MIAM - The United States face Japan
Sunday in search of their third Women's World Cup title and
while technique and tactics have played a role in their march
to the final, it is a sense of freedom and spirit that the team
credits for their success in Germany.
The U.S, winners in 1991 and 1999, have had their setbacks
in the past year, including a defeat to Mexico that meant they
were in danger of not making the tournament for the first time,
and needed a play-off win over Italy to avoid that fate.
In Germany, the U.S. lost to Sweden during the group stage,
were moments away from elimination in the quarter-final against
Brazil before equalizing in the final seconds of extra-time and
going on to victory in a penalty shootout.
Every time the dream of repeating the success of the hugely
popular 1999 team looks set to be dashed, the Americans find a
way to turn things around.
That spirit, according to the American's Swedish head coach
Pia Sundhage, comes from the difficult days when participation
in the tournament was on the line.
"Because we had such a bumpy road, we had to play those
play-off games against Italy, we came out stronger and we have
learnt the lesson that we cannot take anything for granted,"
Sundhage said during a conference call on Thursday. "So we have
tried to enjoy every day and be grateful for every day we have
a game or training.
"This team has great heart and spirit and we are humble
enough to recognize when we need to change some things."
In the past two games, the U.S. were able to beat two
teams, France and Brazil, that many observers believed were
more technically gifted then Sundhage's team.
"That tells you about the heart," said Sundhage. "If you
are in the locker room at half-time, players saying 'come on, we
can do this,' you can feel the positive atmosphere. I think we
gained some real positive energy from the last two games."
While the U.S. locker room is a place where the players can
rely on support, it is also a loud and proud place.
"You put a bunch of women in a locker room and it is going
to get crazy sometimes," Solo told reporters. "You have people
that sing, people that dance, people that have crazy music
going. It's fun, there are so many different personalities."
It is not just the freedom to stand up and shout in the
locker room that makes the team special though, says Solo, but
rather the freedom they are given by the 51-year-old Swede to
express themselves on the field.
That, says the goalkeeper, is something that is not always
always encouraged by American coaches.
"From the moment Pia stepped in, she changed the entire
dynamic of this team. A completely different philosophy, she is
one of the more laid-back coaches I've ever had," said Solo.
"A lot of American coaches want to be involved in every
pass, in every play. She likes to sit back, she says, 'you guys
are creative, you are soccer players', she wants us to think
and read the game for ourselves."
"Of course we need her expertise, her input and she shows
that when she brings a change of tactics but every player likes
to have a bit of freedom on the field. It brings the joy back
to us, back to the time when we were little kids and just
played for the hell of it."
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