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.”