Young players could be key for US women

Too young, or just young enough.

Either could wind up being the description – and ultimately, the

deciding factor – for the U.S. women.

With 13 World Cup newcomers on the roster, the team could be

considered too inexperienced. Yet the veterans on the squad believe

those ”rookies” will play a major role in the tournament that

begins later this month.

Among those youngsters are dangerous attackers Amy Rodriguez and

Alex Morgan, defender Rachel Buehler and midfielder Tobin Heath.

Team captain Christie Rampone, heading to her fourth World Cup, and

fellow veteran Abby Wambach strongly believe those kids can carry

the Americans in Germany as they seek their first world title since

the 1999 team memorably took the trophy at the Rose Bowl.

”They are asked to play a bigger role now,” said Rampone, at

35 the oldest player on the team and 14 years older than Morgan,

the most junior member. ”When I came on to the team, there were 10

women who already were secure and at their peaks with the team. I

learned from them and got a chance to work into the system and not

be rushed. I came to the team as a forward, and I had to adjust

very quickly to becoming a defender, and there was that core of

players like Joy (Fawcett) and Carla (Overbeck) to help me.

”Now, there are so many players coming in and out and so many

of them are asked to come in and perform without that experience I

was able to get. It’s ‘We need you now and here.’ So they have to

try to do this at the highest level much sooner. I had a chance to

work my way in from a solid base.”

Not that the youngsters don’t have a similar base. They’ve had

the advantage of playing in a professional league, the WPS, or on

college programs that have improved through the years. They’re

hardened by the time they reach this level, and they push the older

players for roster spots and playing time.

Morgan, for example, might be a starter on most international

teams. For the Americans, she comes off the bench, ”gives us that

spark,” Wambach said.

”The best part is we have young players who will be more

involved in this World Cup than maybe any of them, and it’s great

for their growth,” said Wambach, the United States’ top scorer

with 118 career goals and rapidly approaching full strength after a

broken left leg and problems with her right Achilles’ tendon.

”Someone like Alex Morgan, who is a supreme goal scorer and will

get her chance to shine. Amy Rodriguez, who’s a very exciting

player and will get her chance.”

Those chances will begin June 28 against North Korea; the women

play Mexico on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in their final tuneup, then

head to Austria for more training. Pia Sundhage, who took over as

coach late in 2007 after the Americans lost in the World Cup

semifinals to Brazil, has shown a willingness to inject fresh blood

throughout the nearly four-year buildup to this tournament.

She believes all of the younger players will have a role in

Germany, and all are capable of carrying the Americans to the

championship the Germans have won in the last two World Cups.

Sundhage also believes they will be leaders.

”Rachel Buehler (age 25) leads by example,” Sundhage said.

”The first time I saw her when I became coach, I thought: ‘Just

another American player. Not good enough.’ I was wrong.

”Lauren Cheney (23) reads the game very well and has improved

with the way she talks the game. That’s leadership. In the future,

I could see her as a captain.

”Amy Rodriguez (24) played in the 2008 Olympics and I think her

game is so much better now. Her movement, the way she plays off the

ball, that’s been the biggest improvement. She has to work on

finishing, but that is getting better, too.”

Morgan, Buehler, Cheney and Rodriguez all are World Cup novices,

as are goalkeeper Jill Loyden; defenders Heather Mitts, Becky

Sauerbrun, Amy LePeilbet, and Ali Krieger; and midfielders Kelley

O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Lori Lindsey and Heath.

The attitude among the Americans: The kids are all right.

”Everyone is going for the same thing and that’s not just

getting to the World Cup,” Morgan said. ”It’s getting that gold

medal, and that is true for the veterans and for us who have never

been to a World Cup.

”I believe what the veterans and the younger players together

have created is, hopefully, the best team in the world over the

next two months.”