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2015 Women's World Cup

‘Win or else’ for USWNT, which is fine with them

NEW YORK — That the United States women’s national team relishes pressure is not anything new. This is, after all, the team that once wore t-shirts sporting the Nike slogan, “Pressure Makes Us.”

What has changed for the Americans is the scope and magnitude of the pressure. A World Cup title on home soil in 1999 was a boon for the sport, but the first of to date three attempts at a professional league folded on the eve of the 2003 World Cup, and it wasn’t until a heart-racing run to the final in 2011 that the American women began to recapture that buzz. A third straight Olympic gold medal in 2012 – in dramatic fashion, of course – solidified that.

Now the Americans enter the 2015 World Cup under the largest microscope yet. The tournament is just over the border in Canada. The Americans are the world’s most followed and scrutinized team, and they have battled adversity over the past year — a controversial coaching change, a slip in the rankings to No. 2, losses to Brazil and France. It’s the perfect storm of questions surrounding a high-profile team.

So everyone wants to know: Can they handle it?

“The pressure is on,” U.S. forward Sydney Leroux said. “I think the American mentality for the U.S. women’s national team is win or nothing. And that is the mentality that we have for ourselves and that is the pressure that we really invited. If we don’t come home with the gold, then that’s not good enough.”

It also begs the question: Are those expectations fair in an increasingly competitive women’s soccer landscape? “It’s just the way it is,” Leroux says.

There is an acceptance that the pressure is omnipresent. With just over a week until the start of the World Cup, it is at its peak. “That’s just the world we live in,” midfielder Lauren Holiday says. Does she like that? “Yea,” she says with a huge smile and no hesitation.

For Abby Wambach, the pressure comes from within.

Wambach is the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer and owner of two Olympic gold medals, but she has never won the World Cup, the pinnacle of her sport. She speaks openly about her craving for a World Cup and she knows this is her last chance to win one. Whether or not she succeeds will be a large part of her legacy.

“My agent’s here; he probably would kill me for saying this, but right now, you’re damn right I need it,” Wambach said. “It’s all that I’m thinking about, it’s all that’s on my mind. It’s the thing that I haven’t been able to be a part of, that I haven’t won yet. It’s something that I know that all of us have to be willing to be forever disappointed in not winning, because that’s what it takes. You have to completely give into it. You have to allow yourself to be crushed by something. It’s like love. If we give into it — if all of us give into it — then I think we can have a chance at this.”

U.S. coach Jill Ellis is openly aware of her position as well. Ellis was hired in May 2014 after the unceremonious firing of Tom Sermanni, a move that showed that signified just how all-in U.S. Soccer is on this World Cup above all else.

“From the very beginning the focus is to win the World Cup,” Ellis said. “That’s why I was hired.”

Ellis and her players will be defined by their results. That may not be fair, but it is reality.


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