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U.S. team is ready, willing, but will it be able to win?

August 20, 2008|Bill Plaschke | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- For now, the best place to find American women soccer stars is on the Web.

Mia Hamm has a site. Julie Foudy has a site. Brandi Chastain has a site. You can guess what that one is called.


For now, the best place to catch American women soccer stars is in our computers and our memories, as their anonymous replacements have struggled to keep our attention.

Thursday they'll have another chance in the Olympic final against Brazil.

Thursday they can get rid of that shadow.

Pardon them if they can't wait.

"Mia Hamm and all those women, they were the pioneers, and I thank them," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "But this is a different generation. We want to make our own memories."

If it sounds as if the women have a Hamm-sized chip on their shoulder, well, they do.

Since arriving in Beijing, they have fielded critical questions about their inability to live up to the hype created by the original stars, who won two Olympic titles and two World Cup titles.

"We need to prove a lot of people wrong, shut a lot of people up," Lloyd said. "If we win, it would take a lot of that stuff away."

Despite a decent showing here so far, the women are also still reeling from last fall's semifinal World Cup loss to Brazil, a game that featured the benching of goalkeeper Hope Solo.

When Solo criticized the move, she was ostracized by the team. Since then, a coach has been fired and team captains have been replaced and -- guess what -- Solo is back in goal.

Pardon her if she especially can't wait.

"It will be nice to get back something that you lost," she said.

Nice, but tough, as Brazil has been this tournament's fastest team while also trying to remove a chip.

Despite their talent, the Brazilians lost last year's World Cup to Germany, and have yet to win an Olympics.

"We're excited to see them, we're familiar with their style, it will be a great game," midfielder Heather O'Reilly said.

A great game if they win. Another damaging game if they lose.

The U.S. team's best player, Abby Wambach, is out because of a broken leg, and few people have heard of any of the others.

A loss here, and that will not change.

"For people to know us, we have to get into a position to win a world championship, that's what has to happen," said leading scorer Angela Hucles. "We need that."

The team will rely on Hucles, O'Reilly and USC's Amy Rodriguez for offensive power, and that should be sufficient.

However, their back line is suspect and has been inconsistent, and Solo has given up five goals in five games.

"We don't have a big-name player, and people don't know us, but we find so much energy from the fact that 18 of us can be stars," Solo said.

The team's new coach, Pia Sundhage, often serenades them after games.

After their 4-2 semifinal victory over Japan, she sang, "The times, they are a'changing."

She sang it even at the postgame news conference, and everyone laughed, but the message was clear.

Yes, the times for U.S. women's soccer are changing.

Brazil will tell us whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.


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