FRANKFURT, Germany – The U.S. women's national team has revealed the secret behind the explosive pre-match huddles which have ignited its World Cup campaign.
Before each game, the starting lineup has crowded together on the field just moments before kickoff, and conducted a ritual which involves a noisy series of motivational chants.
Crowds around Germany and television viewers back in the USA have been drawn in by the lively scene, which the squad believes has contributed to its fast starts in each of its last two games.
Yet the words yelled out by the players have remained a closely guarded secret – until now. Speaking in the build-up to Sunday's final against Japan at Frankfurt's Commerzbank Arena, captain Christie Rampone and midfielder Lauren Cheney took Yahoo! Sports inside the huddle and told how the process forms a key part of their mental preparations.
"It has become a part of what we do," said Cheney, whose perfect corner kick set up Abby Wambach for the critical second goal in Wednesday's 3-1 semifinal victory against France. "We come together in the huddle and even though we are there on the field, in front of everyone, it is like we are in our own little world.
"We get our heads together and the energy starts flowing and everyone gets excited. We look at each other and we know that we can trust every one of our teammates.
"The chant is just about reinforcement. We just yell: 'I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win.' There are a few other things but that is what the message is all about and it definitely helps us. From the second we leave the huddle we are ready to go – and ready to win."
In its thrilling quarterfinal against Brazil, the USA scored in only the second minute before eventually being forced to come from behind in extra-time and win the game on penalty kicks. Against France, Cheney herself scored from a Heather O'Reilly cross nine minutes into the game following another strong opening burst.
"Believe … that is the most key word for us," Rampone said. "You have to have that optimistic view. That is the inspiring message across the board that comes from the huddle.
"It is about making sure we know what we are doing, that we are all clear in our goals and that we are on the same page with the mentality we are trying to achieve when the game begins. It is part of our focus and taps into our desire, our refusal to accept second best. The best team wins the World Cup and right now the best team is us."
The huddle will be on display once more in Sunday's final as the USA seeks to complete the task that it came to Germany to achieve. Nothing less than overall victory will be considered acceptable to this group of players, a message that will surely be reinforced as the players huddle together in those intense moments just before kickoff.
- Christie Rampone
- Lauren Cheney