The ultimate tests for an Abby Wambach
-less U.S. women won't come until later in the Olympic soccer tournament, but starting out against traditional rival
Norway in Qinhuangdao
on Wednesday in may be a stiff enough challenge to a team abruptly deprived of its most potent weapon.
Regardless of how
successful head coach Pia Sundhage
has been in her quest to wean the team off from its reliance on her, and instill a more flowing, fluid attack, not until the
30th minute of its final tune-up match July 16 against Brazil had any real urgency set in. A clumsy challenge left Wambach with a fractured leg and the U.S. gold-medal hopes damaged as well.
Now the American women have no choice but to step forward, collectively and individually, to prove they can overcome yet another major injury. Already ruled out of the Olympics are
midfielder Leslie Osborne
and defender Cat Whitehill
; it can be argued the U.S. has lagged behind Brazil and Germany with
those players, logically, how can one assume the Americans will do better without them?
The answer is: Winning a gold medal depends on being the better team on the day once the
knockout round begins. Rankings, reputations, and past results mean nothing. "Abby is a big loss for us, but we've also lost two other players with a lot of experience," says captain
. "We've been able to bounce back and work on new things. We've been changing our system and style all throughout the year in case
something like this happened."
For the Americans, steeling themselves for what lies ahead begins in the group phase. They have three competitive games to work Wambach out of
their play and their minds, and while Norway has slipped from its previous status as one of the world's top teams, it can be formidable with a rugged defense, tenacious midfield, and
"It's a good team, it's a team that is well organized and the set pieces are pretty good as well," says Sundhage. "One thing for
sure we have to deal with well are their counter-attacks. For our attack, we have to mix it up a little bit. We will face an organized team and that is challenging."
goalscoring has been spread around this year: Wambach tops the charts with 13 goals, yet Natasha Kai
has hit 11, and Lindsay
is next with 10. Carli Lloyd
has scored seven from her central midfield spot and her prowess at shooting from distance can help loosen up
Norway, which packs players behind and around the ball.
On paper, the U.S. should romp, having beaten Norway twice this year by 4-0 scores, including a thumping in Fredrikstad in
early July. Wambach scored two of those eight goals; netting one each were Kai, Lloyd, Tarpley, Heather O'Reilly
and Angela Hucles
. The U.S. has swept the last 10 meetings dating back to a 3-2 defeat at the 2002 Algarve Cup that marked the fourth straight
time Norway had come out on top.
How the times have changed! Lauren Cheney
replaced Wambach on the roster; replacing her spirit,
determination, aerial strength, and thirst for goals is a collective duty. U.S. ROSTER: GOALKEEPERS
Nicole Barnhart (Gilbertsville, Pa.)
Hope Solo (Richland, Wash.) DEFENDERS
Rachel Buehler (Del Mar, Calif.)
Chalupny (St. Louis, Mo.)
Stephanie Cox (Elk Grove, Calif.)
Kate Markgraf (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)
Heather Mitts (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Christie Rampone (Point Pleasant, N.J.)
Shannon Boxx (Redondo Beach, Calif.)
Tobin Heath (Basking Ridge, N.J.)
Angela Hucles (Virginia Beach, Va.)
Carli Lloyd (Delran, N.J.)
Heather O'Reilly (East Brunswick, N.J.)
Lindsay Tarpley (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
Aly Wagner (San Jose, Calif.) FORWARDS
Lauren Cheney (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Natasha Kai (Kahuku, Hawaii)
Amy Rodriguez (Lake Forest, Calif.)