United States Women begin new era Wednesday against Costa Rica

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times (via Getty Images)

by TOM SLATER

For the first time since July, the United State Women’s National Team will take the field with something on the line.

After a shortened Victory Tour marred by bad artificial turf and off-field troubles, including their own federation filing a law suit against them, the American women finally get to concentrate on soccer.

And they will do it with a new lineup.

The United States begin the defense of their Gold Medal Wednesday with an Olympic Qualifying match versus Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX.  Game time is 8:30 EST.

The United States and Costa Rica faced off twice in the post-World Cup Victory Tour, beating them 8-0 in Pittsburgh and 7-2 in Chattanooga in August. The goals scored by Costa Rica in the latter game were the first ones Costa Rica had ever scored against the United States.  The Americans have won all 12 matches between the two national sides.

For the United States, the first step in qualifying will also be a chance to take the new roster out for a test ride. Missing from the lineup will be a slew of players from the World Cup championship. Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny and Lauren Holiday have retired. Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone are injured. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez are pregnant.  Heather O’Reilly and Whitney Engen have been left off the training camp roster by coach Jill Ellis.

Instead, the United States will see what Lindsay Horan and Crystal Dunn can do when the game matter.  Dunn, one of the final World Cup cuts, had an outstanding season in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with Washington. She led the league in scoring with 15 goals in 20 games and was the league MVP.

She was brought back to the senior national team for the Victory Tour, scoring her first international goal in a 5-0 win over Haiti.

Horan took a circuitous route to the national team. She didn’t play high school soccer but was still rated one of the nation’s top college prospects out of Colorado in 2012. However, she skipped college and has been playing for Paris Saint-Germain FC (PSG) in France, where she scored almost a goal a game.

She played with the senior national team in the final four matches of the Victory Tour. Horan was perhaps the best player on the field in the Dec. 10 match against Trinidad and Tobago and notched her first international goal in stoppage time.

Also worth keeping an eye on is Mallory Pugh. The teen has been called the next best thing by many and scored her first goal in her first cap against Ireland last month.

The United States will still have familiar faces – Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg and Julie Johnston are all back.

Costa Rica is a young team trying to establish some bonafides on the international level.  They finished second in CONCACAF to the United States in 2014, allowing them to qualify for the 2015 World Cup finals in Canada. Costa Rica surprised everyone by drawing Spain and South Korea. Las Ticas finally lost to Brazil and did not advance.

Costa Rica hope to build on that performance with a young squad. One player watch is Raquel Rodriguez, who made the summer and fall her own at college and country. She is 22-years-old with 25 national team goals – which makes her the highest scoring player in the country’s history. She is a first-round draft pick of Sky Blue after an outstanding senior year at Penn State, capped by the school’s historic NCAA championship. Rodriguez had the game’s only goal in the final and was later named the Missouri Athletic Club (MAC) Herman Award winner.

The United States continue opening round qualifying matches against Mexico Saturday afternoon and Puerto Rico next Monday.