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U.S. Women's Soccer Looks To Qualify For Olympics


You might remember, last summer, the U.S. women's soccer team caught the attention of the nation with its dramatic run to the final of the women's world cup in Germany. Well, this week, the team is playing in an all-important, Olympic-qualifying tournament in Vancouver. And Christine Brennan is there covering the event for USA Today.

Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I think a lot of people who remember that run to the World Cup final would be surprised to find out that the U.S. women's team has not already qualified for the Olympics in London, but that they still have some work to do, it sounds like.

BRENNAN: You're absolutely right. Yeah. It is surprising, I think, to a lot of people who remember that great run in the summer by the U.S., and think: How could they not be in? But they aren't yet.

In the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the World Cup performance is put aside. And there's regional qualifying for the Olympics. And so here we are. Two teams come from this region for the 12-team Olympic tournament. So the two nations that win the semi-finals here Friday qualify for London. The U.S. and Canada are the top-ranked teams, and they're likely to be the ones who make it, but you never know.

GREENE: Likely, but Mexico is standing in the way. The U.S. plays Mexico tonight. What are you expecting in that game?

BRENNAN: You know, 14 months ago, David, in World Cup qualifying - for the World Cup, not the Olympics - Mexico beat the United States, shocked them, 2-1. They played 26 matches. It was the first time Mexico had ever beaten the United States, forced the U.S. to get into the World Cup through a last-gasp qualifying round against Italy - which, of course, the U.S. did.

So the U.S. is using that upset as a rallying cry of sorts here. It has overwhelmed the Dominican Republic, 14 to nothing.

GREENE: Fourteen to nothing? Wow, that...

BRENNAN: That's right. And Guatemala, 13 to nothing - unheard of scores in soccer. It sounds awful, but the U.S. wasn't necessarily running up the score or piling on. You know, sadly, those teams are so lacking in the skills you have to have at this level, because, frankly, their national federations just don't care about women's soccer.

And the U.S. players, David, have talked a lot about that, that - hoping that after those games, that this might be the wake-up call those rather chauvinistic leaders of those sports in the island nations in Central - and the Caribbean - Central American and Caribbean might need that wake-up call to have their women's teams get better.

GREENE: Well, I think it's worth going back to last summer. So many people followed the American women's team last year. I mean, did the players do - does the league feel like there was a rise in interest and endorsements and other things for women's soccer in the U.S.?

BRENNAN: There was some, certainly. Certainly, a couple of the players, especially, cashed in and had a great run, as they deserved, led by the goalkeeper with the perfect name for such a solitary position of goalie: Hope Solo. Hope Solo was on "Dancing with the Stars" all fall. That certainly introduced her to a different audience than the soccer crowd.

And there's Abby Wambach, of course, with the great goals, especially against Brazil, to tie that game at the very end. She's a big draw and did a lot of appearances, especially with girl soccer players. And, as you know, there are tens of thousands of them in the United States.

But the league is an interesting story, because they did see their attendance rise - the WPS - when all the players came back after the tournament, after the World Cup, but it's still having trouble gaining a foothold in the very crowded sports landscape in the United States. There's only five teams who'll be playing this year in the WPS, all on the East Coast. So definitely some mixed results.

GREENE: Well, Christine, in the few seconds we have left, I mean, if the U.S. does qualify as expected, what are their chances for a gold medal in London this summer?

BRENNAN: David, they're quite good. Women's soccer has been in the last four summer Olympic Games. The U.S. has won three of those four gold medals. The one time that they did not win in 2000, they won the silver. So they're very happy that it's an Olympic year.

GREENE: All right. USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, speaking to us from Vancouver.

Christine, thanks so much.

BRENNAN: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.