What’s next for U.S. women’s soccer
FRANKFURT, Germany – The heartbreak of losing Sunday’s World Cup final will take some time to heal, but in the aftermath of the United States’ extraordinary and ultimately unfulfilled summer journey, there were immediate positives.
As it headed home following Japan’s incredible and thrilling victory on penalty kicks, the U.S. shed some tears, pondered what might have been and shared a common message that regularly featured the word “London.”
That city is where the Americans will seek some form of redemption for a World Cup that looked to be theirs when the Olympic women’s soccer tournament begins in a little over 12 months time. And early indications are that largely the same group of players will be in England to seek the only thing that could make Sunday’s loss more palatable: a gold medal.
So often the immediate period after a major tournament is marked by a spate of international retirements. Yet there were none from the American camp and none are expected.
Veterans Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx and Heather Mitts all figure to stick around for a shot at retaining their Olympic title despite being well into their 30s. Also returning will be 31-year-old Abby Wambach, who might never achieve her dream of winning a World Cup but is desperate to add an Olympic medal to the one she clinched in 2004.
“[The Olympics] has to be our next target,” said Wambach, who missed the Beijing Olympics four years ago because of injury. “This will be difficult to get over, but we have to be philosophical and realize we are lucky that we get another chance to do something special in a year.
“Everyone will be motivated to go out there and represent our country and try to win it, although this is going to hurt for a while.”
Much will naturally depend on form, but the starting lineup may look somewhat different by the time the London Games roll around.
The midfield in particular could have a younger and fresher look to it. Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath are expected to mount a strong challenge for starting spots in the center ahead of Boxx and Carli Lloyd.
In attack, Alex Morgan’s performances off the bench in Germany, including the first goal in the final that was within nine minutes of being the World Cup-winning strike, could have booked her a full-time gig starting alongside Wambach.
Defensively, the status quo most likely will remain. Despite the emergence of Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Buehler’s spot in the middle is secure along with Rampone, the team captain.
“We want to come back in the Olympics and prove we are the best team in the world,” said goalkeeper Hope Solo, who at 29 has at least one more Summer Games and possibly another World Cup left in her. “We thought we were the best team here, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
Any kneejerk reactions from coach Pia Sundhage would be out of character and should not be expected. After all, her team was just four minutes away from lifting the trophy and becoming national heroes before Japan’s Homare Sawa, the player of the tournament, equalized deep into extra time.
“It is not nice and you never want to lose that way,” Sundhage said. “But one thing I know is this – and I am absolutely certain of it: We will be back.”
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