Excitement and anticipation continue to grow as the 2012 USA Women's World Cup team readies itself to defend its title and go for the three-peat as Olympic champions in London.
But as U.S. coach Pia Sundhage has acknowledged, the U.S. team carries a huge bull's-eye on its back, and every team in its bracket will be gunning for a big win against her squad. The U.S. team has a seasoned and incredibly strong roster of 20 with 19 of the players a part of the USA's last FIFA World Cup team, which ended in disappointment.
Forward Sydney Leraux, 21, is the exception and the new addition to the squad. The U.S. team will be led into London by forward Abby Wombach with 125-plus goals and Hope Solo, voted best goalkeeper at the last Women's World Cup.
The final draw for brackets took place at Wembley Stadium, London, recently, and the U.S. Women's National Team will face France, Columbia and Korea APR in Group G at the 2012 Olympic Games. The U.S. will open play two days before the opening Olympic ceremonies against France. That game will be followed by challenges against Columbia and Korea.
All three opponents have very different playing styles from the U.S., but overall in World Cup play and international play, they have enjoyed success against all opponents in their bracket. There is no doubt that the U.S. roster is very strong, and it remains the team to beat on the road to a gold medal in women's soccer.
The U.S. national men's team failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, which was an unexpected disappointment. Many feel this is a huge setback for the the American program. The disappointment may even reverberate down to American youth soccer ranks, where they will have no American squad to support and no heroes can emerge.
At this point in time, with the development of U.S. youth soccer programs and Olympic Development Programs, not qualifying a team for the summer games is unacceptable and structural changes must be made within the staff and team.
n The number of school districts seeking to bring new head high school coaches to their programs is running at an all-time high. One reason for this may be the approach many districts take on the hiring procedure.
Nearly all schools will open football and basketball positions to include applicants outside the school district's realm of employees. Many schools, however, hire within when it comes to soccer coaches, eliminating all qualified outside candidates. This is an issue because although it may be efficient and simple to have an in-house candidate, it's not the best way to get the players the best possible interested, qualified coach.
Many soccer players in today's high school teams are playing the game year-round from scholastic to indoor to spring travel leagues. All high schools need to seek out the highest caliber coach, whether they are from within the school district pool of employees or an outside candidate.
n Hard work has its rewards, as evidenced by the signing of Bedford's Kelly Beegle to play Division 1 soccer at St. Francis University. Beegle played in the Olympic Development Program, was a three-year squad captain, and having taken high school teams to play against her, she always stood out with an exceptional level of play as a midfielder who was a constant threat for the score or assist. She will be an outstanding addition to the Lady Red Flash soccer squad and the NEC.
n Area Sunday travel leagues are well under way with some outstanding games already taken place. The most significant observation is the huge increase in teams in the competitive ranks at the much earlier age groups. Of the 14 registered travel teams on the Altoona Soccer Club, six of those fall in the under-10 age bracket with two boys travel teams registered and four girls teams. These numbers far outpace any other year. This competitive level of play wiill provide the players involved with a huge advantage when they reach the scholastic ranks, and by the looks of recent trends, those numbers should continue to grow.
Tom Schmitt writes a monthly soccer column for the Mirror.