The U.S. women's national soccer team begins its quest for a third World Cup championship today when the U.S. takes on Australia. It's the first game for both teams and should be one of the best in the tournament so far. The U.S. is ranked second in the world and Australia is 10th.
Hundreds of rabid U.S. fans from the group American Outlaws and thousands of others wearing red, white and blue are expected to pack the stadium for the Group D opener in Winnipeg, Canada. One of the biggest questions is the health of the U.S. squad. The team has been hobbled by injuries to several key players, including forward Alex Morgan and midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Still, the U.S. team is deep and the coaches have tinkered with various starting lineups over the past few games.
Those aren't the only issues swirling around the team. At a pregame news conference on Sunday, questions surfaced again about star goalkeeper Hope Solo. Solo is widely considered the best goalkeeper in the world and, arguably, of all time. But she has been dogged by brushes with the law, and over the years some teammates have been frustrated by the distractions. U.S. head coach Jill Ellis says she's standing by Solo despite media reports that surfaced this weekend detailing the goalkeeper's demeanor during a domestic violence arrest last summer.
"That was a long time ago. We've moved on," Ellis told reporters.
Even if the latest drama in the Solo saga spills onto the field, Australia won't have much of an upper hand. The Americans have played the Aussies 24 times — and never lost (beating them 22 times and tying twice). One reason for that success is forward Abby Wambach. She has scored the most goals (182) of any woman in international play.
Another player to watch on the U.S. squad is Julie Johnston, who is playing in her first World Cup. At 23, she's the second-youngest person on the team and has appeared in only nine international games. But as my colleague Shereen Marisol Meraji reported Monday on Morning Edition, Johnston is a player to watch:
"A couple of injuries on the back line of the U.S. National Team cleared room for Johnston to show off ahead of the tournament. As a defender she scored three goals. She hasn't always played defense — she was a midfielder and forward at Santa Clara University.
"In an NPR interview, she said 'I loved being an attacker so much, it wasn't so much that I didn't think defending was fun or anything like that. It's just that growing up, all I knew was attack, attack, attack.' It's that drive that her fans can't get enough of — U.S. team coach Jill Ellis calls her a warrior. And she brings that fire to the defensive line, sometimes going on 60-yard runs up the field."
The last time the U.S. won the World Cup was 1999. Many believe that if the U.S. doesn't win this year, it will be a disappointment. The march to a third victory begins tonight at 7:30 ET. You can watch it on Fox Sports 1.