- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 10, 2008

In its first two domestic game of the year, the U.S. women’s soccer team has given up comfortable leads — both to Australia — before eventually earning a positive result.

“In the second half in those games we were changing our formations and working on our midfield and defensive lines,” team captain Christie Rampone said. “There have been some holes at the back, but we are working on it to get better every day for the Olympics.”

Team USA hopes to avoid a similar scenario tonight when it plays an exhibition against Canada at RFK Stadium.

In its last game, the U.S. team gave up a three-goal lead in its 5-4 win over Australia, which did not qualify for the Olympics.

“I think it was good for us to fight back and score goals,” Rampone added. “You can’t duplicate those situations in training.”

It was an unusual performance for the U.S. team, which is 12-0-1 this year and has outscored its opponents 42-10.

The last time the U.S. team gave up a three-goal lead and still won was Sept. 25, 2004, when it beat Iceland 4-3 on a goal by Heather Mitts.

The recent results may reveal a team, now under new coach Pia Sundhage, experimenting with lineups and playing a more attractive — and possibly riskier — style than the conservative tactics of previous coach Greg Ryan.

Tonight’s game could be another close one.

“Australia and Canada are both very similar — big physical teams,” Mitts said.

The U.S. team is 6-0 at RFK. It has not played there since 2003, when it beat Sweden 3-1 in the 2003 World Cup.

Eleven players on the current roster helped Team USA win the gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and are battling for a place on the 18-player roster that travels to China.

Mitts is back — Mitts, 29, will play in her third game today since returning from a torn ACL.

Mitts suffered the injury in a win over Canada on May 12, and it kept her out of last year’s World Cup in China.

“I was devastated,” said Mitts, who has played in 72 games for the U.S. team said. “It wasn’t so much the pain at the time but knowing that I was going to miss my second World Cup. I’d worked so hard to get in the starting lineup.”

Mitts broke her leg in 2003, and it cost her a spot on the World Cup team that year.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Mitts said. “Hopefully, I get a chance to make it up at the Olympics.”

Smith shines — Former WUSA star Kelly Smith, 29, scored two goals to help Arsenal beat Leeds in the Women’s FA Cup on Monday. Arsenal has won 29 major trophies in 16 years.

Smith, who played for the Philadelphia Charge and starred for England last year against China in the World Cup, has scored 15 goals in 24 games this season.

McBride wins games — American Brian McBride has scored three game-winning goals for Fulham FC since returning to first-team soccer after a serious knee injury.

He and Fulham FC may need another one today, when they play Portsmouth in an English Premier League game, which will determine whether Fullham is relegated.

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