Talk all you want about the Group of Death, but the United States women’s national team isn’t getting caught up in the hype.
Faced with by far the toughest group at the 2015 World Cup, the second-ranked Americans open the tournament on June 8 against world No. 10 Australia, followed by matches against No. 5 Sweden and No. 33 Nigeria, Africa’s best team. It’s a group that has been drawing headlines since the World Cup Draw in December, but U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara says her sole focus is on the next match, a May 30 meeting with South Korea in the United States’ final friendly match before the World Cup.
“In terms of the Group of Death, I’m not concerned about it and I don’t think that the team is,” O’Hara said. “Obviously we’re playing great opponents, but you have to play the best in the world to win the World Cup, so it’s not something that we are worried out.”
Preparation for this World Cup has been pretty similar to what it was in 2011, O’Hara said, but things are different this time for the 26-year-old defender. Four years ago, O’Hara was a late addition to the United States’ World Cup roster after the now retired Lindsay Tarpley tore her right ACL while preparing for the tournament. O’Hara played in two matches at that World Cup, where the U.S. finished runners-up to Japan. A year later, the ex-NCAA scoring champion-turned-right-back played every minute at the 2012 Olympics en route to a third straight gold medal for the United States. Those experiences have O’Hara ready for anything.
“This time around I feel like I’m kind of a veteran after playing in the Olympics and that sort of thing, so I feel like I have a lot more experience and I feel much more prepared to play a bigger role and that sort of thing in this tournament,” she said.
O’Hara’s time has been limited this year in U.S. coach Jill Ellis’ rotation of outside backs, but O’Hara says the message from Ellis has been one of belief and trust. Ellis frequently speaks openly of needing a rotation at the position due to the demand of it, especially on artificial turf.
“The amount of impact that we’re going to put on our body, it’s pretty high,” O’Hara said. “And with seven games it’s going to be necessary to be rotating people in, so I’m ready to play that and also, if necessary to play outside mid. If they need more of a defensive role, I can also attack out of that as well.”
Things have changed off the field as well. No longer a player new to the international scene, O’Hara also has the backing of sponsors ahead of this World Cup, which has earned her some TV time:
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