The U.S. women's national team recently wrapped its final camp of the 2009 season, which played a relatively light international schedule, but produced important developments for the national team squad in the first year of Women's Professional Soccer. Star forward Abby Wambach returned to form after breaking her leg last year, several players (Ella Masar, Brittany Bock and Amy LePeilbet) played their way into the national team discussion and national team regulars got used to competing with club teams.
"It's great having the league because you're getting games in. You're getting 20 games in in a six-month period. With the national team, you get games in, but they're kind of spaced out throughout the year," backup keeper Nicole Barnhart said in a recent phone interview from training camp in Los Angeles. "To have the team environment to train in every day, and have that lead into the national team -- I think it's been tremendous."
The year's biggest international highlight was a 1-0 win over two-time defending World Cup champions Germany which, held at Impuls Arena in Augsburg, served as a kickoff of sorts for the 2011 World Cup which will be held in the country. More than 28,000 fans attended the sold-out match. Germany drew more than 40,000 fans for a friendly against Brazil in April of this year.
"We came out with a 1-0 win, but in my opinion, and I think in most of our team's opinion, they definitely had a lot of the play. You know why they're the No. 2 team in the world. They're going to be very hard to play [in the World Cup] -- especially in Germany," said defender Cat Whitehill via telephone. "[Germany is] really putting a huge effort into making the next World Cup for women as big as possible. They're trying to make it as big a stage as '99."
Forward Masar, who appeared in 16 games and tallied two assists for the Chicago Red Stars of WPS this season, earned her first national team appearance in the match when she was subbed in in the 73rd minute and afterward said she was impressed by the crowd at the game.
"I don't think I really [understood the magnitude of the game] until we stepped on the field. And you see 30,000 German fans screaming and booing at you. I'd never been in that atmosphere," Masar said via telephone.
Q&A with Chicago's Ella Masar
While the World Cup won't take place until 2011, next year will be all about preparation for the tournament on the national team side, though most of the schedule has yet to be determined. World Cup qualifying will likely take place in October.
College Cup Wrap
Before heading into training camp, Whitehill was the color commentator for ESPN2 and ESPNU's broadcasts of the College Cup earlier this month. After watching Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame and UNC battle it out in the final four (UNC ultimately won the title), she can't wait to see a few well-known college players join WPS and earn more time with the national team.
"What impressed me the most was how well you could really see the seniors shine. Lauren Cheney [UCLA] really sticks out to me. I thought she was excellent," Whitehill said. "She proved why she's one of the best players in the country in the college game. I was very impressed with Kelley O'Hara [Stanford] and Tobin Heath [UNC], of course. And then Casey Nogueira [UNC] just seems to find a way to score a goal, which is something that's very hard for forwards to do. She seems to find it in those clutch situations."
Cheney, O'Hara, Heath and Nogueira are all locks to be selected quickly at the WPS draft on Jan. 15 in Philadelphia.
WPS recently announced a few home openers for next season -- with the highlight perhaps being Boston's home opener on April 18 against the expansion Philadelphia Independence. Philadelphia will be led on defense by former Breaker Heather Mitts and on offense by Amy Rodriguez, who was drafted No. 1 overall by Boston last year, but did not mesh well with coach Tony DiCicco and was traded after the season.
The rest of the league's schedule is being worked on over the next month before being finalized, but a 24-game schedule (with each of the nine teams facing each other three times), seems likely at this point.