The U.S. Women’s soccer team has relied on numerous players young and old to advance to Sunday’s World Cup final against Japan in Frankfurt.
Young guns such as forward Lauren Cheney, whose passing and ball instincts have either created or finished key scoring opportunities has come up big, as has the team’s youngest player and goal-scorer Alex Morgan. But there is little doubt that coach Pia Sundhage relies on her veteran core to get the job done.
Here’s a look at the three key players and the coach everyone will be looking at come 2 p.m.
1. Pia Sundhage
Outsiders questioned her future as a rock singer after her ear-bleeding serenade of “Dancing in the Dark” after the 1-0 win in the pre-World Cup friendly against Mexico. But don’t doubt her abilities as a coach. She won an Olympic gold nine months after she took the U.S. job in 2008, and was 15-1-2 in World Cup qualifying. A Swedish legend during a 22-year playing career, she scored four goals in leading her country to third place in the 1991 World Cup. A players’ coach, she encouraged her women to take a day to actually celebrate the heart-pounding quarterfinal win over Brazil.
2. Abby Wambach
One of the most dangerous goal scorers in the world, there’s nobody better heading the ball. Her last-gasp header against Brazil won the 31-year-old forward an ESPN ESPY award for “Best Play.” At 5-11, she’s one of the most physical players around. She’s an emotional beacon, too. “This team is special,” she said. “The fact is, we just don’t give up. We’re not quitters.”
3. Hope Solo
A title Sunday would redeem the 32-year-old goalkeeper for a 2007 World Cup meltdown in which she was dismissed from the team for blasting her coach and 1999 World Cup winner Brianna Scurry after her benching in the semifinal loss to Brazil. Since being reinstated in 2008, she has a shutout against Brazil in that year’s Olympic Gold Medal game and a huge save in this year’s quarterfinal penalty shootout against the same team. She spent most of 2010 rehabbing from major shoulder surgery.
4. Christie Rampone
The 36-year-old defender and captain — and mother to three children — is the oldest player on the team, but also the most savvy. A national team member since 1997 and the only player left from the 1999 World Cup championship team, Rampone is the glue that holds the back line together.