Celebrities and dignitaries will gather for celebrations in six Canadian cities on Friday. It is not a holiday. There aren’t any instant developments to herald. This day instead offers an opportunity to glance at the calendar, look forward and start the preparations for the major event set to commence a year from now.
In a year exactly, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will open with a match between Canada and an opponent to be determined in Edmonton on June 6, 2015. Each of the remaining participants in the 24-team field will then take the field in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
FOX Sports - the home for the FIFA World Cup from 2015 until 2022 – will provide comprehensive coverage as stars from around the world step onto the brightest stage. Most, if not all, of the familiar faces from the women’s game will feature in the tournament and lead the charge to lift the trophy in Vancouver next July.
Many of them will hail from the United States as recently appointed coach Jill Ellis plots to bring home the title for the first time since 1999. This familiar group must navigate through CONCACAF qualifying – scheduled to take place on home soil in venues to be announced – later this year, but they will quickly shift their focus to the challenges ahead once those obligations are completed.
This tournament provides all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach with perhaps her final chance to win the World Cup. Wambach boasts a fistful of gold medals, but she has yet to reach the summit in this competition. Her earnest and willing work up front creates chances for herself to add to her goal haul and provides openings for others to thrive in the potent American attack.
Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux will hope to benefit from Wambach’s selfless work and impose their presence on the tournament.
Morgan burst onto the scene as the youngest USA player at the World Cup four years and scored in both the semifinal and the final in Germany. Her intelligent running and ruthless finishing could help her to match those exploits and push her team one place higher this time around.
Leroux is poised to make her World Cup debut after emerging as a fixture since the 2012 Olympics. Her Canadian roots - she grew up in Surrey, British Columbia before gaining citizenship and joining the USA team in 2008 – and her undeniable talents are sure to make her a polarizing figure as the tournament unfolds.
As Wambach, Morgan and Leroux provide the sharpness up front, goalkeeper Hope Solo will attempt to keep a clean sheet in her own end. The outspoken number one remains a fixture in goal and a potential match-winner with her ability to produce save after save.
Those four stars merely serve as the headliners for a deep USA side expected to once again contend for the title. Carli Lloyd scored twice in the 2012 Olympic final to deliver a third consecutive gold in that competition. Lloyd could combine with Lauren Holiday and Tobin Heath to ensure plenty of creativity in central midfield. Megan Rapinoe serves cross after cross into the trio of forwards to ensure the supply lines remain open, while veteran Heather O’Reilly supplies the work rate to make everything tick. Christine Rampone and Rachel Van Hollebeke solidify the defense. And a crop of emerging stars - including Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis – could further reinforce the ranks.
These talented USA players will encounter plenty of competition as they attempt to deliver World Cup glory for the first time in 16 years. Aya Miyama and Homare Sawa will likely return to spearhead Japan’s efforts to defend the title won four years ago. Portland Thorns star and veteran striker Christine Sinclair will hope to drive Canada to glory on home soil. Marta and Brazil will strive to derail those efforts. Reigning FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Nadine Angerer and Lena Goeβling will spur Euro 2013 winners Germany, while Nilla Fischer and Lotta Schelin provide the inspiration for Sweden as it seeks to upset the established order.
All of those glittering stars and all of those countries will start their countdowns today, too. The buildup to the World Cup starts now. The days will pass quickly as the excitement builds and the teams prepare for the journey ahead. And then the number will finally turn to zero and all of the anticipation will finally transform into reality as the tournament kicks off in Edmonton.