BLAINE, Minn. — Kyndra de St. Aubin was camped out on a patio table at a Blaine coffee shop last week.
Her makeshift workspace had more than a dozen Sharpie markers, a green folder labeled “South Africa,” a thick ringed notebook with color-coded tabs and her MacBook opened to video clips.
Nearby, she had a manila folder with a handwritten Atlanta United lineup used in a game against Minnesota United, plus other Loons materials.
Within arm’s length, she needed her favorite drink — an iced coffee with tons of caramel and sugar.
All these disparate parts filtered into her high level of organization.
The Stillwater native was in overdrive, juggling her day job of providing color commentary on Minnesota United’s TV broadcasts while deep in prep work to call Women’s World Cup games throughout June. Now on a break from United, her first World Cup match with play-by-play partner Jenn Hildreth is South Africa vs. Spain on FOX at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Soon after the Loons lost to Atlanta on May 29, de St. Aubin carved out to time to prepare for at least eight World Cup matches featuring national teams from 12 countries. Then she hit pause to go to a United production meeting for last weekend’s MLS game between Minnesota and the Philadelphia Union.
During all this, her boss, Loons owner Bill McGuire, texted her a “Game of Thrones” reference, but she had no idea what it meant. She hasn’t had time to watch a single episode of the hit HBO series’ final season.
De St. Aubin would have it no other way. The former Gophers soccer player, who earned a broadcast journalism degree at the University of Minnesota, puts announcing her first Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015 as her career highlight, and now she’s back for more.
FOX has five female color commentators calling World Cup matches in France, and de St. Aubin is the only one without playing experience on the U.S. women’s national team.
“There is such a high bar,” de St. Aubin said from the coffee shop. “Understandably so, there are a thousand people that want your job. You have all of these national team players that are retiring, and not to make a big deal of this, but people have confidence in me. I never played on the national team, don’t have a single (appearance). I do feel like there is always an added pressure with that.”
Hildreth says de St. Aubin doesn’t show signs of that pressure on TV.
“She is relatable and funny,” Hildreth said. “She is kind and smart at what she does. (She) continues to excel in that role as an analyst when cards are stacked against her.”
De St. Aubin also feels a responsibility to not only accurately analyze each game’s action but share stories of women empowerment. She will call the Jamaica vs. Australia group-stage game on June 18, and the Reggae Girlz have overcome a lot just to make this tournament.
While the men’s team has remained funded, Jamaica’s soccer federation cut the women’s team’s funding over the past four years. Now resurrected, the head of Jamaica Football Federation was quoted by ESPN: “They are pioneers now. And they will suffer from it.”
The tabs in de St. Aubin’s notebook separate each national team she will cover. That list also includes Brazil, China, Netherlands, Cameroon, Sweden, Canada, Chile and Thailand.
“You try to make sure that you do these people justice,” she said.
She has her own story of perseverance to tell. At 15, Kyndra Hesse was diagnosed with Lupus, a disease where your body’s immune system attacks your tissues and organs.
She was a standout on the St. Paul Blackhawks club soccer team, but her ailment wasn’t allowing her to showcase her talents. During a tournament in Maryland, her coach was reluctant to play her in front of college coaches there to recruit her.
De St. Aubin ended up playing, but it didn’t go well. “I was tripping over blades of grass, the ball would hit me and I would fall over,” she said. “I went back to that hotel with my dad and just cried. It was one of those things where it was, ‘What the hell?’”
De St. Aubin returned to full fitness for her junior year on the Stillwater varsity team, and she was named Minnesota’s Ms. Soccer in 1998.
She became a Wisconsin Badger and played every minute as a freshman center back. But during one of her lab tests that fall, doctors felt the need to adjust her medications. “I ended up really sick, couldn’t get out of bed for like two weeks,” she said.
But the doctors in Madison and Minneapolis had mixed up lab results, causing the illness. She didn’t want to go through that again, so she came back to Minnesota. With Lupus moderated, she lettered twice for the Gophers before graduating in 2003.
After college, she got her broadcasting start at ESPN Radio in Milwaukee and then went an ESPN affiliate in Arizona. Her first soccer broadcast was an Arizona State women’s game in 2007.
In 2008, she had a flareup with Lupus, a chronic ailment, but has been able to manage it for the most part since then.
In 2015, her career highlight of calling the Women’s World Cup in Canada came with a capstone. De St. Aubin and Hildreth were supposed to be done after a quarterfinal match, but within hours, they were told by executive producer David Neal they were promoted to call the semifinal between Japan and England.
“It was validation of our work,” Hildreth said.
Hildreth and de St. Aubin could get the call to do more knockout games this year, but they don’t know the plan just yet. Like some of FOX’s broadcast pairing, they won’t be in France to call the games live, but will do it from the FOX studios in Los Angeles. This means de St. Aubin will have to rely on the TV feed and not her own eyes during games.
She won’t be able to see things off camera, such as a injured player, a tussle between players or a coach’s focus on a player orthe referees.
This scenario produced a funny memory for Hildreth and de St. Aubin during the ’15 World Cup. The cameras weren’t showing the game at all and instead focused on a kid in the stands sniffing a gummy bear.
The camera didn’t pan away, nor did the producer cut to the game’s action. It was about five to eight seconds, Hildreth estimated, but in TV time, she said it felt like an eternity.
“I remember both of us looking at each other,” Hildreth said.
De St. Aubin added, “What are you going to do? It’s live.”
Hildreth recalls de St. Aubin filling the void with something about the kid enjoying the game.
“We laughed at it,” Hildreth said. “We both do that a lot. We laugh, and that is part of why we have good chemistry.”
De St. Aubin’s experience calling a Women’s World Cup was a top resume bullet point when she was hired by Minnesota United before their expansion season in 2017.
She was paired with English play-by-play announcer Callum Williams. They have different broadcasting and preparation styles that each of them have had to get used to.
For Saturday road games, Williams will have wrapped up his prep and sleeps in at the team hotel until 9:30 a.m. before a production meeting at 10. Meanwhile, de St. Aubin will get up early to run through game materials so the information is fresh in her mind.
“There will be a barrage of text messages from Kyndra” at about 7:30, Williams said. “She’s asking about certain things with the broadcast and players. Or, ‘Are you watching this early Premier League game?’ or whatever.”
Williams shares this anecdote as an example de St. Aubin’s determination to do her job well. Together, they’ve worked to overcome gender issues.
“Someone asked me recently if I had to adjust my style to work with a woman,” Williams shared. “I scoffed aggressively. There is no difference to me.”
Williams and Hildreth both describe de St. Aubin’s abundance of kindness. But with that come self-consciousness.
“She gets concerned about what people think,” Williams said. “I remember telling her, ‘Just don’t worry about it.’ You don’t need to care. You are here for a reason and are going to a second World Cup.”