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May 9, 2011
For U.S. Women’s National Team, World Cup means shuttling to WPS clubs

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Boston Breakers defender Amy LePielbet owes her spot on the U.S. Women’s World Cup roster to her strong play in WPS, and this year has been juggling simultaneous commitments to club and country.
Boston Breakers defender Amy LePielbet owes her spot on the U.S. Women’s World Cup roster to her strong play in WPS, and this year has been juggling simultaneous commitments to club and country.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Club and country is a situation male players have had to deal with since the inception of national team programs. It’s always been a little different for women. The path to the 2011 Women’s World Cup for 20 of the 21 players selected to the U.S. roster by coach Pia Sundhage has meant a grueling schedule of national team training camps, national team games, and then commuting to games with their Women’s Professional Soccer teams.

“The interesting mix of this summer between the WPS and the national team, it didn’t take us by surprise. We knew what it was going to take to balance the two and we’re looking at it as a very positive thing for women’s soccer, on both teams,” said midfielder Heather O’Reilly, who plays for Sky Blue FC in the WPS.

Since the start of the year, the National Team has played tournaments in China and Portugal. Most of the players missed their WPS team training camps entirely, and then were called into another National Team camp in Florida, commuting on weekends to play in the WPS.

The players and team officials have been very cognizant of the situation, as have WPS coaches, who have juggled lineups and in some cases limited playing times to make things work.

“It’s very, very, very important to take care of our bodies and make sure that we’re getting enough rest in between all of our matches,” said O’Reilly. “We have our fitness coach Don Scott, who has been extremely diligent working with us to schedule enough rest days. Even when we were down at Florida camp, not everyone was doing the same workouts, because WPS games were scheduled differently. Certain players are playing more minutes than others, so everything was sort of tailored to everybody’s individual needs, and I think that diligence will really pay off.”

Even with the attention being paid to the situation, it hasn’t always been a perfect fit, especially from the WPS club side.

“I think they show up, they’re a little bit exhausted,” said Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco, who coached the U.S. Women when they last won the World Cup in 1999.

Abby Wambach, who played in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, said it’s a situation the players are dealing with. Wambach played in the Women’s United Soccer Association prior to the 2003 World Cup, but there were no extended training periods for the National Team during the league season, because the World Cup was played after the season ended, and ultimately after the league folded.

O’Reilly, who was a member of the Olympic Gold Medal Winning teams in 2004 and 2008, sees the benefits to both being in camp full time with the National Team, which they did prior to those two Olympics, and playing in the league.

“Residencies of course have their benefits. We’re in the same city, we’re training day in day out together,” she said. “ The benefits of the players being leader on their respective teams is pretty massive as well, so I think that it really is kind of difficult to compare. I know for myself being in the WPS has stretched me in different ways that I couldn’t get by playing a residency.”

Wamabch, who is now playing in WPS with Florida-based magicJack, did not want to categorize which was better or worse, but did say, “what we’re doing is we’re playing in the league right now and we’re having to go on weekends to play those games, and during the week we are playing with the national team, and for some people, that may feel chaotic.”

She went on to say, “When we are standing on the top of the podium at the end of the World Cup, getting that gold medal wrapped around our neck, all the sacrifice and all the hard work and effort by everybody… that feeling will always be worth it. In the end that’s what we all working for.”

In 2003, Shannon Boxx was selected to the World Cup team based entirely on her play in the WUSA. Sundhage said some players, particularly magicJack’s Becky Sauerbrunn and the Boston Breakers’ Amy LePeilbet, were aided by their performances in the WPS.

“Amy LePeilbet is a player that I thought was one of the best players two years ago in the league,” said Sundhage. “She dealt with any kind of attackers.”

Sundhage, who has attended numerous WPS games over the last couple of years, said the league was Important to continue to develop players.

“Every player on the national team has to deal with different cultures,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to have the league, and I hope it will stay there forever and ever and ever.”

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