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Losing Wambach will prove U.S. team's resilience

Abby Wambach (12) goes airborne after colliding with Brazil defender Andreia Rosa Wednesday night in San Diego.

The broken leg suffered by striker Abby Wambach during Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Brazil in San Diego is a huge blow to the U.S. women’s soccer team but will not necessarily cripple its medal hopes.

Over the past two decades, the American women have time and again shown resilience in the face of misfortune, and Beijing 2008 should be no different.

The loss of Wambach, with her 99 goals in 127 international matches, subtracts significantly from theCoach Pia Sundhage.  team’s offense, but Coach Pia Sundhage has other options up front--notably Natasha Kai, Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly.

Replacing Wambach on the Olympic roster will be 20-year-old UCLA forward Lauren Cheney, a former under-20 world champion who had been an Olympic alternate.

"Abby is one of the players who took all of us young players under her wing," Cheney said on U.S. Soccer’s web site. "She has always been there to help us out and guide us.

"Abby is irreplaceable, but I’m ready for any role I am asked to fill, and I’ll do anything I can to help the team win the gold medal. In China, we’ll be playing for our country and ourselves, but also for Abby."

What the U.S. will lack in China is the physically intimidating presence that Wambach brings to games. It takes a courageous defender to be willing to step in Wambach’s path when she is bearing down on goal at full speed.

If there can be such a thing as a thundering herd of one, Wambach is that herd.

Now, the U.S. will have to rely more on subtlety and guile. Speed and finesse come into play rather than brute force and finishing power. The ability to string together passes that can unlock defenses becomes paramount. Fortunately for Sundhage, her team has players who can do just that.

Rodriguez and O’Reilly provide the speed. Carli Lloyd, Aly Wagner and Lindsay Tarpley provide the passing skills. All five, along with Cheney, provide the goal-scoring ability. And if power is needed, midfielder Shannon Boxx is a more-than-able fill-in for Wambach when it comes to battling in the air for corner kicks and free kicks.

The U.S. will be fine. A medal is still a very real possibility. All Sundhage has to do is teach her players a little history.

In 1991, defender Megan McCarthy, a starter, tore knee ligament just before the first Women’s World Championship (it wasn’t yet called the Women’s World Cup) in China. Joy Fawcett was moved from midfield to defense, a teenage Mia Hamm took Fawcett’s midfield spot and the rest is history. The U.S. won its first world title.

In 1995, forwards Carin Gabarra and Michelle Akers, both world champions four years earlier, were injured. Gabarra hurt her back just before Women’s World Cup began in Sweden and Akers was injured seven minutes into the opening game. The U.S. still finished third and earned the bronze.

In 1999, Akers was battling chronic fatigue syndrome throughout the Women’s World Cup in the U.S. and had to be helped off the field at the Rose Bowl during the momentous final against China, but the U.S. nevertheless won the gold.

In 2000, Akers, still fighting CFS, withdrew from the Sydney Olympics just before the team was named, but the U.S. went on to win the silver medal.

In 2003, defender Brandi Chastain broke her foot in the first game of the Women’s World Cup, but the U.S. finished third and earned another bronze.

In 2007, defender Heather Mitts was injured just before the Women’s World Cup in China, but the U.S. still managed to finish third and collect the bronze.

In fact, in all eight world championship and Olympic tournaments, the American women have never come home without a medal. Chances are, they’ll have another by the end of August, and who is to say it won’t be gold.

-- Grahame L. Jones

Top photo: Abby Wambach (12) goes airborne after colliding with Brazil defender Andreia Rosa Wednesday night in San Diego. Credit: Robert Benson / US Presswire

Inset: Coach Pia Sundhage. Credit: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

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Comments (2)

thanks for your positive spin. I am definitely still excited about seeing how the young guns and Natasha Kai step up to score some goals. now the rest of the world will not know who to mark!!

Finally, someone who isn't doubting the abilities of this team. So many articles are saying the US Women's National Team is doomed to fail in the Olympics. I wholeheartedly disagree with that attitude-Abby is one of the best and most well known players on the team-but the abilities of this team as a whole is astounding-even if Abby isn't playing.

Yes, it will be saddening and weird not seeing Abby playing, but with how much Lloyd and Kai stepped up their intensity in the last game, A-Rod's heroics so early in her career, how well Hucles has proven herself and how hard everyone goes into every game, the US still are a force to be reckoned with up top.

The midfield always does its job of opening up for the defense and backing up the offense-they are the key to Pia's tactic of finesse and passing rather than booting the ball up the field to the forwards (which was their previous game plan under Ryan). All of the midfielders, from the most experienced to the newest players, understand their job and do it unbelievably well.

Defensively, the team is just about solid-having Mitts back and Chalups now playing defense, along with the experience and abilities of Markgraf and Rampone, only a few times does the ball get through to Hope, and having the number one women's keeper in the world in net definitely helps for those few moments. Even when the starters are subbed out, our defense is solid, which just goes to shows the depth of this team.

The only people I feel that still believe this team will do well are the ones who actually follow the team for more than 3 weeks before the WWC or the Olympics. Much of the media is only focusing on how bad this is for the team, and how it will ruin the chances the US has of medaling in the Olympics-but the depth of this team, along with Pia's emphasis on including everyone in the attack will be the key to this team's success in the Olympics.

I know the entire US Women's National Team will step their game up, and I know I'll be supporting them every step of the way!


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