Glasgow, United Kingdom; USA forward Abby Wambach (14) reacts prior to facing France in the London 2012 Olympic games at Hampden Park. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports
GLASGOW, Scotland - As the U.S. women's soccer team readied for France in the first match of the 2012 Olympics on Wednesday, forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan decided at least one of them needed to score.
Then the French tallied two quick goals 14 minutes into the game, and the pair agreed they might as well both score. Said Morgan, following an eventual 4-2 victory in which she scored twice, "We looked at each other and said, 'OK, now it's a goal each.' "
Added teammate Megan Rapinoe, who assisted on two scores, "We were pretty calm, to be honest."
Such is the unabashed confidence of the Americans, who became the first team in women's Olympic history to win a match after facing a two-goal deficit. Theirs is a club full of veterans such as Wambach, 32, and Rapinoe, 27, and youngsters such as Morgan, 23. Despite their age differences, they carry a distinct advantage into these Games: They have been together longer and more consistently than the 2008 team which took gold.
Coach Pia Sundhage says this team is better four years later. She described the challenges of joining the club just eight months before the 2008 Games, facing injuries to key contributors and unfamiliarity with the roster.
"It took a while to get to know the players and Abby got injured just before the Olympics and here we are and I think we are a much better team," she says. "Everything we've done is better than in 2008."
Wambach and Rapinoe missed the 2008 Games with injuries. Wambach suffered a broken leg in the final match prior to Beijing, and Rapinoe broke a leg two years prior. They both recognize that the London Games could be their last, and will treat these games as such.
But for Morgan, a budding star, 2012 could be the first of several Olympiads. Yet teammates say the urgency and importance of the Games have rubbed off on her and other young players.
Said U.S. captain Christie Rampone, "They're really stepping up and they're really taking pride in wearing the USA jersey and showing American pride, more the mentality - kind of old school with a young flair. They're doing a great job."
Rampone says the combination of Wambach and Morgan puts this team in an elite class. She says, of Morgan, "She has embraced the fact that she's now in the starting lineup and she plays well with Abby Wambach up top."
Much of the team-building and acclimation for the Americans took place during an extended training schedule this year, made possible by the suspended season of Women's Professional Soccer. While being together was a bonus, players say they're lacking in experience in 90-minute game situations. That might explain the slow start, but their familiarity with each other might account for a comeback they made seem routine.
"This team, no matter what bumps we approach, we hop over them together," says Wambach.
Or maybe, they're just that much better than the rest of the world. As French coach Bruno Bini puts it, "They're the First Nation of women's football."
By Robert Klemko