In the previous six Women’s World Cups, the U.S. has never finished worse than third place. However, the Americans - champions in 1991 and 1999 - have yet to win one this century. Brandi Chastain, in her iconic sports bra, isn’t walking through that door. This summer in Canada appears to be the perfect time to end that drought though as the United States looks to avenge its heartbreaking loss in penalty kicks to Japan in the 2011 Final.
Note that this is the first time that the field has expanded to include 24 countries. The U.S. is in Group D: it’ll open with Australia on Monday in Winnipeg (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1), then it plays Sweden on Friday (8 p.m., Fox) in Winnipeg and closes out group play with Nigeria a week from Tuesday (8 p.m., Fox) in Vancouver. Here are three U.S. players to keep close tabs on:
Goalkeeper Hope Solo
For all of the well-chronicled chaos in her life off the field, Solo is still at the top of her game when she’s in net. She is tall (5-foot-9), extremely athletic, and capable of many saves that are rarely seen in women’s soccer. A key for her will be maintaining focus in each match since the U.S. typically dominates possession and doesn’t give up too many scoring chances of its own. Let’s just hope that her toxic husband Jerramy Stevens (a former NFL tight end) doesn’t make the trip to Canada. This is Solo’s third World Cup.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe
The U.S. is loaded at midfield: Lauren Holiday (wife of New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday), Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd are all excellent and capable of being stars in this tournament. But Megan Rapinoe is the best pure goal-scorer of the bunch. She was one of the breakout stars for the United States at the last World Cup (1 goal, 3 assists): she had the cross that Abby Wambach headed in for the famous tying goal against Brazil in the final seconds of their memorable quarterfinal match (eventually won by the U.S. in penalty kicks). Rapinoe is outstanding at free kicks as well so she should be taking many of those for the U.S in addition to the corner kicks.
Forward Abby Wambach
This is the fourth and likely final World Cup (she turned 35 on Tuesday) for the all-time leading goal-scorer (182) in the history of women’s soccer. Wambach is huge (5-foot-11) and nearly impossible to defend, especially in the air. She is still so dominant, but the one thing that has eluded her in an otherwise legendary career is a World Cup title. There are plenty of good storylines for the U.S. entering this tournament but Wambach going for her first crown is arguably the best.