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

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08 July 2008

The U.S. Women's Soccer team has won a medal at every Olympic gamesince women's soccer was introduced at the Atlanta games in 1996. TheAmericans won the gold in Atlanta, silver at the 2000 Sydney games, andreclaimed the gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics. But after anunderachieving third place finish at the last year's Women's World Cupin China, changes were made. VOA's Chris Cox has the story.

Oneof the biggest changes the United States Women's Soccer team has seenis style of play under new head coach Pia Sundhage. She wants her teamto control the ball and dictate tempo more.

Co-captain Kate Markgraf,one of two remaining players from the 1999 Women's World Cupchampionship team, is making her third trip to the Olympics and shetold VOA what it's like to play for Sundhage.

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

AlthoughMarkgraf and Christie Rampone are the co-captains, it is clear thatAbby Wambach is the offensive star for the U.S. soccer team. Shescored four goals at the Athens Olympics, including the game winner inthe gold medal match against Brazil. Through 125 international gamesplayed, the 28-year-old Wambach had scored 99 goals.

Wambach told VOA it's an honor to play for her country.

"Notonly is it just about soccer, it's about national pride and it's abouta culture," she said. "And I know all the other countries that arecompeting for a medal are feeling the same way and, you know, you wantto make your people proud, and you want to make them proud to say thatthey're an American. So I hope that we do that every time that we stepon the field because we play with integrity, honor, and we really tryto leave everything that we have out on the field to show the rest ofthe world how much we really do care about this country."

Thethird place finish for the top-ranked U.S. Women at the 2007 World Cupcame as a surprise and brought some controversy to the team. Thoughshe had started the previous four games, goalie Hope Solo was benchedfor the semifinal game against Brazil in favor of a more experienced,but much older, Briana Scurry. The U.S. lost that game, 4-0, and Solomade some comments criticizing then-coach Greg Ryan's decision thatwere also indirectly critical of Scurry.

 Under Sundhage, things have been patched up and Solo is back as the clear number-one goalie for the United States.

Markgraf insists that the controversy is a thing of the past.

"Ithink that, was something that happened and it was in 2007 and now it's2008, and if we hadn't learned anything from that, then I would sayit's still going on, but we've learned a lot and thankfully we'rethrough that," she said.

The USA is back as the world'snumber-one-ranked women's soccer team and goes into the BeijingOlympics as the favorite to win the gold. Coach Sundhage understandsthe expectations, but realizes that no victory will come easy.

"I'dsay there are five, six teams that could win the gold medal and U.S. isone of these teams, and the way we've been playing I'm very happy aboutthat," the coach said. "We changed certain things and we are going [onthe] right road to the Olympics I think."

The U.S. Women'sSoccer team opens 2008 Olympics play against Norway on August 6 inQinhuangdao, two days before the Beijing Summer Games' official openingceremonies. 

The other two teams the U.S. women will face in first round group playare Japan (August 9 in Qinhuangdao) and New Zealand (August 12 inShenyang).