VANCOUVER, B.C. – Team USA arrived in Vancouver on Monday evening for the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament after a long and competitive training camp in California. Coach Pia Sundhage named 20 players to the USA roster for this tournament, which starts on Friday for Team USA. They’re ranked 1st in the world and boast 19 players who represented The United States in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer in Germany. The new face on the team is 21 year-old Sydney Leroux who was born in Vancouver, BC, but plays for Team USA. Leroux’s father is American, and she moved to the US as a teenager to pursue her dream of playing for the United States.
Team USA is stacked with experience and is a virtual lock to win a semi-final match and book a trip to the London Olympics this summer. Team USA is led by striker Abby Wambach, goalkeeper Hope Solo, and a trio of sensational midfielders including Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly, and Shannon Boxx. At the back-end, the team will be counting on Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler and Heather Mitts to protect Hope Solo.
With a team as good as the USA’s, there is always going to be stiff competition and opposing teams gunning to beat you. Megan Rapinoe had this to say about that: “We always have a bit of a target on our backs and I think that’s pretty cool. Women’s soccer is becoming much more parallel between the different countries and it’s just another chance for us to prove that we are one of the best teams and that we deserve to be considered one of the best teams.”
Team USA’s Swedish Coach Pia Sundhage has a large pool of phenomenal players to call on when determining her lineups for this tournament. The Americans will play three “Group B” matchups in the short span of five days from January 20th – January 24th. It will be important for Sundhage to use her entire roster to keep everyone competitive, energized, and healthy. Here’s what Sundhage had to say: “We have created a competitive environment. We had 29 players come into Los Angeles and of those we picked 20. I like what I see and I feel like we are prepared for the next game.”
Abby Wambach, who came in second in FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year in 2011, will look to fill the net against Team USA’s weaker opponents, like the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. Team USA plays these teams before their match against Mexico. With 125 goals Wambach is 3rd in all-time US Women’s goal-scoring, which puts her five short of retired midfielder Kristine Lilly. Wambach – who has been capped 166 times for her country – doesn’t know much about Team USA’s Group B opponents. In my interview with her she said, “It’s hard because we don’t have a lot of video on some of these smaller countries who we don’t get to see very often, however our coaching staff is very well-informed and has scouted these teams. We know that we’re going to be 100 percent ready for whatever they have to offer.”
One obstacle Team USA will face is the playing surface of BC Place Stadium. Field turf isn’t ideal for most soccer players, as it’s hard on the body and can cause serious injuries if an athlete is not in peak playing condition. Abby Wambach said this about the surface: “I think (the turf) is going to be one of the most important factors of this tournament, especially for the older players. The quick turnaround is important – you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a fit team, and you’ve got to manage your body and take care of yourself. When you get opportunities to rest some of your players you might have to take those.”
Wambach is clearly well aware of the challenges field turf brings. Her teammate, Megan Rapinoe, didn’t have as much of a positive response when it came to the difficulties of the playing surface at BC Place Stadium. “Personally I don’t like field turf,” she said. “I think you can ask any footballer and they’ll say they don’t like it, but (BC Place) is a nice pitch. As far as field turf goes it’s really good. It’s a quick surface, the stadium is beautiful, and it will be a pretty cool place to play in.”
Team USA had its first practice at BC Place Stadium on Wednesday in preparation for their game Friday night. If you’re outside of Vancouver and you want to watch the games, all of Team USA’s matches will be shown live in the US on the Universal Sports Network and live on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. Here’s Team USA’s schedule. All times are local.
Friday January 20th vs Dominican Republic at 7:30pm D.R is ranked 88th.
Sunday January 22nd vs Guatemala at 4:30pm Guatemala is ranked 85th.
Tuesday January 24th vs Mexico at 7:30pm Mexico is ranked 21st.