ALBUFEIRA, Portugal — By winning their opening Algarve Cup match Wednesday night 2-1 over Norway, the U.S. women’s national team has secured three points in the first-round standings — and a huge sense of relief. This trip to Portugal will not be as bad as last March, when a wildly bad 7th-place finish may have helped compel U.S. Soccer officials to fire head coach Tom Sermanni.
So far so good, especially since the twin goals in the Norway victory from veteran midfielder Carli Lloyd seemed to spring from an emotional well that hasn’t been much tapped by this current cast of Americans: A little of that old-school, USWNT team take-no-prisoners attitude.
Back in the day, veterans from the 1999 World Cup champion team — Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck and Brandi Chastain, to name a few — never were shy about their ferocious drive to win at any cost. Now, after a tough year of not enough W’s for the U.S. women, it looks as if Lloyd decided to channel some of that no-B.S. energy. She said it herself. She’s sick of losing.
Now comes game No. 2 of the Algarve Cup (Friday, 11 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1) against Switzerland, who have a bona fide star in their attacking forward Ramona Bachmann. Otherwise known as “Swiss Magic” or “Swiss Thunder” or … yes … the “Swiss Miss Pele,” Bachmann has the kind of skill that makes her capable of taking over parts of games.
This is another chance for Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and the rest of the 2015 national team to test not only their formations and strategy, which coach Jill Ellis continues to tinker with, but also their will and determination.
Like Japan and Germany, the U.S. is a veteran team that must try and to capture the benefits of having experienced international players while not succumbing to squads like France and Sweden that sport fresher, more youthful talent and more disciplined midfield control.
But what the U.S. players can control is how much more they can ask for and expect from themselves and each other.
“People are going to have to step up,’’ Wambach said this week, on more than one occasion.
With the return of goalkeeper Hope Solo, who played her first game of the year against Norway in the Algarve opener, the pieces are in place. In addition to her 126 career caps, Solo also appears to be in a different space following her 30-game suspension. She called the time she spent at home in Seattle “good for me.’’
That doesn’t appear to be lip service by the 33-year-old goalkeeper. She genuinely seems to be less defensive, carrying perhaps a much smaller chip on her shoulder. Sometimes great athletes can get to new places that actually help them get better. For Solo, after many years and many scuffles and incidents off the field, a new accountability for her actions and feelings seems to be in play.
“We have to see the work Hope has done off the field and in her absence and I can see a tremendous turnaround,’’ Wambach said.
“I think that once something like this happens to a person, you can see a genuineness in someone. As someone who has gone through a lot, as Hope has in the past couple of months, in the past couple of years … (with) her family — it’s not been an easy road that she’s been on. All the stuff she’s been going through I think she’s just now dealing with it. And for me that’s courageous.’’
Wambach said that even Solo’s appearance on "Good Morning America" was a sign that Solo wants to do everything she can to be part of the team and to win the World Cup.
“It’s not easy for Hope to talk about her feelings and I think for the most part, that is a step in the right direction. What that says to me is that I want to do everything I can to win the World Cup. If that means I have to get right with myself first before I come back into camp like she has, then the sky’s the limit for Hope. I wholeheartedly believe that.’’
Some things about this team are falling into place at the right time, after all. Emotions — letting them out — appear to be a good move at this point.