- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sometimes the past is best left in the past, but not for U.S. women’s soccer.

The Americans lost last summer’s World Cup final in the most disappointing fashion imaginable, allowing Japan to score a late tying goal and then wilting in a penalty kick shootout. The sting of the loss is still fresh, and veteran forward Abby Wambach hopes that memory will motivate the U.S. as it kicks off the 2012 Olympics against France on Wednesday in Glasgow, Scotland.

“There’s no better motivation than losing, in my opinion,” Wambach said on a conference call with reporters last week. “Because we got so close and lost in the most dramatic way you can lose a soccer game, and a soccer tournament — not to mention the World Cup — it adds even more fuel to that fire.”

The United States still owns the No. 1 spot in FIFA’s world rankings. It still posts 13-0 shutouts and has won 15 of its past 19 international contests by a combined score of 73-10.

But none of these facts would make a silver medal in London any easier to stomach.

Coach Pia Sundhage will field a roster almost identical to the one she brought to Germany last summer. Dumfries native Ali Krieger will not compete after tearing her ACL in January, and two World Cup reserves have been replaced by younger talent, but otherwise the squad remains intact. Sixteen of the 18 Olympians remember watching Japan celebrate its World Cup victory, and don’t think that image hasn’t motivated them this summer.

“When we look back at the World Cup, I think that we take out the best part of it and the fact that we played our best soccer in the final when it really mattered,” Sundhage said. “Having that said, this team is a little different from the World Cup.”

One striking difference will be the presence of 23-year-old Alex Morgan up top. The World Cup reserve has shifted to a starting role recently and tallied 17 goals and eight assists in just 12 international starts this year. Perhaps most importantly, she’s managed to draw some of the attention away from Wambach, 32, who also has scored double-digit goals (13) in 2012.

While Wambach is more of a holding forward, Morgan gives the United States speed. She is one of the fastest players on the pitch, so when played together, Wambach and Morgan have the ability to pressure opposing defenses in a variety of ways.

“I think it’s one thing that I remember in 2004, that Mia [Hamm] and I kind of had. We complemented each other, and I think that’s what Alex and I have now,” Wambach said. “I know that she’s making a name for herself, and the World Cup was just the beginning for her.”

Morgan is one of six first-time Olympians on the U.S. squad and one of four projected starters younger than 25. Five others are older than 30, and captain Christie Rampone is competing in her fourth Olympics at 37. Goalkeeper Hope Solo called the mix of youth and experience “a perfect balance.”

But will that perfect balance translate to a third consecutive gold medal?

History says yes. Every time the United States has failed to win a World Cup, it has won Olympic gold the following summer. In 1999, when the United States won the World Cup in spectacular fashion, it managed only a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics the following year.

Despite this trend, Wambach knows the Americans can’t afford to rest on their laurels. The three other teams in their preliminary group — France, Colombia and North Korea — play wildly different styles. And as the U.S. discovered last summer, it takes only one or two goals to turn dreams of a championship into nightmares.

“Yeah, the past is in the past, but this team still has something to prove,” Wambach said. “This team is very different from the teams that have won previous gold medals, and we hope to continue the tradition that they’ve set for us.”

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