Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Olympic Berth on the Line for U.S. Women's Team

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team has put on quite a show during Olympic qualifying thus far. In matches against the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico, the U.S. has tallied 31 goals without conceding one, but it will all be for naught if the U.S. loses on Friday to Costa Rica. Only the top two teams in the qualifying tournament will earn bids to London so losing in the semifinals would cost the U.S. a spot at the 2012 games.
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While the Costa Ricans don't pose a significant threat - they've never beaten the U.S. in seven tries while being outscored 34-0 - the U.S. learned in 2011 World Cup Qualifying that they can't take anyone lightly. It was then that they found themselves in a similar must-win situation, but lost in the semifinal match to Mexico, a team that they'd previously never lost to. That loss almost caused the U.S. to miss the 2011 World Cup as they needed to win a 2-game playoff against Italy to get in. There is no such playoff for the Olympics so a loss here and they're out. With all that riding on this match, the last thing the U.S. needs is more injury problems. Already without starting defender Ali Krieger, the U.S. may now be forced to play on without goalkeeper Hope Solo. Solo aggravated a quad injury and her status for the semifinal is uncertain. If she is unable to go, backup Nicole Barnhart will get the call. Hardly short on experience, the 30 year old Barnhart has 39 career national team appearances, including a pair of shutout wins against Costa Rica in November of 2010 during World Cup Qualifying.
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With the way the offense is playing though, it may not matter who is in goal. Five different U.S. players have scored at least 4 goals in the tournament - Amy Rodriguez 6, Sydney Leroux 5, Carli Lloyd 5, Heather O'Reilly 4 and Abby Wambach 4 - and they've combined for an absurd 5 hat tricks, including at least one in every game. Costa Rica will enter the match with a record of 2-1 in the tournament. Currently ranked 41st in the world they defeated Cuba and Haiti by identical 2-0 scores before getting hammered by Canada 5-1. Canada will play Mexico in the other semifinal.

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