Americans ready for Avenger Tour

After World Cup disappointment, the U.S. women want Olympic gold

Many expect Hope Solo and the American women to strong-arm the Olympic competition at this year’s Summer Games in London. They failed to win the World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, and the United States is motivated to win gold. So far, so good: They’re 1-0 with a 4-2 win over France on Tuesday in Glasgow, Scotland. Enlarge photo

Jonathan Hayward/Associated Press file photo

Many expect Hope Solo and the American women to strong-arm the Olympic competition at this year’s Summer Games in London. They failed to win the World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, and the United States is motivated to win gold. So far, so good: They’re 1-0 with a 4-2 win over France on Tuesday in Glasgow, Scotland.

The players on the U.S. women’s soccer team never had known a feeling quite like it.

They came home as conquering heroes.

Hope Solo and Abby Wambach kicked balls at taxicabs on Letterman. Celebrities, politicians and newfound fans sang their praises.

Even though they had lost.

“It was very strange for us to jump on that plane after the final, come to New York City, come to Times Square, and there’s mobs of people cheering for us, letting us know how proud they were of us,” veteran midfielder Heather O’Reilly said. “It was a very, very, tough, difficult couple of days.”

This was last summer, after the Americans recaptured the national spotlight with a captivating run at the World Cup in Germany. All was going so well – come-from-behind wins, big plays from familiar faces and new ones, record TV ratings back in the States – until the shootout loss to the team from earthquake-devastated Japan in the championship game.

For once, at least in the eyes of the public, there was nothing wrong with second place. For the players, so accustomed to their perch atop the rest of the world, there was no such silver lining.

“We were so gutted,” O’Reilly said. “We were so disappointed. We saw the sort of reception that we got, and it didn’t really correlate with how we felt inside.”

The World Cup team now is the Olympic team. Seventeen of the 18 players are back for the Summer Games in the latest edition of the great American redemption tour. Gold in London is the one and only way to compensate for runner-up in Frankfurt.

“I don’t think any of that will ever leave us. That’s the flame that got lit,” Wambach said. “When you come so close to winning something and just fall short, it’s one of those situations where that’s what makes the great athletes even greater. You let your failures and you let the things that knocked you down inspire you and push you forward, and I think that’s what the Japan game was.

“Credit to them. They deserved to win the World Cup. But we’re preparing for the London Olympics.”

The women’s soccer calendar allows for such quick make-goods, with the Olympics always coming one year after the World Cup. The Americans have mastered the avenger routine at the last two Summer Games, taking gold in 2004 and 2008 after slip-ups at the World Cups of 2003 and 2007. It’s an interesting note that no country – not even the U.S. – ever has won the World Cup-Olympics double. Enlarge photo

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

The women’s soccer calendar allows for such quick make-goods, with the Olympics always coming one year after the World Cup. The Americans have mastered the avenger routine at the last two Summer Games, taking gold in 2004 and 2008 after slip-ups at the World Cups of 2003 and 2007. It’s an interesting note that no country – not even the U.S. – ever has won the World Cup-Olympics double.