Four Olympic gold medals in five attempts are not too shabby. That’s what the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has accumulated since women’s soccer was added to the Olympic Games in 1996. Their efforts at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, however, haven’t been nearly as distinguished; they have won only two of six World Cups and none of the last three. But it’s all relative. Wouldn’t the U.S. men love to have even one World Cup title?
Coach Pia Sundhage guided the U.S. team to the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medals, as well as to a runner-up finish at the 2011 World Cup. Since the World Cup and Olympics take place for women in back-to-back years, there is now a three-year wait for the next big tournament, and Sundhage has decided to step down and return to her native Sweden. She will become head coach of the Swedish national team on Dec. 1.
As Sundhage relinquishes the helm after a sterling 88-6-10 record, are there players who also need to step aside to allow a new coach to integrate younger players into the team?
Captain Christie Rampone has played in four World Cups and four Olympic Games. She goes all the way back to being a member of the famous 1999 World Cup champs, when she was known by her maiden name of Pearce. She will be 40 years old by the next World Cup competition. Although she is still playing well and is apparently in good shape, it would be wise for her to retire from the national team after the fall “victory tour” in order to let the team move forward with a new captain.
Heather Mitts is a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Like Rampone, she is a defender. But unlike Rampone, she has shown some signs of slowing down. She will be 37 by the next big competition and probably should retire from the national team this year to allow a younger player to get used to playing right back.
Heather O’Reilly was still a teenager when she joined the national team and participated in the 2004 Olympic Games. She probably can stick around for her fourth Olympics in 2016 in Brazil, but it would likely be in a lesser role as a backup midfielder.
Shannon Boxx has been one of the best defensive midfielders for a decade. She recovered from injury in time to play the final game against Japan in the 2012 Olympics, and her shoring up the defensive midfield allowed midfielder Carli Lloyd to venture forward and net the two goals that gave the U.S. its fourth Olympic gold medal. Boxx has been on three Olympic teams and played in three FIFA Women’s World Cups. She was also a finalist for the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year. Boxx has announced that she has been diagnosed with lupus. She will be 38 by the time of the next World Cup and probably will retire from the national team before then.
Carli Lloyd scored the gold-medal winning tally for the U.S. in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Her role had initially been reduced at the 2012 Games, but she reclaimed her place on the starting team as the tournament progressed. She would be in her mid 30s by the next World Cup.
Abby Wambach is one of the most prolific scorers in women’s soccer history. She is zeroing in on Mia Hamm’s all-time goal-scoring record in international matches. Her big goals are too numerous to mention, but they include scoring the winning goal on a header in overtime against Brazil at the 2004 Olympics to win the gold medal for the U.S. She is a five-time recipient of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award. She will be 35 by the time of the next big tournament in 2015. She will probably have already broken Hamm’s record for goals by then and it remains to be seen whether she would want to stay around for another try at a World Cup.
Finally there is Hope Solo, one of the greatest goalkeepers in soccer history. Her fame has started to transcend the sport, as she has authored a best seller and has appeared in magazine spreads and on TV shows like “Dancing With the Stars.” She will be in her mid-30s by the next World Cup and Olympics, and a younger goalie may need to be groomed and moved to the forefront by then.
The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has been very successful but is now an aging squad. Following their gold-medal winning performance in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the old guard of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett, voluntarily retired from the national team and made room for younger players. Although it was a controversial transition, brilliant goalkeeper Briana Scurry was moved aside to accommodate Solo. Cindy Parlow was a big and tall forward who was replaced by the big and tall Wambach.
One aspect of having such an abundance of soccer talent is that there are always younger players snapping at the heels of the older stars. Speedster Sydney Leroux looks ready to star as a frontrunner, and Kelley O’Hara looks ready to anchor the defense. Tobin Heath is the future star in midfield. Many of the older players need to stand down to allow younger players to have bigger roles and to allow new players onto the team.