What next for U.S. women's team?
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The U.S. women's soccer team accomplished its goal at the Olympic qualifying tournament, but earning a trip to the 2012 London Olympics also came at a price. While routing the Dominican Republic 14-0 in its first game, the U.S. lost defender Ali Krieger when she tore her anteroir cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. While Krieger insists she could be back in time for London -- "I'm a fighter ... I'm still hopeful for the Olympics" -- a comeback seems unlikely.
So while the Americans showed off their explosive attacking in Vancouver (scoring 38 goals in just five games, including a 4-0 win against Canada in Sunday's anti-climactic final), finding a replacement for Krieger in the back four is a prime task in the six months before the Olympics.
"First and foremost, I'm very sorry for her because she's not only a really good player, she's a great person," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "We are now trying different things with the back four and we will be very patient to find the right back four, and right now we don't know it.
"That's very challenging for the coaches, I think. Who is able to play on the right side? And not only that, who will be good so we have a back four that is solid? I think it will take time. If you look at our play in the World Cup, it can't be the same because Ali Krieger is not here. Maybe we change the role a little bit, and obviously, there has to be another player. It will take time."
The U.S. follows up this tournament with a week off, followed by a game against New Zealand on Feb. 12 in Dallas. Then it plays in the Algarve Cup in Portugal the first week of March.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we have an idea by then, or maybe after," Sundhage said. "We'll have a lot of camps, a lot of days together and that's how we'll figure it out. Say if you come up with an idea -- you have to train that player and put her in different situations. It will take a while."
Sundhage said Krieger's replacement could come from the existing team or from outside the roster.
"I think we're trying different combos and just trying to figure out what will ultimately be the best combination of players," U.S. defender Rachel Buehler said. "We've got a lot of good, talented players that all bring something special, so we'll see what works out best."
Another interesting factor in Olympic preparations is the unsettled Women's Professional Soccer league situation. The WPS dropped the magicJack team (owner Dan Borislow has sued the league), which leaves several U.S. players without a team at the moment: Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone.
"The players in the WPS will have around nine or 10 games, and that's good, because they have to make decisions out there all the time and they have to play with different players," Sundhage said. "Those who [do not have a team] will sooner or later figure out what they want to do. If it's, say, Christie Rampone -- she has been playing so many games and I think we have enough days together that, while I wouldn't say she doesn't have to play games, but the fact she has so many games in her career, that is very different from Alex Morgan or Sydney Leroux. [Those two] need games. They need to be playing."
Morgan is with the Western New York Flash and Leroux is with the Atlanta Beat.
"Every player is going to figure out what is best for her going into the Olympics," said Buehler, who is also with the Beat. "For some players, that is getting more minutes and playing WPS games, and for other players, it will be giving their bodies more rest and maybe it will be good for them to not play. I think each person as an individual, with Pia and our fitness coach and the WPS teams, will be able to figure out what is best."
It will be a busy time for players, weaving in WPS games along with national camps and games in Europe and Asia (the team will likely play in Japan in late spring), but no one is complaining about the trip to London.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His website is at jimcaple.net.
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