Pac-10 Players Abound On Women's U.S. World Cup Roster
You don't have to look any farther than the U.S. World Cup roster to learn about the strength and depth of women's soccer in the Pac-10 Conference.
When U.S. National Team head coach Pia Sundhage named her 21-player World Cup squad on May 9, the roster read like a Pac-10 All-Star team with one third of the team being Pac-10 alums.
Nicole Barnhart (Stanford), Rachel Buehler (Stanford), Lauren Cheney (UCLA), Amy LePeilbet (Arizona State), Alex Morgan (Cal), Amy Rodriguez (USC) and Hope Solo (Washington) are the seven former Pac-10 standouts on the U.S. roster, representing six of the 10 Pac-10 schools.
"I've always said that the Pac-10 is the best conference and the most competitive conference in the country," Morgan said while taking a break from training camp. "When I was playing at Cal there was never a game we took more lightly than any other. It was very competitive. Seeing all these Pac-10 players on this World Cup roster just shows that it is the most competitive conference."
Morgan, Cheney and Rodriguez make up three of the four forwards on the team and have provided much of the offense during the 2011 schedule, combining for eight of the team's 20 goals. Rodriguez and Morgan rank second on the team with three goals each, while Cheney is third with two. Rodriguez leads the team in assists with three.
They were once rivals in the Pac-10 and now they have become close friends.
"These are players we scouted for years when I was at Cal and now I get to play with them," Morgan said. "Lauren was a senior when Amy was a junior when I was a sophomore. It's great to see how they've done and how I've done and now playing together. We have all become really close over the last year. It is healthy competition. Even though we're fighting for a starting spot we want each other to do well."
Morgan, the youngest player on the team at 21, joins a roster that is loaded with experience. Nine players have played in multiple World Cups, including goalkeepers Barnhart and Solo, who are making their second World Cup team. Of the 12 players making their World Cup debuts, five were part of the 2008 Olympic Team, including Buehler, Cheney and Rodriguez.
LePeilbet and Solo made the team after coming back from serious injuries. LePeilbet was on course to make the 2007 World Cup team before suffering a torn ACL in the summer of 2006. She returned to the U.S.team in 2009 and has since re-established herself as one of the world's top defensive players.
Solo underwent major shoulder surgery September 22, 2010 and returned to the team three months before the World Cup (June 26-July 17) after an aggressive rehab and therapy program. Prior to the injury, Solo had earned her place as the top goalie in the world, losing just one game in goal for the USA since taking over the starting spot in 2005.
With Solo on the shelf, Barnhart stepped in as the #1 goalkeeper and has started in every game this season, allowing just 1.07 goals per game. The U.S. is 7-2 thus far, with two matches remaining against Japan and Mexico before opening World Cup play against Korea DPR June 28 in Dresden, Germany.
Buehler, joining Barnhart as the second Stanford Cardinal to make the team, is a rugged defender who has earned the nickname 'The Buehldozer' for her crunching tackles and aggressive style of play. A pre-med at Stanford, Buehler has put medical school on hold to pursue her soccer career.
"I want to represent the Pac-10 and Cal well and I know the other girls want to represent the conference and their schools too," Morgan said. "I hope whoever is in goal or whoever is scoring or whoever is slide tackling on defense is a Pac-10 player, but at the end of the day I want this team to do well. It doesn't matter who it is. As long as we step up together and do well and make it to that final game I'll be happy."
Team USA will play Korea DPR (June 28), Colombia (July 2) and Sweden (July 6) in first round play.
"The women's game has evolved a lot since 1999," Morgan said. "I see us right now at the top, but it's not going to be easy to stay at the top. We're going to have to fight for it and work hard for it at the World Cup and show everyone in the world that we are the best."
With one third of the roster coming from the Pac-10, it's not hard to imagine at least one of them having a major impact on the tournament.
"The odds are in our favor," Morgan said. "I'm looking forward to it and I hope I can be that player. There are two other forwards who can be that player or the one in goal could be doing it. It's looking good for the Pac-10."
Photo courtesy: U.S. Soccer