World Cup rookies will lead the U.S.

May, 9, 2011

The United States women's national soccer team's World Cup roster, announced on Monday, features 12 players making their first World Cup. Most of those players are expected to see significant minutes.

Perhaps the most anticipated U.S. women's World Cup debut is that of forward Alex Morgan, currently playing club soccer for Women's Professional Soccer's Western New York Flash. Morgan was the U.S.' hero in its playoff series against Italy for the final spot in the World Cup, scoring deep into stoppage time to give the U.S. a 1-0 win and a crucial road goal. Morgan has good pace and likely will be used off the bench in the second half when opponents are getting tired and the U.S. needs a lift.

Joining Morgan on the forward line are Abby Wambach, fourth all-time in international goal scoring; Amy Rodriguez, who will make her World Cup debut; and Lauren Cheney, also a World Cup newbie. Like most of the rookies on the roster, however, Rodriguez and Cheney have been with the national team for several years and won a gold medal with the U.S. in 2008.

This roster is one of the oldest teams the U.S. has sent to the World Cup, with an average of 27.4 years. Only 2003, the last World Cup for many of the 1999 champions, had a higher average age.

The U.S. defense will see the most new World Cup talent, as defenders Rachel Buehler, Ali Krieger and Amy LePeilbet are all expected to start in their World Cup debut. But they've played alongside one another for the past two years and will be joined in the starting lineup by captain and veteran Christie Rampone, the last active player to have made the 1999 Women's World Cup roster. Rampone suffered an apparent groin injury this past Sunday in her WPS game, so U.S. fans will be keeping a close eye on her health during the next few weeks.

Although not expected to be a starter, defender Becky Sauerbrunn is one of the more surprising picks for the roster, as she has seen limited international minutes during the past year. She did make the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying roster and is best known to women's soccer fans as the iron woman of WPS -- the only player in the league to play every minute of every game since the league began play in 2009. Sauerbrunn's streak will end as she makes her first World Cup roster.

The largest group of veterans is in the U.S. midfield, where longtime U.S. stalwarts Shannon Boxx and Heather O'Reilly lead the way. Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd round out the regular starting midfield. Tobin Heath, one of the team's rising stars, makes her first World Cup. She missed most her rookie WPS season in 2010 with an ankle injury but appears to be back to her usual self this year. She's very dynamic on the ball and can give the U.S. a creative spark in the midfield.

Midfielder Lindsay Tarpley, who tore her ACL after the inaugural season of WPS, didn't see her first call back to the national team until coach Pia Sundhage was putting together her camp for the playoff series with Italy for the final Women's World Cup spot. Tarpley has played in just five matches during the past two years for the U.S. but was playing well with her club team, the Boston Breakers, at the end of last year and earned her way back to the team.

In goal is Hope Solo, making her second World Cup. Solo has returned to the field after shoulder surgery and should make her first start in the upcoming exhibitions against Japan. With Solo back healthy, the U.S. should have the best goalkeeper in the tournament. Her backups, Nicole Barnhart and Jill Loyden, are making their first World Cup rosters.

Sundhage was choosing from a roster of 29 players who had been in training camp during the past few weeks, so there weren't going to be any shocking off-the-radar choices. Breakers midfielder Leslie Osborne, who played well at the 2007 World Cup and is a favorite among fans to be called to the roster as a holding midfielder, was not in that camp and did not get the call. Sundhage has aimed for stability and consistency, building team chemistry while rotating players in and out of camp. The squad making the World Cup this year has spent many months of training time together, and the players know one another well.

It hasn't been the easiest past few months for the U.S., as it suffered a key loss to Mexico in World Cup qualifying in the fall as well as losses to Sweden and England this year. The players hope that competing in tough games will prepare them for the World Cup in Germany. As the No. 1 ranked team in the world and the chief rival in Germany's quest to three-peat, the U.S. can expect a hostile environment. Although more than half of the players will be making their first World Cup, they'll be used to facing adversity. Sundhage is counting on the experience of a team that has spent a lot of time playing and training together.

The United States will play its first World Cup match versus North Korea on June 28 in Dresden.


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