed as a soccer player in Japan, that does not dilute the high levels of discipline and competition at any stage of the journey.

"Your performance is evaluated by a bunch of different people each time," explains Endo. "That put a lot of pressure on me when I was growing up. I want to tell the kids right now that even if you hit [obstacles at each of] these barriers, it's okay to be yourself. You should continue playing and have fun, since just because someone's evaluating you one [specific] way doesn't mean that you can't be the soccer player you want to be."

She recounts the support of her family throughout these growing pains, with memories of her mother in particular. Although being surrounded by family that played soccer was a positive and very helpful influence for her, she credits her mother, the one family member that did not play soccer, as her greatest strength and stay.

"[Because she didn't play,] all she did was support me," she says. "She knew when I felt down and when to pick me up. So I'm very grateful for her presence within our soccer family."

As one of the players to look out for this World Cup, Endo has also seen her global profile rise this year due to Angel City FC's HBO documentary, which took viewers behind the scenes of the club's inception, the lives of the players, and how women's football in the States is ever-growing. For many of the club's American-born players, seeing the expansion of the NWSL through exciting expansion teams like Angel City, San Diego Wave and more, reflects the dreams of female players worldwide that the women's game will grow and become more respected and appreciated in their lifetime.

Yet as HBO's documentary and any watcher of the women's game can attest to, in some markets the growth of the women's game is slow, if at all; to the point that when I ask about some of the differences between women's football in Japan and the NWSL, she mentions the former's standing (or lack thereof) in the Japanese public's consciousness.

"In Japan, women's soccer is still not very popular and not very watched," she tells me. "But by being Japanese and by playing in the NWSL, I hope to represent Japan and to encourage everyone to start looking at women's soccer in Japan."

Enjoying the growth of the women's game also goes hand in hand with appreciating how the variety of countries around the world are recognising how many possibilities and avenues there are to help their female players succeed. In this sense, the fact that the women's game is more in its infancy than the men's game works in its favour.

Whereas in the men's game there are tried and true pathways and structures within almost every aspect of the game, in the women's game attitudes to player growth, development and research are more malleable, still evolving, simply because the frontier for the women's football is truly not just in the future, it is in the now.

As a result, seeing the best female players, like Endo, move from club to club, country to country, gives watchers the exciting chance to constantly see the development of the women's game worldwide. In women's football, more attention, mobility and expansion in one league or region can often still be good for all, and keeps dialogue about the health of the women's game open.

"[Now] there are more and more people looking at so many different women's leagues around the world which is amazing for the growth of the game," Jun reflects further. "I would tell people that the league in Japan is definitely worth one checking out and taking a look at."

Yet as a lover of the game, as we talk there's really only one question that genuinely stumps her: who she would pick in her dream starting XI.

"That's difficult!" she exclaims, before she takes moment to think.

And then a few more moments.

"Ah, it's difficult..." she repeats. "I'm a big fan of Manchester City. So I'd probably pick a lot of the players. I don't think I could name an XI... But a lot of players would be from Manchester City. Then I would pick some of my teammates, especially Christen Press. I've always admired her and I want to be able to play with her again, even on this dream team."

Her passion and enjoyment of the game is paralleled by the many other things she loves in life; she likes experiencing life in LA, spending time with her family and her boyfriend and expressing herself through her appearance, whether that be via her clothes or hair. Her many fans on social media delight in seeing her bright and effervescent personality off the pitch, and in this case a picture can really tell a thousand words: catch her during a game, and you can plainly see her laser sharp focus, her quick reactions and commitment to doing the best for her team. However, off the pitch she's just Jun who enjoys going to the beach, exploring new places and pulling off some killer flow. As perhaps makes perfect sense, her inspirations for her fits aren't confined to set rules or constraints.

"It depends on the day!" she tells me. "Like... what do I want to feel like today? If I feel girly... I'm gonna wear some girly clothes. Or [maybe] today I feel casual or lazy, so I'm in casual clothes. Or if I feel like I want to wear boys clothes, I'd wear that. It just depends on the day, and even when I go shopping for clothes, I don't [necessarily] have something in mind that I want to go and buy. I'll look around and I'll see something and I'll be like, 'Oh, I think I'd want to wear this!' So there isn't like a set theme or style that I have every single day."

Beyond fashion, Endo also has a love for music, especially the K-Pop girl group TWICE. At the time of our conversation, the group were due to head over to Los Angeles for one night in June as part of their Ready To Be World Tour. We chat about whether or not she'd be able to see them at some point in her busy schedule, something she was unable to do during the group's previous tour because she was out of town due to an away game.

"After this call, I'm immediately going to look at tickets and see that it doesn't overlap with [my other] bookings!" she says.

Between her own personal joys and her football, it is clear that self-expression is something that she treasures dearly. With her club side, she aims to keep enjoying her football, keep finding new ways to express herself through the sport she loves, with a team that feels like home. It is a precious thing, to be able to find joy in growing and developing in football, which moves at a breakneck pace and can be brutally uncompromising to players in a matter of moments.

However, being able to find new paths of growth as a footballer at Angel City also pays dividends when it comes to her work for Japan. She knows how she wants to play for her country and how she feels she can best contribute to the national team, and at Angel City she feels she is supported when it comes to improving and honing these roles and responsibilities for both club and country. Whereas in some cases you hear of club football negatively interfering with national sides and vice versa, with Jun it does not appear to be the case. Both come together in a way that enables her to keep pushing to be the best player she can be.

And what about Jun Endo the person, not just the player?

"My personal goal is to not be tied down by others opinions," she answers thoughtfully. "Especially based on one performance, or how they see me... because [before] that hindered my performances. I wasn't able to play the way I wanted to. So yes, I [wish] to not be tied down by other people's opinions."

World Cups are so characterised by passion, love, joy, despair, pride - emotions than encapsulate at a fundamental level why we love being alive, human, united with others - that of course spectators, whether they are supporting Japan or not, will surely have something to say about Jun Endo when all the dust settles.

But no matter what they do say, Jun will still be Jun; her of the pink hair, her of the soaring goals and high work rate... her that is happy to be herself.

Jun Endo can be seen as part of the Japanese National Team this summer at the Women's World Cup, and playing during the regular NWSL season at Angel City Football Club. Jun can be found on Instagram.
Liked this? Please consider leaving us a tip here.