The new coach will be in charge for the first time when the American women face Scotland on Saturday. Maura Gladys looks at the game, the future, and the story lines to watch.
February 08, 2013
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The dreaming stops on tomorrow, when Abby Wambach nudges the ball over to Alex Morgan and the United States Women’s national team’s 2013 officially kicks off. Up until that moment, it’s been all speculation, conjecture, concocting, and imagining. The Americans have yet to face a tough opponent like Germany or Sweden and have yet to suffer any major injuries that sideline a major contributor.
But on Saturday, the dreaming stops and things get real.
The U.S. will play its first meaningful game in quite a while. Then another one on Wednesday. If you take out the 10-game victory tour, it’s been nearly half a year since that happened. Saturday’s game counts not because of the opponent or the stakes. It counts because we will finally get a glimpse of what Tom Sermanni’s U.S. women’s national team might look like.
The new coach's reign began unceremoniously at team meeting in a Jacksonville, Florida meeting room last Saturday night and then during a training session on Monday morning, where the focus was both on preparing for Scotland and looking beyond tomorrow's fixture.
“Preparing for the game is important, but at the same time, it’s a way for me to have a close up look at the players, have a look at some new players, and just sort of be in and around this environment,” Sermanni told U.S. Soccer, in an enchanting Scottish brogue.
The players came ready to impress.
“We all have fire underneath of us, and there’s a bunch of new faces and no matter who you are, you’ve got to come out and you’ve got to prove yourself,” said U.S. defender Ali Krieger, who returned to the national team for the first time since last January.
Krieger’s return is just one of the many storylines to follow in the USWNT’s pair of games next week. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect:
Despite being named to Sermanni’s original 29 of the training camp, Amy Rodriguez withdrew after announcing that she was pregnant. Realistically, the announcement affects her club team, the Seattle Reign, far more than the USWNT, who are stacked up top with Wambach, Morgan, and Leroux. Zackiya Bywaters, the number one overall selection in last month’s NWSL draft replaced her on the roster. Bywaters is a 5-1 midfielder who works well on the wing but is a few national team camps away from seeing the field.
Krieger returns, but Amy LePeilbet is out of the squad with a knee injury, so the defense is ripe for experimentation. Sermanni will most likely play Krieger and O’Hara together at right and left back respectively, but youngsters Crystal Dunn and Julie Johnston and recent Liverpool signing Whitney Engen will certainly get looks. This also might be Heather Mitts’ last chance to stay in the squad. The 34-year-old defender announced her retirement pre-Olympics but decided to keep playing after the U.S. won the gold. She’s been largely ineffective, however, in the few minutes that she has seen.
Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath return to the States for the first time since signing with French clubs, Olmypique Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, and will hopefully show off some of the skill they picked up in France. Heath scored a goal in her first game with the team in a 4-1 win over Arras and Rapioe got on the board for PSG last month with this free kick. Heath and Rapinoe are two of the Stars and Stripes’ top midfielders, and they’ve only been in France for a few weeks but maybe they’ll bring a little bit more je ne sais quoi to the squad.
With a new coach comes the opportunity to see new talent integrated into a team, and there’s a heightened sense of anticipation to see some fresh faces. Two players to keep an eye out for are Dunn and Johnston. The former won the 2012 MAC Hermann award for the nations best college player while Johnston was named 2012 U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year.
But mostly, the next two games offer a chance to get a sense of where the team could be headed. “I’ve been here a while, but that doesn’t change the fact that you get excited for the new philosophy, new drills, new everything,” Abby Wambach said. “Tom’s bringing something different to the table, and for an older player it’s just as exciting as a younger player.”
Maura Gladys, a featured ASN columnist, works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.