[SCOUTING REPORT] With only one loss in 55 games since Pia Sundhage took over as coach three years, the USA is the overwhelming favorite to capture one of Concacaf's two automatic berths in the 2011 Women's World Cup at the regional qualifying tournament that begins Thursday against Haiti in Cancun, Mexico. Here's how Sundhage has reshaped the USA since its fateful game against Brazil in the semifinals of the 2007 Women's World Cup, a 4-0 loss that stands as the low point in U.S. women's history.
GOALKEEPER. Briana Scurry, Greg Ryan's choice to face Brazil, retired this summer, while Hope Solo, who blasted Ryan for being benched against Solo, is rehabbing following shoulder surgery. Solo's injury has opened the door for Nicole Barnhart of WPS champion FC Gold Pride to claim the starting spot. Jill Loyden (Chicago Red Stars) will back up Barnhart in Cancun.
DEFENDERS. Kate Markgraf and Cat Whitehill, who started in the middle against Brazil, are no longer part of the national team picture. Markgraf, who gave birth to twins last year, recently retired, while Whitehill's form has suffered since injuring her knee in 2008.
The backline in Cancun will be led by the Boston Breakers' Amy LePeilbet, WPS's top defender. After that, Sundhage has multiple options: Christie Rampone, the starting right back in China three years ago, or Rachel Buehler next to LePeilbet, Heather Mitts or Ali Krieger, the lone foreign-based player on the U.S. team, at right back, and Buehler, Stephanie Cox, the left back against Brazil, or late call-up Becky Sauerbrunn on the left side.
MIDFIELD. Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd in the middle and Heather O’Reilly on the right side return from the 2007 Women's World Cup team, while the fourth starter in Cancun should be Megan Rapinoe, who started the last four friendlies on the left side of midfield.
Lindsay Tarpley, who started with Boxx, Lloyd and O'Reilly in midfield against Brazil in the 2008 Olympic final win, has recovered from an ACL injury a year ago has returned to action but isn't part of the U.S. team in Cancun.
Kristine Lilly, who leads all players with 14 appearances and nine goals in World Cup qualifying, is available, as are Lori Lindsey (11 caps) and Yael Averbuch (10).
FORWARDS. The U.S. attack is still built around Abby Wambach, who has 109 goals in 142 international appearances and eight of the 24 U.S. goals this year.
Coming off an excellent sophomore season in WPS with the Philadelphia Independence, Amy Rodriguez should start up front with Wambach, though Lauren Cheney, who played on the 2008 gold-medal team with Rodriguez as collegians, and Alex Morgan, the University of California senior, should see plenty of action.