U.S. women’s national team coach Jill Ellis thinks her World Cup roster includes a good mix of veterans and newcomers.
Among those on the 23-player squad announced Tuesday were Christie Rampone, preparing for her fifth World Cup, and 22-year-old Morgan Brian, getting ready for her first.
“I actually think we’ve got a really good balance,” Ellis said. “How we’re going utilize players is part of the strategy going into this World Cup.”
Seeking their third title and first since 1999, the Americans open World Cup play against Australia on June 8.
Rampone, who sat out a recent 4-0 exhibition victory over New Zealand, will turn 40 during the World Cup and is the oldest member of the team. Only four women have played in five World Cups: fellow American Kristine Lilly, Brazil’s Formiga, Germany’s Birgit Prinz and Japan’s Homare Sawa.
Ellis said Rampone is a proven asset who is the second-fastest player on the team, although she struggled with a back injury earlier this year and tweaked a knee recently.
“I think that a player who has had that much experience, been in a captain’s role, you just can’t discount that,” Ellis said.
Brian, the youngest player on the roster, played for Virginia in the women’s College Cup final in early December before accompanying the U.S. team to Brazil for a tournament.
She kicked off this year by winning her second straight Hermann Trophy as the top women’s college soccer player and was the first overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Houston Dash.
“For me it’s just been a whirlwind. I don’t think it’s going to sink in because you just think to yourself ‘I’m on the United States women’s national team playing in a World Cup,’ and that’s insane to me,” Brian said. “It’s cool to finally have that dream come true.”
She joins seven other players making their World Cup roster debuts, including goalkeepers Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher; defenders Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg; and forwards Sydney Leroux and Christen Press.
They will join forwards Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Amy Rodriguez; midfielders Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly; and defenders Lori Chalupny, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn.
The average age of the roster is 28, compared to just over 27 for the 2011 team.
Making her third World Cup roster was Hope Solo, who was suspended for 30 days in January after her husband was arrested for driving under the influence while in a U.S. Soccer Federation van during a team training camp. Solo also was in the van.
During her suspension, Solo missed a 2-0 loss to France and a 1-0 win over England but she returned to the team and started in all four games for the U.S. team’s title run in the Algarve Cup last month.
Solo, considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world, recently said she’s been in therapy since the suspension.
“In terms of Hope, she’s been fantastic,” Ellis said. “(She’s) been a great teammate and things are moving forward very, very well.”
Defenders Rachel Val Hollebeke and Crystal Dunn were not on the World Cup roster after being selected for the exhibition against New Zealand.
The Cup roster must be submitted to FIFA by May 25. Ellis called players on Friday and Saturday to let them know.
In an interview with The Associated Press before the announcement, Wambach said she felt the team was coming together at the perfect time. Ellis, she said, was thoughtful in looking at lineups and strategy.
“I do think things are falling into place right now. I think that’s something — that’s what makes the difference between a team winning and a team not winning: It’s those things that you can’t really explain,” Wambach said. “It’s that ball bouncing in the right place. It’s the inexplicables of a championship moment. It’s those intangibles. And I think those things will continue to evolve and grow, even throughout the tournament.”
Wambach, who will be playing in her fourth World Cup, has a record 178 international goals.
Featuring an expanded field of 24 teams, this year’s World Cup will be played in six Canadian cities from June 6 through July 5. The top two nations in each of six groups advance to the round of 16 along with the top four third-place teams.
The United States is part of challenging Group D that includes Australia, perennial African champion Nigeria, and Sweden, led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. The Americans’ opener against Australia is set for June 8 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The U.S. women are making their seventh World Cup appearance. The team won the inaugural tournament in 1991 and added its second title in 1999 but has struggled since with a pair of third-place finishes and a loss to Japan on penalty kicks in the 2011 final.
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