In qualifying for the Olympics, the United States women's soccer team went 5-0 in its recent regional tournament, outscoring its opponents 38-0.
"It's amazing not to give up any goals, and we're happy about that," said Becky Sauerbrunn, a Ladue High grad who started three of those qualifying games. "But we have not played to the best of our ability. We feel have a lot to work on before we head off to the Olympics."
Regional qualifying isn't usually the toughest competition for the Americans — they started with a 14-0 win over the Dominican Republic and a 13-0 win over Guatemala — and the only game that presented tough competition was its 4-0 win over Canada, the other qualifier from CONCACAF, in the final.
(And even then that game didn't mean anything because, under CONCACAF's qualifying system, the semifinals had determined the Olympic qualifiers.)
The Next step
The Americans get the first real test of their Olympic preparation starting on Wednesday at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, where they'll face Denmark, Norway and World Cup champion Japan in the opening round.
Denmark and Norway are tied for 12th in the world rankings and Japan is third. The Americans will play Japan again, in Japan, in April, along with a game against world No. 4 Brazil.
While Sauerbrunn helped the Americans reach the Olympics, coach Pia Sundhage probably won't name her roster for several months, and tournaments such as Algarve — considered the best tourney outside the Olympics and Women's World Cup — are part of the process of selecting a roster and getting the team ready.
So far, Sundhage has stuck almost exclusively to players who were part of last summer's Cup team, with forward Sydney Leroux the only new face. One spot has opened on the roster after Ali Krieger, a starter on the U.S. backline, tore knee ligaments during the qualifying tourney and probably will miss the Olympics.
Sauerbrunn appears to be safely in the mix for the team, though she hasn't broken consistently into the starting lineup with the back four. In the only qualifying game that mattered, the semifinal against Costa Rica, she was on the bench. And Krieger's injury won't help Sauerbrunn get in — Krieger was an outside back while Sundhage sees Sauerbrunn as a center back.
"They tried me there a while ago to see if I could play there if needed," Sauerbrunn said during a recent stop in St. Louis, holding a clinic. "I thought I did fine, but they see me as a center back. They're really stuck on getting forward and getting good crosses. They want people that can run all day up and down the flank. I'm more methodical. I like to combine my way up the field. I didn't quite fit the mold."
Sauerbrunn's pre-Olympic plans got thrown for a loop after the qualifying tourney when Women's Professional Soccer decided not to play in 2012.
The league said it needed to focus on legal issues regarding the magicJack franchise, Sauerbrunn's old team, which was kicked out of the league for not complying with WPS rules. The ensuing litigation has overwhelmed the league, and it chose to take 2012 off so it can get everything in order for the 2013 season, in which it hopes to have more than its current five teams.
That decision, though, has left American players with no top-level domestic league. U.S. Soccer is scheduling more camps and players are signing with teams in the lower-level W-League and WPSL. Sauerbrunn, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area after going to college at Virginia, said she might play for the D.C. United women's team. If the league doesn't return, she would consider playing overseas.
"I talked to one person who said the WPS for sure will be back," she said. "I've talked to some others who are really hesitant. I don't know. If we do well at the Olympics and generate publicity, we can get new sponsors and new ownership. We have to have people really psyched."
So while the U.S. women are going for their third straight Olympic gold medal, there could be something else they're playing for in London. Their potential jobs could be at stake.