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US Women's Soccer Team Hopes Change Will Bring Olympic Gold


The U.S. Women's Soccer team has won a medal at every Olympics since the sport was introduced at the 1996 Atlanta games. The Americans won gold in Atlanta, silver at Sydney in 2000, and reclaimed the gold at Athens in 2004. But after underachieving at last year's Women's World Cup, changes were made to prepare for the Beijing Olympics. VOA's Chris Cox has the story.

The U.S. Women's Soccer team has a new coach and a new style of play. Both will be on display at the Beijing Olympics.

Sweden's Pia Sundhage was hired last November by the U.S. Soccer Federation. She's the first foreign-born coach to fill the position. She had to quickly change the atmosphere around her team after a disappointing third place finish at last year's Women's World Cup in China.

Sundhage likes to videotape her players during practice. That way they can see what they do and try to improve without her having to tell them.

"Well, I think coaching is about communication and one way to communicate is give them feedback and use the video," Sundhage explains. "So, I've done this a lot in Sweden myself. So I think that's a way to let them stop and think 'Ok, what should I do?'"

Co-Captain Kate Markgraf, a defender, is one of two remaining players from the 1999 Women's World Cup championship roster. Markgraf says Sundhage is a welcome change for the team.

"Pia brings a sense of calm," Markgraf says. "She brings a sense of confidence and she wants us to play beautiful soccer and that's what she's trying to teach us to do, and she is doing that by possession-oriented play."

But Sundhage is dealing with challenges.

The offense will have to do without leading scorer Abby Wambach. She suffered a devastating injury just three weeks before the Americans' first 2008 Olympics match.

During a warm-up game against Brazil in California, Wambach collided with a Brazilian player and broke her leg.

Forward Natasha Kai is one of the players expected to boost scoring during Wambach's absence. Kai scored three goals for the "hat trick" in an Olympic warm-up match against Canada in Washington, D.C.

On defense, Sundhage quickly established Hope Solo as the number one goalie.

During the 2007 Women's World Cup, former coach Greg Ryan benched Solo in the semifinals for a more experienced, but much older, Briana Scurry.

That move came after Solo recorded shutouts in her previous two matches. It backfired, and Brazil trounced the USA, 4-0.

Markgraf, one of the most experienced veterans on the team, said this year's team is different from the one that underachieved last year.

"This group has its own identity. It's a different culture than the old group," she says. "I think this team, compared to last year, it's really the only way I can reference it, is we're more possession-oriented and we're trying to keep the ball

and we're more attack-oriented, which also means we are a little more vulnerable on defense. So we're going for it. We're going to try to score some goals."

The U.S. Women's Soccer team launches its gold medal defense on August 6 against Norway.