New England Soccer Today

Eyes on the Prize

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

The U.S. Women’s National Team begins its latest quest for a third World Cup title on Monday at 7:30 PM (EST) against Australia. Like the squads that have followed since the ’99 team that won it all, the latest iteration goes into it with the unshakable belief that they are going to win it all.

After a disappointing loss in penalties to Japan in 2011, Jill Ellis has taken the coaching reins, and has some stars with experience in the greatest tournament on Earth. Former Boston Breaker Amy Rodriguez had an impressive showing during the World Cup Qualifiers, proving that even with Alex Morgan unavailable, they can still score. Morgan may miss the first game due to a lingering knee injury.

The artificial turf, which many players protested against ahead of the tournament, will certainly make this tournament very different than previous editions. The plastic pitches will allow the ball travel much faster and lead to more chances to score.

During the 2011 tournament, the U.S. collected 13 goals. We may see closer to 16 goals with Morgan, Rodriguez and Abby Wambach taking a variety of shots. The U.S. relies on crossing balls into the box to score, but the turf will also allow for longer thru-balls to be played than on traditional grass. This could lead to a different attack strategy by the Americans.

Playing in Canada will likely give the U.S. a home crowd atmosphere in all of its games. This will be a key factor, as they’ll likely enjoy the strongest support since 1999, when the World Cup was held in the States. Look for the fans to be just as loud as they are during men’s games, and to outnumber other foreign countries’ support by a wide margin.

No doubt they’ll need every advantage they can get against the likes of Australia, Sweden and Nigeria during the group stage. Fifth-ranked Sweden poses the toughest challenge, by and large. It’s hard enough to go out and face the foe who handed the U.S. its lone group stage defeat in 2011, but now that team is being led by a familiar face – former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage.

Two big-name veterans need to have solid tournaments in order for this team to win. Goalkeeper Hope Solo has been playing well, and will be looking to continue that form to silence her many critics. Another player the U.S. will certainly lean on is Wambach, who many will remember scoring that 122nd minute header equalizer vs. Brazil during the 2011 semifinal. She may need to conjure some of the same magic in the coming weeks in order to secure the prize that has long eluded her. She’s won FIFA Player of the Year, two Olympic Gold Medals, and is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. Women’s National Team history. But all of that still hasn’t allowed her to lift the World Cup trophy yet and at the age of 35, this may be her last chance to do so.

The U.S. comes in following dominating wins over New Zealand, Ireland and Mexico, and they are in superb form. This team has the right attitude and the right pieces to win it all. Getting out of the group stage will be tough, and it won’t get much easier from there as the rest of the world continues to catch up to the standard that the U.S. set during that magical summer of ’99.

Then again, this tournament isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard. For everyone. The hard is what makes it so great, and the last team standing worthy of the spoils.

U.S. Group Stage schedule

June 8  vs. Australia  – 7:30 p.m. ET
FOX Sports
Winnipeg Stadium; Winnipeg, Canada

June 12 vs. Sweden – 8 p.m. ET
FOX Sports
Winnipeg Stadium; Winnipeg, Canada

June 16 vs. Nigeria – 8 p.m. ET
FOX Sports
BC Place Stadium; Vancouver, Canada

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