A healthy Abby Wambach heads to London
Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Cheyney of the USA congratulate teammate Abby Wambach #20 on a goal in front of Zhang Yue of China at on May 27, 2012 in Chester, Penn.
SANDY, Utah — The best news of all may be that Abby Wambach is just fine.
No news, in this case, is great news.
Four years ago – right before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, in a send-off game — America's star scorer broke her leg in a friendly match with Brazil.
Not this time, facing Canada Saturday in front of 16,508 fans in Rio Tinto Stadium in suburban Salt Lake City.
While work remains, and there are no sure things for the world's No. 1-ranked team, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said the team was "in a good place" after a 2-1 victory in the final showcase before the London 2012 Olympic Games begin in July. Next up for Team USA is France July 25 in Scotland.
"It’s definitely mentally taxing and emotionally taxing, knowing what happened four years ago," said Wambach, a forward. "But I’m totally confident in the training that our strength and conditioning coach has put us through these last 10 months. I know that my body is going to be fine. It was a freak accident, so those do tend to happen. However, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it. I’d be lying if I told you it hadn’t crossed my mind once."
The bad news for Team USA is that America’s leading scorer this season, forward Alex Morgan, injured her leg in the 50th minute, although according to US Soccer, Morgan was taken out of the game for “precautionary reasons”. Amy Rodriguez substituted for Morgan and wound up scoring the game winner in the 85th minute.
Wambach, whose headers led the U.S. women to a dramatic run to the final game of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, is seeking a second Olympic gold medal in London to add to her collection. She scored the game winner on a header in extra time in a 2-1 victory against Brazil for the gold medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and has waited eight long years to return to the Games.
What crosses the minds of the Americans now, with some brief downtime before resuming training July 10 in England, is how to stay crisp and get ready for just about everything.
Including Japan, which ousted the United States in the World Cup last summer and apparently shook the Americans for a while.
Goalkeeper Hope Solo admitted to reporters this week that the group had been rattled for a short time, not aggressive when facing the Japanese and surrendering possession and field position for no reason.
"We stopped going for tackles, just let them possess — and they're great at that," Solo said. "But we can be, too."
Solo left Utah proud of her team's 14-1-1 record this year, though disappointed it has given up a goal in each of the past three games, over a span of two weeks.
Against Canada, the Americans scored first in the 15th minute on a mistake by midfielder Carmelina Moscato. U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe kicked from the right side of the penalty box toward a waiting Erin McLeod, but Moscato got a foot on the ball, deflecting it away from McLeod and into the back of the net.
Canadian forward Melissa Tancredi tied the game in the 57th minute after taking a pass from captain Christine Sinclair. Tancredi, who entered the game after halftime, banged a shot off the crossbar past Solo, who had two hands on the ball but couldn't catch it.
"Not good enough," Solo said. "We never want to allow one, so we want to keep finding ways to shore things up. One can make all of the difference at the Olympics."
But with five minutes remaining in regulation, Rodriguez received a pass in the goal area, dribbled around defenders and scored to give the Americans the win.
Playing in extreme heat (a noon-time start in about 95-degree weather) and nearly mile-high altitude, an Olympic sendoff from Utah may not be the fairest performance on which to gauge the preparation level of this national team.
Still, Sundhage had no trouble confidently calling her squad "the best team I've ever seen" on the way out of Utah.
Wambach's health is a good start. The 32-year-old, the second most productive scorer in U.S. history, combined this year with Morgan for 30 of the team's 68 goals.
"She’s been able to score, relentlessly, her whole career," Rapinoe said of Wambach. "She’s getting a little bit older now, but she’s still able to do it — especially in the very biggest of games. I think that’s where she plays the best."
Rapinoe showcased her midfielder talents in recent months, reaching a high point in Utah by her aggressiveness that resulted in an own-goal for the United States and a strong crossing pass that led to the game-winner against Canada. Criticized a hefty amount for her consistency and ability to handle tempo, Rapinoe looked perhaps as fluid as she ever has at this level against the Canadians. She placed 19 solid passes around the goalie, some of which should have been taken advantage of better, Wambach conceded.
Sundhage said she's still tinkering with the lethal combination of Wambach and Morgan, and how to best exploit the attack.
The final tune-up for London wasn't exactly a breeze. Defender Heather Mitts had to leave a session earlier this week in Utah after about 45 minutes. She was cleated in the shin by one of her teammates, leaving her with two lengthy cuts down her shin about four to five inches long and about a quarter inch wide, according to team officials. (Mitts still played the entire second half against Canada).
Solo talked about being mentally and physically ready for the task that awaits overseas. Sundhage is also still gauging her wing players, concerned about the "fighting of rhythm" with the group.
And if it comes down to facing Japan along the way: The United States went 1-1-1 against its nemesis since March 5, including a 4-1 win June 18 in Sweden.
The U.S. players would like to think they've been a different team since then. Or, back to the same.
"We wanted to take our name back," Solo said. "Play our game again. We feel like we're in a good place going to the Olympics."
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Jason Franchuk is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies. The Associated Press contributed to this story.