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Veterans on U.S. women's soccer team face long wait for World Cup

The 2015 World Cup may seem a long way off for the U.S. women's soccer team's highly accomplished veterans, Abby Wambach and Hope Solo.

September 15, 2012|By Kevin Baxter
  • Megan Rapinoe, right, embraces teammate Lauren Cheney after the two helped the U.S. win the gold medal in women's soccer with a 2-1 victory over Japan.
Megan Rapinoe, right, embraces teammate Lauren Cheney after the two helped… (Michael Regan / Getty Images )

Christie Rampone won a World Cup alongside Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and two Olympic championships with Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

But asking her to choose between the two teams is a little like asking the national team's only true soccer mom which of her two daughters she likes best.

"That would be a tough one," she says referring to the teams, not her daughters. "If we put everyone at the same age, that would be an amazing game to watch."

Not really.

Comparing teams across eras is a fool's errand since players continue to get bigger, stronger and faster while game plans, training methods and the competition improve as well. So if you give me Solo and Wambach I'll spot you two goals, and I'll still win in a rout.

If the passage of time has made the current team the better one, though, there's still something missing — which is what opened the door to this debate in the first place.

Although Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all missed their penalty kicks in last summer's World Cup loss to Japan, Chastain and Hamm made theirs 13 years earlier, giving the U.S. its second world championship in eight years.

No U.S. women's team this century has been able to match that.

"For them it's a headline. 'Only U.S. team not to win a World Cup,'" says Chastain. "And out of that is borne pressure. Can they or can they not handle it?

"So far this team has proven — at least since that last game against Japan in the World Cup — that they can handle the pressure of being scrutinized and criticized."

But can they overcome it to win a World Cup?

"We won't know that again for another three years," she says.

It could be a vastly different team by then. The U.S. women play Australia on Sunday at the Home Depot Center in the second of five games on the their post-Olympic "Fan Tribute Tour." The tour marks the end for Coach Pia Sundhage, who will return to her native Sweden this winter to manage the national team there. Defender Heather Mitts has announced her retirement, something Rampone, 37, is considering as well.

Then there's Wambach who is 32, the same age Hamm was when she quit, and Solo, 13 months younger but slowed recently by injury. For them the 2015 World Cup must seem a long way off — yet a title there is the only thing missing from their resumes.

Consider that in the 101 games in which Wambach has scored, her team lost just twice. Or in the seven years since Solo became the regular U.S. keeper, the team is 86-3-11 with her in goal. That's better than any seven-year streak under either Hamm or Chastain.

And both marks came against better competition, with the field the U.S. beat in this summer's Olympics arguably among the strongest ever assembled.

So which team was better? Hamm and Chastain or Wambach and Solo?

Hamm, a mother now like Rampone, refuses to choose between the children.

"Nah," she says with a laugh. "It's about timing. I'm proud of what they're doing.

"They're the ones on the field now. Any my job as a past player is to continue to support them, cheer them on and make sure they continue to have the best environment to continue their success."

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