Archive for October, 2010

MLS Playoffs: Western Conference Words

Hectic week this week and just now getting around to our MLS playoff predictions. (Yes, I realize I have to at least get out a Columbus-Colorado preview in the next twelve hours.)

Do you need an intro…good, neither do I.

One note, for each playoff series, I’ll give you a “TSG Qualification” score (you should ask for something similar from the other writers you follow) that lets you know how qualified we are–based nearly entirely on number of times we watched a club–to make a prediction on the series.

Anywho:

• Who’s brighter? The Los Angeles Galaxy or the Seattle Highlighters.

TSG Qualification Score: 7.5 out of 10

Mr. Booey...Mr. Ba-Ba-Booey...this was not your finest season...

Everything…just about everything about this series points in the Sounders favor.

The fact that:

» The Galaxy will play a road game on turf (ouch) to open the series. Landon Donovan for one let us know this week that the games are getting to him.

» Are you watching the Premiership at all these days? Why do I ask? Four of the top six or so hottest players in the Barclays (Johan Elmander, Dimitar Berbatov, Samir Nasri, Darren Bent) have something pretty major in common.

None of them played in World Cup 2010. The Cup hangover happens and Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle are desperately rifling down the bloody maries.

» Speaking of Buddle, it is flat-out incredulous, ludicrous, ridiculous. Simply? It’s terrible coaching that Bruce Arena took his number one target man and sniper and left him up top, with few substitutions, to battle bigger and stronger defenders all season long.

It’s not wonder that Buddle has tailed off…between the World Cup and his Bruce Arena-induced torture, I surprised he can still run.

Bad move Arena….which leads me to…

» Let’s continue with this Buddle theme. Best way to support Edson up top probably…probably to play Jovan Kirovski out of position up there for the better part of the end of the campaign. Say what?

I remember the beginning of this year when the Galaxy were straight on firing. Impressive…extremely impressive to see.

I remember thinking…okay Arena is going to develop some players around these guys, Cazumba for one, and the Galaxy is going to become deeper and deeper.

So what did Arena do all year? Fail to develop Tristan Bowen, let Michael Stephens hit the wall (because he was playing well) and trade Alan Gordon who at least saved Buddle some downtown thumping.

Bruce, Bruce…what are you doing? It is any wonder why the Brian McBride felt like a man without friends oh-so-far up the pitch at 2006? Of course not.

» I haven’t even talked about Arena’s near Bob Bradleyesque reliance on the 4-4-2 or his getting outcoached twice by Frankie Yallop. Moving on….

» Meanwhile, defensively Los Angeles has not picked up it’s back four line in the game in the absence of 2002 World Cup vet Gregg Berhalter.

Is Montero ready to step up?

» We haven’t even talked about Seattle yet who shed Freddie Ljundberg and immediately went on a tear. It’s not a fair comparison but the way the quicks play up top for Sigi Schmidt it reminds me of Argentina’s configuration that put so much pressure on team in the group stages of the World Cup.

But…after all this, I’m picking the Los Angeles Galaxy. I don’t how they’re going to do it, but I just think–and perhaps to the detriment of their advancement later in the playoffs–the Galaxy will take this one.

I really can’t point to a good season, maybe just that Donovan, Buddle (maybe), and Beckham have proven they can do it whereas I’m not sure Fredt Montero is just yet “the guy” for Seattle.

Call it a hunch..perhaps a stupid hunch, but the Galaxy move on.

• Who’s more savory in this one? Real Salt Lake or the men from Pizza Hut

TSG Qualification Score: 5 out of 10

Super edition...but ultimately not enough...

You know I wish I watched Dallas more than 5 or so odd times a took in a game this year. They’re just like folks describe them I surmise. Kind of ho-hum, jack-of-all trades master-of-none.

I know I’d pick out a few more subtle things if I watched them more frequently–then again they don’t really draw a crowd.

I really did like the addition of Kevin Hartmann who did a super job of marshalling the defense himself and exuding some calm.

Heather Pearce has played confident and attack-minded football all season.

However…as defenses get more stout in the playoffs, I truly believe that winning the midfield is vitally important and you have to like the top team that Real Salt Lake has here. Kyle Beckerman is the leader, but flanking him are Will Johnson–who after some time overseas at Blackburn and Heerenveen–is starting to play more-and-more like the player that Europe was whispering to earlier in his career and perhaps the most underrated player in the league (despite his age) Andy Williams. Williams is straight lunchpail and I don’t think I have once see him not put the team first in his play.

Fronting this more than capable ensemble is Javier Morales–who Justin Braun told us a few weeks ago is in his opinion the best player not named Donovan in the league. Morales is classy.

The champs are going to be touch to break down and I haven’t talked about the Club America Salt Lakes ziploc defense yet.

However, I don’t think this series will be a cakewalk and I actually think the series is in FC Dallas’s hands.

The quality of Real Salt Lake is known, does Dallas rise to the challenge or show they’re not ready to challenge just yet. The first game will speak to this as RSL has yet to win there. Dallas needs at least hit a two-spot at home in my opinion to make this a series.

I just don’t think they’re quite there yet. RSL, onward.

———

Eastern Conference later Thursday…

As Told By Preston Zimmerman (Part II)

Struggles in Austria...

(*Note: Preston has graciously agreed to answer any questions that you post for him in the comments below.) (Part I) (Part III)

TSG: Okay, so then Hamburg sell you to what I’ll call your “nightmare club” in Austria? Spill it on Austria.

Preston: Well, thanks. It would be good to set the record straight.

TSG: Go ahead.

Preston: Thanks.

Basically what happened is my agent at the time couldn’t find a club for me.

Hamburg came and spoke to me and they didn’t want me on their books, and they had a relationship with a club in Austria and they wanted to loan me out.

I knew nothing about the club. The very next day Hamburg had consummated the deal with Kapfenberger SV and they said I just had to sign some personal terms.

At the time I thought it was a good idea and a good situation. So I went there and became a starter and started for 23 or so games.

I can’t say anything bad about playing there. I had playing time and an opportunity. I played and scored against Red Bull Salzburg and did some other good things…but…

It all came to a sudden end and they wanted me to sign a contract through 2012.

I had already communicated to them that I was only there because I couldn’t find a second league club in Germany and I couldn’t find that connection.

Everyone knew that I was going there to get experience, but not to settle down.

That was the plan and it wasn’t supposed to hurt anyone’s feelings. I didn’t like the atmosphere at the club and the culture in Austria is not really what I wanted either.

They wanted me to sign a contract until 2012, and when I didn’t things went sour…fast.

Once I said no, I got benched despite starting all the games before that. And then the coach would start hollering at me after training and also trying to get me to sign the contract.

I’d keep telling him that I’m not going to agree to a contract and you’re my coach, not the management.

He chastised me in front of the team.

Matt, this story could go on for hours.

TSG: We’ll take the short or long version.

Preston: It sort of came to a head after losing against Vienna.

He benched me for the first half and then the second half I came in, but didn’t score.

He came into the locker room after and wanted me to fight him!

He even pulled some other guy’s hair who didn’t play well!

So we get back to the club–it was a road game–it’s 11pm at night and we’re out on the pitch, it’s snowing and we’re sprinting up and down the pitch non-stop carrying medicine balls!

Then we have a meeting a little after midnight and he says…well, he demeans me in front of the team saying I have no respect for the team and the coach, and if that’s my attitude (about the contract) I can go find a new club.

He put his hand out and I shook it. I thought I was fired.

TSG: Wow.

Preston: We then had a meeting when I came back and he blew up on me and basically wanted to fight me again!

Well, then I was 100% sure I was fired.

So I didn’t come back to training anymore, and he started threatening me through other players on the team saying if I didn’t come back to training he was going to have UEFA suspend me for six months.

By then I had a lawyer who advised me that I was fired by what happened, and that I shouldn’t say anything and not to go back.

It went on and on and it went into the media and he crucified me there.

He said I went to England on a trial. Meanwhile, I don’t even have the papers to be able to play in England!

I’d go walk places around town and people would come up to me and get in my face and ask why I was doing what I was doing.

But, bottom line: I was fired and I didn’t get any of the money owed to me.

Also, the apartment was from the club and my car too. I got everything out of my apartment because I thought they would take that.

And then I went home to Washington.

I tried to get into teams, Regensburg in Germany’s third division was interested, but no team would take me even though I had the papers that I was fired. Teams would check with Austria and they would say I broke my contract.

[At the time of publication, Kapfenberger SV had not responded to email requests for comment]

TSG: So let me interrupt and ask a question: how do you prevent a situation like that? Can it be prevented?

Preston: I’m sure it could have been prevented, but Hamburg did the deal more than my agent.

It could have been I guess, but no one was really involved more in the situation. My agent wasn’t helping me because he’s not the one that got me to Kapfenburg.

On to Mainz...

TSG: So then you had a friend at Mainz who finally quote “hooked you up?”

Preston: Basically.

I don’t want to name him, but he’s in good standing with a club.

Somehow I popped up in a conversation and they were curious what happened to me after I was at Hamburg.

But with my history it was still difficult. Why claim a player with my background who might be a headache?

TSG: Wait let me go back…qualify just how difficult the Vienna situation was?

Preston: Worst time of my life, obviously.

It was hard because I had to stick by my guns and for ten months I couldn’t play while it got sorted out, plus I wasn’t making any money.

They [Kapfenburg] even tried to make Mainz pay money for me when I wasn’t even under contract anymore.

TSG: And let me remind our readers that you’re all of 20-years-old at this time.

Preston: Yup.

I had to bum around Europe. I thought, “Is this what I have to go through?”

I was desperate. I went to Turkey on trial. I even thought about an offer from Azerbaijan.

I just wanted to play football.

TSG: Were you going to stay in Europe at all times or were you considering coming back to MLS?

Preston: I was staying in Europe.

A lot of people don’t understand the reason I live in Europe isn’t based exclusively on football. I love Europe and it’s not just about the football.

One of my goals in life was to learn another language and now I know German.

It’s not a bash on MLS. It’s just that I want to live here.

I decided I’m not going to give up and that team in Austria is going to know they messed up. I’m going to stay and make it.

TSG: Now you’re in a better situation?

Preston: When I first got to Hamburg I had great wages and then I had nothing, and now I’m back to where I was.

Everything has sort of gone the way it’s supposed to except that spell in Austria, I guess.

I wish it didn’t happen, but I can’t worry about that anymore.

TSG: So, to refresh, the plan is to now play out the year?

Preston: Basically I go to work in peace now.

I don’t do interviews because so often the media has got it wrong. You guys are an exception, of course.

I’ll see where it shakes out in January. I just want less chaos.

I know that I’m safe in Mainz and no one is out to get me. They want me to succeed.

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Jozy Altidore On Tape

The USA first choice striker, but only 3rd in the pecking order at Villarreal, sits down with a La Liga interview crew.

So Much More Than Vintage: Kristine Lilly

Here’s how our conversation with Kristine Lilly kicked off.

Record-setter...

TSG: Please correct me if I say anything wrong, I just started following the team and my goodness–your awards and accolades are flat-out amazing….and that’s a solid understatement.

Kristine Lilly: You can say I’m old, it’s okay.

Such was the humbleness from Kristine Lilly when TSG was able to touch base with the player her teammates’ call ‘Lill’ last week.

Kristine Lilly’s track record speaks for itself. Once a member of the holy triumvirate of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and herself, Lilly has gone on to play at the top of her profession for nearly a decade past two of U.S. Women’s Soccer most identifiable figures.

This week Lilly finds herself in Cancun, not on holiday, but called in to provide both leadership both on and off the pitch as the U.S. Women’s Team begins its World Cup 2011 qualifying campaign in Mexico.

When you talk to Lilly, you immediately sense a few things. One, she knows that you are struggling to ask her questions that somehow are unique about her past accomplishments.

Seriously, how many times can you ask someone, “Was it hard to become the active goals leader for the United States?”

Two–as we found out–she’s not going throw any of her teammates under the bus, even for fun…at least not to this novice Women’s Team reporter.

Beyond that, this was just business as usual in interviewing the–pardon the caps this statement deserves it–ALL-TIME INTERNATIONAL CAPS LEADER FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN.

Currently that number stands at 350.

That’s fairly ridiculous. I’m mean….seriously.

Kristine Lilly…

TSG: Hi, Kristine. Let’s jump in on the game that just finished. Just this week, the Women’s Team had their home unbeaten streak on the line late in Philadelphia. Was the team pressing to make sure the record remained untarnished?

KL: We don’t think about those things as a team. We were down 1-0. Our mentality was just to come back at this point. And we did that when Alex had that big goal.

TSG: That was Alex Morgan’s first goal for the National Team and you embraced her immediately afterward. Was it a moment of celebration or were you trying to give her some first hand perspective on her first National Team goal?

KL: Moment of celebration. The game wasn’t one of the best for our team.

And her coming off bench and scoring–it was pretty big for both her and us.

TSG: How do you prepare now when you head down to Mexico? Given that the U.S. Team should, pardon, “sail” through these qualifiers, do you take the games as a chance to practice what is preached or is it just all about winning each game?

KL: We don’t look at qualifiers like the media looks at qualifiers.

It’s going to be tough no matter what.

On any given day any team can win.

TSG: Isn’t there an expectation though that you’ll win by multiple goals? That’s my expectation…at least I think it is.

KL: We’re just focusing on each game and win.

TSG: Ok. Well I imagine I’ll being seeing few nail-biters next week…

Obviously winning in Germany next year is the big goal; do you consider the Germans the favorites?

KL: Anyone at the World Cup is going to be the competition. Whoever makes the World Cup is our competition. Germany, yes they’re hosting it, and that’ll help.

But, Germany, United States, Norway, France…

All these teams can it make happen. Whichever team is on form and playing well at the time has to be considered the favorite.

The USWNT: 1999 World Champions...

TSG:  It’s weird for me to ask this following question, but…the Women’s National Team has not won a World Cup in over a decade and that’s considered a little disappointing. Weird for me to say because in covering the Men’s Team merely making it out of the group is considered a success by some.

Is there any scenario where the Women can come back from the World Cup, have a great tournament by some standards, not win, and it be considered a success?

KL: No, success is winning World Cup, and for the men I would imagine they have the same criteria for success as well.

Nothing less for us.

If you ask any person competing in anything they want to be champions.

We haven’t won since ’99.

We’re always one of the top teams in the world and we’ll always play like that.

TSG: Being one of the best teams in the world, is there more pressure because you haven’t won in so long?

KL: No, I don’t think there is. Each time we step on the field we expect to win.

Pressure is created more so by the outside world.

The mentality never changes going into the event.

There are only two of us on the team right now that are World Cup veterans. Everyone wants that feeling to win a World Cup next year.The goal is there in our mind.

TSG: This is your…rather this will be–if you get selected–your sixth World Cup–that’s ridiculous.

Are you ever going to give someone else a chance to play?

KL: <laughing> Players have chances…they’re making their way.

TSG: Okay, my follow-up. You’re the FIFA leader in minutes played for any international team, any player, anywhere.

Kristine, in your own words, how big of bad-ass do you consider yourself?

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As Told By Preston Zimmerman (Part I)

(Part II, Part III)

Preston Zimmerman lays it out there...

Meet Preston Zimmerman.

Actually, let me set the stage first even though he’ll be doing most of the talking.

The interviews I love to do here at TSG typically have some of the following qualities: (1) it’s a player a little bit off the beaten path; (2) something about that player dictates that they will have a unique perspective on things; and, (3) the player is not really worried about how they are received and/or fashioning their answers for the reception, but they are self-aware and just “tell it like it is.”

That third one is the most important because, much like the enlightening Voltaire quote often invoked to defend the 1st amendment, “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” I’m interested in really digging into what makes a player truly tick. And even if I may hate–nay, too strong–dislike where they are coming from or what they’re about, I certainly respect that they show who they really are.

Very rarely do you get an interview that combines all three attributes and where you resonate with the good of someone. I got one of those with Preston Zimmerman.

Now, Zimmerman may not be a household American soccer name to you because once he was old enough to apply for college, he was already on his way to Europe.

In fact, the Washington state native has been toiling overseas for nearly four years already.

And that may not seem like much until you consider that he’s only 21-years-old.

Zimmerman now mans a flank primarily for the reserve squad of FSV Mainz 05. At the time of writing this piece, the senior side was undefeated in the Bundesliga having recently cut down Champions League finalist Bayern Munich. (Update: Mainz recently suffered their first defeat of the campaign.)

While I could sit here and tell you about how Zimmerman is making progress, how he loves German beer and food and is good buddies with German resident Michael Bradley, that’s not the real story (and in fact only the “progress” part is in fact true).

No, the real story for Zimmerman is the tribulations that occurred off the pitch, and why now he is merely excited to be in, as he phrases it, “a state of calm” and focused completely on moving his European career forward.

So without further ado: Preston Zimmerman, who colors outside the lines–and thankfully so, we might add–in painting the story of how he’s finally now set up for success in Europe.

Read on, friends.

 

Mainz, Germany...

TSG: You’re at Mainz. Tell me how you arrived there.

Preston Zimmerman (Preston): First off, how I got there was through a friend of mine. It was difficult to get onto a team after the Austria situation. [This will be discussed in detail in a bit.]

They were interested in me when I was back at Hamburg. They had wanted me back then and heard I was stuck with my present situation, and they wanted to give me an opportunity to get back on my feet.

I’ve been here since January and I’m thankful for the chance.

TSG: And how’s it going?

Preston: I’m pleased with how things are going.

A lot of things have changed. First, I’m not really a striker anymore, I’m playing in the midfield and out wide.

But I think that it’s definitely serving the purpose for what I need it to be for me, and the club has supported me tremendously.

Tomorrow, the first team has a friendly against Duisburg and I’m on the roster.

TSG: First team, excellent!

Preston: It’s something that was a surprise and I just found out today. [PZ played about 35 mins.]

TSG: You joined there in January as a striker and you were out looking for a club. But it’s an amateur contract, explain what that means…

Preston: No, you know, I don’t understand why it [an amateur contract] is a big deal. It’s a second team contract, but I still train with the 1st team.

There’s still bonuses for the first team. There’s not much to “amateur” beyond the name.

TSG: And what are your aspirations come the end of the year?

Preston: You know, how do I put this…obviously the best thing for me is playing in a league like the Bundesliga. But, the next step would be for a move to a first league in a smaller country or to the second division here from a playing standpoint.

TSG: How easy is it to transfer?

Preston: My contract is to the end of the season. Obviously, it’s much more difficult to transfer if you’re a foreigner.

There’s more incentive to sign a German guy. Each German side needs twelve Germans on each roster and allows only five non-EU players. This is something I struggled with at Hamburg.

It was somewhat hopeless there and led to that ill-fated Austrian move.

It’s not the worst thing for me to go to a smaller country where the rules don’t hinder me as much, like Denmark or Sweden.

For example, if I go down to the third division in Germany, they only allow three non-Euro’s and they want at least four German U-23′s on the team.

It’s difficult to get those non-EU spots.

TSG: Educate the TSG audience on how it goes now with Mainz. Who has control of your movement? Do you? Is is strictly the club?

Preston: We had a meeting in January when I signed. I had a six-month contract until the summer.

Then we had the six month meeting to review my performance.

I came from a chaotic situation and I wanted some calmness in my life. They asked me to stay at that meeting and I wanted to stay through the end of the year.

I really wasn’t interested in going out and finding another place to play.

They asked me to stay, like I said, but they said if I find a situation where I can develop my game, they’ll never prohibit or block me from doing it.

They’ve been really, really good about that.

TSG: That’s an anomaly thought, right? Most clubs don’t take that pro-player approach unless you’re a star?

Preston: No, I agree. Mainz still makes their money and do what they have to do, but they’re not going to stand in a guy’s way if he wishes to go somewhere else. And that’s been great.

TSG: Okay, let’s backtrack a little. You’re a product of the U.S. Soccer U-17 Residency Program. Talk about what it’s like looking back. (Editor’s Note: Article at time of publishing read “IMG Academy,” Preston was part of the U-17 Residency Program)

 

Zimmerman was a proficient striker on the 2007 U-20 squad...

Preston: Oh man, it was the best time of my life without a doubt and it will probably always be the best time in my life.

I can’t tell you one negative thing about the whole experience. It was absolutely amazing and everything I wished for when I planned to go.

I still look back and it makes me happy.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back though it’s not for me anymore. I wish I cherished it more when I was there.

I had so much fun there and the guys there were and are my best friends, my family.

And then you play every single day.

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The ABC’s of the USWNT

Note from the editor: And so begins our U.S. Women’s National Team coverage here at The Shin Guardian. With the arrival of Little Miss Shin Guardian and

Carli Lloyd: Just one of the many leaders on the USWNT

the notion that she will one day reach the pinnacle of all she attempts–perhaps in soccer…nay, hopefully in soccer–TSG is going to begin covering the Women’s National Team, a team that is expected to the win the World Cup every four years. How about that?! A U.S. team expected to win the World Cup!

We kickoff our coverage with an overview of the the team–the ABCs if you will–from a frequent TSG contributor in advance of the Women’s opening match, this Thursday October 28th, in the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying tournament.

This is guest post by Dan Weirsema who typically writes here.

If you’re a regular reader of The Shin Guardian you’re probably already a passionate fan of the United States Men’s National Team. But while you’ve got no problem telling Dempsey from Donovan and second guessing Coach Bob Bradley’s squad selections and formations, you might be less familiar with the U.S. Team on the fairer sex’s side of the game.

At the end of October the U.S. Women’s National Team begins the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the regional qualifying tournament for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and as TSG ramps up its coverage of the Lady Nats we thought it’d be helpful to put together a cheat sheet of sorts for our readers to ready themselves to support the ladies’ efforts.

All you didn’t know, need to know, and probably never knew you’d know (what???) about our Women’s National Team:

A is for. A-Team: The Lady Nats feature two clinical forwards in Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez. Wambach, one of the world’s best female players, brings loads of experience and talent to the squad and has an unbelievable strike rate of 109 goals in 142 matches (with 43 of those with her head!). Rodriguez is less potent, but no less dangerous with eight goals in 49 caps.

B is for… Boxx: Midfielder Shannon Boxx redefined her position during this tenure for the National side. As the defensive mid her presence has clogged many an opponents’ attacks while leading and distributing in the attack with skill. Although she’ll be 34 come Women’s World Cup time, there’s no reason to not expect the 129 capped Boxx won’t be in the starting eleven.

Rampone sports the armband for the States...

C is for… Captain: The USWNT is captained by Christine Rampone, that’s World Cup gold medalist and 219-caps affixed to her belt Christine Rampone to you.

Got it?

D is for… Dark Ages: Much of the 2000s is considered a lost decade for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Despite a resurgence under coach Pia Sundhage and a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, the years before under coaches April Heinrichs (2000 – 2004) and Greg Ryan (2004-2007) dealt with the departure of the core of players that led the team to their 1999 World Cup title under Tony DiCicco.

Under Heinrichs the National Team (with one exception in the 2004 Olympics) missed out on capturing women’s soccer’s biggest prizes. The time the 2003 WWC came around she relied too heavily on the same squad that won the 1999 tournament and the squad crashed out of the tournament 3-0 losers to eventual champions, Germany.

Ryan’s reign at the helm of the National Team proved to be even more disastrous. He was charged with rebuilding and recruiting a new class of women’s players to take the place of retired stars Hamm, Foudy, and Akers. The USWNT cruised through WWC qualifying and the opening rounds of the 2007 WWC. Shockingly Ryan benched starting goalkeeper Hope Solo for veteran Brianna Scurry to face Brazil in the semi-finals.

The U.S. suffered the worst loss in their history, 4-0 to the eventual tournament runners-up, and post-game comments by Solo and the fall-out from that and the tournament defeat led to his ouster by the end of the year.

The USWNT needed a fresh start and in November 2007 the U.S. Soccer Federation hired Sundhage, the team’s third woman, and first foreign, National Team coach.

E is for… Entertaining: The USWNT Blog at USSoccer.com provides one of the finest, in-depth, random, behind-the-scenes coverage of any professional team I know. A great model for any sporting franchise, particularly soccer, to follow to provide timely, relevant, and human interest news of a team and their players.

The stage...

F is for… First: Since March of 2008 the Women’s National Team has held the number one ranking in the FIFA Coca-Cola Womens World Rankings. In fact, the USWNT has never been ranked lower than second since FIFA began tracking women’s national teams in 2003.

G is for… Germany: The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held in Germany. This will be the sixth time the tournament has been held and the USWNT will seek their third world title next June 26th through July 17th.

H is for… Heather: U.S. defender Heather Mitts is known almost as much for her beauty as she is for her standout play in the back for her squad. More than just a pretty face, though, she’s led the back four over 100 times since becoming a regular starter in 2004.

Mitts: Um, not just a pretty face...

I is for… Injuries: Several key USWNT players are out injured or just recently returned from injures. Starting goalkeeper Hope Solo is sidelined for the next six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. She’s to return right before the summer’s WWC. Midfielder Lori Chalupny may never wear her country’s colors again after the U.S. Soccer Federation has refused to clear her to play after a series of concussions.

J is for… Just in Case: Luckily both roster voids will be filled by quality players in their absence. Midfielder Carli Lloyd recently recovered from a broken ankle and will hopefully return to the form that saw her named 2008’s U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. Backup goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart plays her club ball for the current Women’s Professional Soccer champions FC Gold Pride and has 11 shutouts in 24 appearances for the National Team.

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