US women back on field after World Cup letdown
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Abby Wambach hasn't gotten over her World Cup disappointment. Neither has Hope Solo, Alex Morgan nor just about anybody else on the women's national team.
It's been two months and the memories are still fresh in their minds.
"I don't know if I'll ever really be over it," Wambach said.
The U.S. team gathered this week for the first time since falling to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final, one of the most thrilling women's soccer matches ever played. They face Canada on Saturday night at Livestrong Sporting Park in the first of a two-match exhibition series, with the second game scheduled for next week in Portland, Ore.
The games were arranged as a sort of "thank you" to the American fans for supporting the U.S. team's inspiring run in Germany, but it's also a chance for Wambach and Co. to get over the bitter disappointment of the final and look ahead to Olympic qualifying early next year.
"You know, I'll always look back and think about the good times, and about the final, of course, but I don't think I'll ever forget how I felt about the tournament," said Morgan, who was the youngest player on the U.S. roster yet turned in one of the most clutch performances.
Morgan, who also scored a crucial goal against Italy to help qualify for the World Cup, added another in the 82nd minute of a semifinal victory over France. She scored the first goal of the final against Japan, and assisted on Wambach's header for a goal in extra time, but the Japanese were able to match it and the U.S. wound up losing 3-1 on penalty kicks.
"It was hard. I mean, I think I played my personal best soccer that I've played with this team, but we didn't pull out the result, and that's the most important thing," Morgan said.
The U.S. is bringing the same roster it used for the World Cup on its barnstorming tour, and then the team will disperse for about six weeks to rest and recover. Many haven't had much of break because they returned from the World Cup and dove straight into their club seasons.
Players will reconvene in December for training camp, and then start the grind toward qualifying for the Olympics. The top two teams from the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, scheduled for Jan. 19-29 in Vancouver, British Columbia, advance to the London Games. The U.S. will compete along with Canada, Mexico, three teams from the Caribbean and two teams from Central America.
"The Olympics have been on our mind since July 18, after the World Cup final," Morgan said.
Still, Morgan said there's an opportunity for the women's national team to take a break from the pressure that comes with major tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics.
The exhibition games against Canada are one example, providing them an opportunity to sign autographs, take photographs and connect with fans in a pair of soccer-mad cities.
Another stress-reliever — at least, for everyone but Hope Solo — is the goalkeeper's upcoming appearance on "Dancing With the Stars." The new season debuts Monday, and Solo is joined by NBA star Ron Artest -- his name change to Metta World Peace is now official -- as the latest in a distinguished list of athletes to dance competitively on television.
Solo said she's been rehearsing five or six hours a day for a week, and acknowledged getting a little bit more nervous every day that goes by. But she also said the television show will be a personal help for her, because just like Wambach, she too has yet to get over the World Cup disappointment.
"It was strange," Solo said. "It's so good to be back, but at the same time it's like, man, the last time we were together was the game against Japan, and we didn't come out on top. And we're at a point in time where we need to turn the page and focus on the Olympics."