The U.S. women’s national team begins its journey toward the 2015 World Cup in Kansas City on Wednesday when taking on Trinidad and Tobago in its opening qualifier. It is a tournament that has already attracted much controversy, with a lawsuit now filed over the decision to play on artificial turf in Canada next year. But it is also a competition that the U.S. will be desperate to win having missed out on the trophy in the most agonizing way imaginable last time around when Japan beat them in the final on penalties in 2011.
Since then the team has come home with Olympic gold from London, but for a country that has been ranked best in the world since 2008, a first World Cup triumph since 1999 is now all that matters. Things have not gone completely smoothly since that Olympics win, however. Following a disappointing Algarve Cup performance earlier this year, when the team’s 43-game unbeaten streak was ended by Sweden, coach Tom Sermanni was soon dismissed just 18 months since replacing Pia Sundhage. Having initially stepped into the role in an interim basis for a second time in her career, former development director Jill Ellis was announced as the full-time coach and charged with bringing home the trophy form north of the border.
Her first objective is to get the U.S. team to Canada, a feat, in truth, that should be a mere formality. After matching up against Trinidad & Tobago, the U.S. will continue the Concacaf Championship by taking on Guatemala on Friday and then Haiti in Group A. The top two in the group make it through to the semifinals, where they will face one of Mexico, Costa Rica, Martinique or Jamaica. The two finalists as well as the winner of the third-place match will book their ticket among the 23 other teams headed to Canada.
The USA’s dominance of the event is seen by a 22-1-0 all-time record in Concacaf qualifying. Against its Group A opponents, the U.S. has won all 12 of its matches, while Mexico, the highest ranked among their competitors in the competition, at 25, were dispatched 8-0 and 4-0 in two warm up matches last month.
Those two friendlies saw the current star of American women’s soccer, Alex Morgan, find the net on three occasions. Since recovering from an eighth-month ankle injury layoff, the 25-year-old striker has now scored five times. And still going alongside her in a prolific forward line is Abby Wambach, who scored twice in the 8-0 win over Mexico to take her tally for her country to 170, a world record she garnered when surpassing Mia Hamm’s 158 earlier this year. With Sydney Leroux, Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez waiting in the wings, it’s a forward line to bring envy to every other team in the world.
While the vast majority of action is likely to take place at the attacking end of the pitch for the U.S., there is no escaping the fact that much of the attention is likely to be focused on an, in all probability, under-worked Hope Solo. Never far from the spotlight throughout her brilliant career in the U.S. goal, Solo attracted a raft of negative scrutiny last month when she secured a record 72nd shutout with the U.S., while at the same time facing domestic violence charges dating back to June. Her trial is set to get underway on Nov. 4, shortly after the completion of the World Cup qualifying tournament.
USA World Cup qualifying schedule with TV and live stream info
Vs. Trinidad & Tobago: Oct. 15, 8.30 p.m. EDT, Sporting Park, Kansas City (Fox Sports 2, Fox Sports Go)
Vs. Guatemala: Oct. 17, 9 p.m., Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill. (Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Go)
Vs. Haiti: Oct. 20, 7.30 p.m., RFK Stadium, Washington D.C. (Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Go)
Semifinals to take place on Oct. 24 and third-place game and final on Oct. 26, all at PPL Park in Philadelphia.