In search of their first title in almost two decades, the United States women’s soccer team enters the 2015 World Cup in Canada hoping to erase its loss in the final four years ago.
Led by superstars Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, Team USA fell to Japan 2-2 (3-1) with a penalty shootout deciding the champion. This year, however, Team USA is the odds-on favorite to win its first title since 1999 with Morgan and Wambach once again leading the way.
In the opening stages the U.S. headlines Group D, with Australia, Nigeria and Sweden standing in its way. With Wambach netting five goals and an assist over 10 matches, the U.S. has gone 7-1-2 this year and strung together a four-match winning streak before drawing with South Korea on May 30. Solo, who's sixth on the team with 170 career caps, has allowed only two goals all year over eight starts for a 6-0-2 record.
The 24-nation tournament officially kicks-off Saturday when host Canada faces China, but the U.S. won’t take the field until Monday, June 8 against Australia.
The team may be missing a key component of their attack. Morgan is still dealing with a bone bruise in her left knee and its becoming apparent that she might not start in the opening match. But the 25-year-old forward remains confident and said she’ll be ready.
"I've been doing a lot better, and I'm still day to day," Morgan told reporters last week. "Once June 8 comes, there's no question in my mind my knee won't be bothering me. I'm going to be 100 percent, and I'm looking forward to the World Cup and knowing that's not going to set me back at all."
Morgan’s missed three matches this year, but netted two goals, and her presence alone provides the U.S. an extra dimension in a lineup that’s loaded with scoring talent.
There’s midfielder Lauren Holiday and her five assists, defender Julie Johnson’s three goals, and speedy forward Sydney Leroux launching another two scores.
But Morgan’s potential absence puts more pressure on 35-year-old Wambach, who started only five matches this year, and head coach Jill Ellis to tinker with her lineups on the fly.
The group stages will run until Wednesday, June 17. After two days of rest, the tournament begins the knockout stage, which is a one-loss elimination. The quarterfinals then run from June 25 to 26, followed by the semifinals on June 30 and July 1.
The championship will held Sunday, July 5 at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
Sydney Leroux, Amy Rodriguez, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Christen Press
Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Holiday, Morgan Brian, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath
Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Whitney Engen, Alex Krieger, Lori Chalupny, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg
Hope Solo, Ashlyn Harris, Alyssa Naeher
Potential Starting XI
D: Klingenberg, Rampone, Krieger, Sauerbrunn
M: Holiday, O’Reilly, Rapinoe, Lloyd
F: Wambach, Leroux
Match Schedule for Group Play
Monday, June 8 vs. Australia at 6:30 p.m. ET at Winnipeg Stadium
Friday, June 12 vs. Sweden at 7 p.m. at Winnipeg Stadium
Tuesday, June 16 vs Nigeria at 5 p.m. at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver