The FIFA Women's World Cup is just three weeks away — are you ready to follow all the action?
Last summer, schools, restaurants, parks and other public gathering places nationwide were buzzing throughout the month of June about the U.S. Men's National Team and their run to the second round of the FIFA World Cup. Led by Washington Youth Soccer's DeAndre Yedlin and Sounders FC star Clint Dempsey, the USMNT thrilled its fans with a dramatic, come-from-behind win over Ghana, a dominant (albeit in a tie) performance against Portugal and a gritty, extra-time defeat to world No. 3 Belgium.
Now, imagine what the buzz would have been like had the tournament been not in Brazil, but right here in North America — indeed, with several games just two hours up I-5 in Vancouver, B.C. And imagine, too, that the U.S. was entering the tournament not with an outside shot to make the Round of 16, but with one of the best teams in the world, loaded with stars and determined to reclaim the title of FIFA World Cup Champions?
There's no need imagine; this dream is 100-percent reality.
The FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off in Canada next month, and Team USA is among the favorites to hoist the iconic golden ball trophy in July. Loaded with stars — including the Seattle Reign's Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo (the latter a Richland native and Washington Youth Soccer alum), former Reign FC forward Sydney Leroux and possible future Reign FC star Abby Wambach (the Reign acquired Wambach's rights this spring, should she decide to play in the NWSL following the World Cup) — the U.S. will be one of the most exciting teams to watch when they kick off play on June 8 against Australia in Winnipeg. They'll be joined by U.S. Soccer legends Shannon Boxx, Christie Rampone, Carli Lloyd and Heather O'Reilly, plus rising stars like Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath to form one of the most talented rosters in U.S. women's history.
“The players selected have the confidence, experience and desire to help us win a world championship,” says head coach Jill Ellis, who will be coaching in her first Women's World Cup. “We had an excellent group to pick from and at the end of the last camp, I complimented all the players on how much they pushed each other and competed to make this selection challenging."
Those players will face one of the toughest test of any team in the field. Team USA's Group D has been the one given the moniker of the "Group of Death," and for good reason — in addition to the second-ranked Americans, the group includes two of the world's other top-10 teams in No. 5 Sweden and No. 10 Australia, plus Africa's deepest and most talented team in Nigeria, which has won nine continental titles and has never failed to qualify for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
The Americans open play in Winnipeg on June 8, facing Australia at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time in a game that will be televised live across the nation on FOX. Having reached the quarterfinals in each of the last two Women's World Cups, the Australians will make for a difficult opener for Team USA, which placed second in 2011 (losing on penalty kicks to Japan) and third in 2007.
That will be followed four days later by a match against European powerhouse Sweden, the third-place finisher in 2011 and a team that has only once failed to qualify for the Round of 16. Adding extra intrigue to the game is the fact that Sweden is currently coached by Pia Sundhage, who led Team USA to two gold medals and the 2011 Women's World Cup final before being replaced by Ellis in 2012. That game, which will also air on FOX, kicks off at 5 p.m. Pacific.
Most exciting for local soccer fans, though, will be the Americans' finale, a 5 p.m. Pacific time game on June 16 against Nigeria that will take place just up the road, at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver. With thousands of Washington soccer fans in attendance and many more crowding the streets around the stadium, and gathered around their TVs back home, the Americans will make a final push to clinch their spot in the Round of 16 and keep their dream of a 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup championship alive.
Washington Youth Soccer will be following all of the action on its Facebook and Twitter pages, where fans can also find information about scheduled meet-ups and watching parties. And for the latest on the Women's World Cup, visit www.FIFA.com!