Sixteen teams are preparing to compete next month in the FIFA Women's World Cup football [soccer] tournament in China. One of them is the United States, which has been playing on home soil in a so-called "Send-Off Series" of friendly matches. VOA's Jim Stevenson took in a couple of those games and has a report on the team currently ranked number one in the world.
The U.S. women's soccer program hit its stride in 1999 when it hosted and won the Women's World Cup. The dramatic shootout victory over China in the final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California gave the women's game unprecedented exposure.
Ahead of this year's World Cup tournament, the U.S. team has again worked its way to the top of the world rankings. Only four players remain from the 1999 team, including 36-year-old captain Kristine Lilly, and victory this time will rest with several new faces.
The U.S. women are coached by Greg Ryan. He says this team is strong because of the great relationship between the veteran players and the younger ones.
"Once we step onto the field, our veterans look across at the young ones and say, 'Hey, that player can be just as good as me today.' And so it is a real respect that has grown. And the young players had to earn that. And the veteran players had to help them attain that. It could not be any better than it is,” he said.
Forward Kristine Lilly has played in every Women's World Cup since the quadrennial event began in 1991. She credits much of her longevity on the field to the energy she gets from her newer teammates. "I get a lot of momentum from them,” she says, “because they have this look in their eye of, 'Oh, my God, here I am.' You know, I have been around the block a little bit, so I probably do not have the same look. But they remind me of how great this team is."
One of the newcomers to the U.S. team is 21-year-old defender Stephanie Lopez. The high standards of the veterans have motivated her to play at their level.
"I definitely feel honored to be on the same team with them and playing on the field with them,” says Lopez. ”And it has been an amazing year and a half since I have been playing with them. Just to get to know them and really feel like I am their teammate, that I can be out there with them. And I can make an impact and help them out there on the field."
Coach Ryan has used more than 60 players during his two-year tenure. In the World Cup, the United States will face very different opponents in North Korea, Sweden and Nigeria. Ryan plans to use his full roster to create different starting lineups for each game.
The United States begins its campaign on September 11th with a difficult Group-B encounter with North Korea in Chengdu.