19 June 2014

USA vs. France tonight at 7:30 pm!

Rentschler Field
Tonight I get to call the US women's national team for the first time when they host France at 7:30 pm at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. The game can be seen at USSoccer.com.

I can admit I've got a few butterflies for this one. Calling the national team is always a big deal, and it's the first time I've called the women's national team, let alone in a game pitting teams ranked Nos. 1 and 4 in the world against each other.

But I'm far more excited than nervous and really looking forward to the game. I talked with new US head coach Jill Ellis by phone yesterday and have been watching tape on both the US and France for several weeks now.

The US is about one year away from the World Cup, and while they still have qualifying to go through in the fall, it's expected to be a formality. So this two-game series with France (the US won on Saturday in Tampa, 1-0, highlights) is about preparing the team's contributors to play high-level opposition and to give them time to adapt to a new style. From its typical starting lineup, the US is without goalkeeper Hope Solo (personal commitment), midfielder Megan Rapinoe (foot), midfielder Shannon Boxx (maternity). Forward Abby Wambach (LCL) did not train on Wednesday, while forward Alex Morgan has yet to start since returning from an ankle injury.

France is at the end of its season (the European season runs fall-to-spring), and this is the only summer in a four-year cycle without a major tournament (2011 Women's World Cup semifinals, 2012 Olympics semifinals, Euro 2013 quarterfinals). But as you can see from their results at major tournaments, France is an elite team trying to learn how to be champions, and playing the US is the best possible test.

For more on the game, here are a few preview articles I looked through this morning:
Hartford Courant with Alex Morgan on the men's World Cup
Soccerly.com on US objectives
Soccerly.com on what the game means to France
L'Equipe with French captain Wendie Renard, including this quote: "The team is at the end of the season, obviously, and there is fatigue, but for the group, it is good to compare yourself to the big nations. If one day you want to win a title, you have to go through them. The fans will be against us, and it will be interesting to see how people react mentally …"

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