Future of U.S. Soccer rooted in Pac-12
By Ann Killion
GLASGOW - In the 32nd minute of Wednesday's opening game for the U.S. women's soccer team at the London Olympics, Hope Solo sent a long pass toward France's goal. Alex Morgan pounced on it and shot it high into the net.
That goal - which tied the U.S. with France at 2-2 and erased a shocking 2-0 deficit that the American team found itself in - was an all Pac-12 production. University of Washington (Solo) to the University of California (Morgan).
That's not a surprise. The U.S. team - the best women's team in the world and the team that kickstarted the Olympics two full days before Opening Ceremonies - is heavily weighted toward the Pac-12 Conference.
Six players in Wednesday's starting lineup hail from the Pac-12, along with three players on the bench. The players represent half of the Conference schools: Solo from UW; Morgan from Cal; Kelly O'Hara, Rachel Buehler and Nicole Barnhart from Stanford; Amy LePeilbet from Arizona State; Amy Rodriguez from USC; and Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux from UCLA.
"It's a huge source of pride," said Washington coach Lesle Gallimore.
It wasn't always this way. Back in the early days of the National Team, there was a North Carolina cabal. Anson Dorrance, the Tar Heels' head coach, was also the National Team head coach for 10 years. He stocked the team with his own players, creating a tradition that seemed like it might never end.
But the women's game has grown. Key players like Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain came from other schools (Foudy from Stanford, Chastain played at Cal before transferring to Santa Clara). And the balance of power started to change. In recent years, it has taken a notable swing toward the west.
"I don't think that every good player has to go to North Carolina anymore," said Cheney. "Look at Alex. She's one of our best players."
Yes, look at Alex Morgan, who - after just one game - is positioned to be the breakout star of the Olympics. Morgan scored two goals in her Olympic debut against France, continuing her torrid pace: she has now scored 19 goals in 16 games this year and is starting to be talked about as the next Mia Hamm. Who was, of course, a North Carolina product.
The American team has proven to be surprisingly resilient, continuing a trademark started at last year's World Cup when it came down against Brazil to win in penalty kicks.
On Wednesday, the team fell into a 2-0 hole after just 14 minutes. France was aggressive: Gaetane Thiney blasted a 30-yard shot that ricocheted off Solo's fingertips into the net. Just two minutes later, Marie-Laure Delie took advantage of a ball misplayed by the U.S. defense and knocked it in.
No panic. Morgan looked at Abby Wambach and they said to each other: "All right. A goal each." And that's exactly what they delivered: Wambach scored the first, Morgan the second and - for good measure - the fourth.
"It was incredible," Solo said. "We were ice. We weren't even fazed going down two goals. It came from the confidence in our preparation. We knew France was good but we knew we were better."
Solo's college coach, Gallimore, is thrilled to see the players she coached and coached against in her Conference ascend to the highest level.
"When I was at the World Cup in Germany last summer, it was so much fun to speak to all those players I've coached against," Gallimore said. "It's just really familiar to see those players and know that they belong on the world stage."
Gallimore predicts that the new tradition will continue for a while. She notes that there are many players in the Pac-12 who currently play on youth national teams, and will be in line to play for the senior team.
"The Pac-12 will be well represented for years to come," Gallimore said.