USWNT: Hope Solo, American Women Remain Focused on the Prize

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The US Women’s National Team begins their quest for a third World Cup on Monday, facing off against Australia.  With all the talk about focus, and determination, one has to wonder how much the loss in the 2011 World Cup final against Japan has become a part of their psyche. As things move along in the is tournament, will that internal dialog become bigger than the swagger they enter the tournament with?

Of course, there are also the questions that arose in the team’s final warm up match at Red Bull Arena.  In that match, just one week ago, the US seemed unable to effectively break down South Korea, allowing them to control play for large portions of the game. Any time the Americans put on pressure, there seemed to be a lack of ideas in the final third.  Instead of the creative play that US Women’s team has made their reputation on, there were individual ideas. Some of them even almost worked, with Sydney Leroux speeding down the wing on multiple occasions.  However the overall team play was poor. It almost seemed that this team had never played together, and often the midfield seemed isolated from the rest of the team, often losing connection, as well as being completely ineffective receiving and distributing the ball to a dangerous position.

One of the reasons for the uncharacteristic play could be the absence of the Americans’ most dangerous player.  Alex Morgan, who sustained an injury characterized as a “minor bone bruise,” missed all three of the final friendlies leading up to the tournament. She spent the last match on the sidelines, knee wrapped, and looking longingly at the field.  Of course, the same team that sputtered to a scoreless draw, also spanked Mexico 5-1 in an early friendly.  The disparity between those two games especially begs the question of which US team will show up.

Something to consider in this conversation is that, when the chips are down and the competition counts, these women have shown an ability to rise to the occasion. Let’s look back that the CONCACAF Championships last fall.  In their first game, the US only earned a 1-0 victory in that tournament and were criticized for that  very same lack of creativity and chemistry; however, these very same women finished off that tournament with a convincing 6-0 victory over Costa Rica. The US Women’s National team have been in this same situation before, and that experience alone could be enough to get them through.  However, if they are to earn their first World Cup since 1999, they are going to need some help.

Alex Morgan will be starting the tournament on the bench.  With that said, it’s likely that Coach Jill Ellis will start Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux at forward.  But, if this team is going to be effective, Ellis will expect to get a solid performance out of Christen Press, who has not had the best run of form coming into the tournament.  With the Americans going into what can only be called a group of death (US joins Australia, Sweden, and Nigeria in Group D), and watching the rest of the world raise their own programs since that win in 1999, Ellis’ squad will be asked to face two of the strongest programs just to qualify for the knockout round.

Most importantly, and on the opposite side of the field, the question becomes whether Hope Solo, and the baggage she comes with, will be her own worst enemy. On Sunday morning more details of the incident that led to Solo being paraded out as a domestic violence villain, and compared erroneously to Ray Rice were reported by ESPN’s Outside the Lines.  When asked about it in a press conference Sunday, Ellis deflected the story gracefully, simply stating that the team has moved on, and most of the players are unaware of the report.

Of course, the real test will come on Monday, as Solo and her teammates face a steep test to start the tournament.  Every single point will be important.  Depending on which team shows up, the US could either battle their way out of Group D on the way to their first World Cup in 14 years or miss the knockout round for the first time in their history.  The Americans have the talent to win the group, as they are the best squad on paper, but don’t sell their opponents short.  These women will need to be at their best in order to get the job down, as there are no slouches in Group D.

Don’t forget to tune into Last Word SC Radio live after Monday’s USWNT match vs Australia for in depth post game analysis.

Featured Photo: Bill Twomey/Bill Twomey Photography