August 15, 2008

Rodriguez Goal Helps Lift U.S. to Olympic Soccer Q-Finals

By John Philip Wyllie

After being embarrassed by Norway 2-0 in their opening match and not impressing anyone in barely edging Japan 1-0 in their second, the U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team sprang to life on Tuesday by trouncing New Zealand 4-0 in their final match of group play. While they were routing the Kiwis, Japan was pulling off a remarkable 5-1upset of Norway. The combination of these two events gave the U.S. the top spot in group G and a quarterfinal date today with Canada, a team that the U.S. has virtually owned since the inception of international women’s soccer in the mid-80s.

USC’s Amy Rodriguez, one of the youngest players on the team at 20, scored her first Olympic goal after coming close on several occasions against Norway and Japan.

“Today was a special moment for our team,” Rodriguez told U.S. press officer Aaron Heifetz. “Scoring four goals was a great feeling and getting my first Olympic goal was exciting. I’m so proud of the team and how we performed out there.”

While Rodriguez was using her speed and nose for the goal to befuddle the Kiwi defense former San Diego Spirit midfielder, Shannon Boxx was using her ball tackling ability, strength and toughness to clog up the New Zealand attack. La Prensa spoke with Boxx in San Diego just before the team departed for the Olympics.

“This is a great team and (coach) Pia (Sundhage) has done a great job in helping us add a new part to our game. We have some young players and we have some veterans so I think it is going to be a great mix for this Olympics. I have played for several coaches recently and Pia is great. She has this passion that I think she has brought back to a lot of us. She is very enthusiastic. She gets so excited every time we score. Even in practice she will be cheering you on. She wants us to play beautiful looking and great soccer.”

There was nothing beautiful or great about the way the team opened the Olympics and they weren’t a whole lot better in game two. For Sundhage’s sake they better continue the momentum that they finally created on Tuesday. Otherwise, she may be checking the want ads for coaching positions following the Olympics.

There is a whole lot more than just another Olympic title riding on this year’s performance. Next spring there are plans to re-establish a top level professional league in America. Those plans currently include an L.A. franchise. There remains some hope that a San Diego franchise will be part of the mix as well. The boost that that league could gain from a strong showing in these Olympics would no doubt be substantial.

“The players on the national team look at the league as an opportunity for the younger girls to play (top level) professional soccer in their home country,” Boxx said. “We are behind the league in trying to make that happen. That is how I was discovered. Some of the other girls and I made the (national) team because of the league. If we can have a league that will help us identify more players that is only going to help our team.”

Ever since the U.S. won the ’99 Women’s World Cup the bar of expectation has remained high for every subsequent national team. This team faces the additional burden of trying to compete against a much stronger field and without several of its key players including leading scorer (Abby Wambach).

If the U.S. can slip past Canada today, it will advance to the Aug. 18 semifinals. A win there would likely pit them against either two-time and reigning World Cup champion Germany or runner-up Brazil. The injury depleted U.S. will not be favored against either opponent, but if it wants to emerge from the huge shadow created by the ’99 U.S. team it will have to find a way to pull off an upset.

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