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Story lines for FIFA Women's World Cup

In this Oct. 24, 2014 file photo, United States' Christie Rampone heads the ball against Mexico during the second half of a CONCACAF semifinal soccer match in Chester, Pa. With each match the Americans play and through every rigorous training session, they become more comfortable together on a new-look back line ahead of their World Cup opener 2 1/2 weeks from now against Australia in Winnipeg. Especially with veteran defender and captain Rampone helping lead this young group in her fifth World Cup. (Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Daily News via AP)
Published May 31, 2015

Solo's song

Goalkeeper Hope Solo recently served a one-month suspension from the U.S. team after her husband, former Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens, was arrested on DUI charges while driving a team van. Solo, 33, was also in the van.

U.S. Soccer asked her to meet certain criteria (which were not revealed) before she could return to the team.

Last summer, Solo was arrested on suspicion of assault after an incident with her nephew and a half-sister. Charges were later dropped, and Solo said she was defending herself.

After her ban this year, Solo returned and has increased her U.S. team records for appearances (170), starts (164) and shutouts (84) by a goalkeeper.

Ouch, that turf hurts

There has been great consternation for this tournament because matches in all six venues will be played on artificial turf.

U.S. star Abby Wambach led a group of 40 players who filed a lawsuit last year claiming that playing the Women's World Cup on turf constituted gender discrimination because the men's World Cup is played on grass — though a few games at the 2010 competition in South Africa were played on natural grass fields reinforced by artificial fibers.

Wambach was joined by teammate Alex Morgan and German star Nadine Angerer in the complaint, filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association were the targets of the complaint, which was dropped in January after Wambach and others met with a FIFA delegation in Zurich, Switzerland.

Group of death

The U.S. women are ranked No. 2 in the world but got no breaks when it came to the World Cup draw. The Americans' competition in Group D could easily classify it as the "Group of Death." The Americans were grouped with Sweden, ranked fifth in the world as of March 27; Australia, ranked 10th; and No. 33 Nigeria, the highest-rated team in Africa. But as daunting as those numbers might be, consider how daunting the Americans must be to their opponents.

Australia is 0-22-2 all-time against the United States. Nigeria is 0-4.

The hosts didn't catch much of a break, either: In Group A, eighth-ranked Canada was drawn with No. 12 Netherlands, No. 16 China and No. 17 New Zealand.

Hey, coach

The U.S. Soccer Federation turned to Jill Ellis as its women's national team coach last summer after she served two stints as interim coach. She replaced Tom Sermanni, who was let go after two years in charge.

Ellis, 48, was born in Portsmouth, England, and came to America when she was 15. She coached at UCLA from 1999-2010 and led the Bruins to eight College Cup (NCAA semifinal) appearances, where they lost in the final three times. She simultaneously served as U.S. under-20 and under-21 coach for part of that span.

She then moved on to become the USSF developmental director, a post she still holds along with coaching the national team.

The contenders

United States (FIFA ranking: 2) In March the Americans won their 10th Algarve Cup title, extending their record, and last year routed Costa Rica 6-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

Germany (1): The two-time world champions have also won the past six European titles and have been ranked at the top since December, continuing a decade-long tussle with the U.S. team.

Japan (4): The defending World Cup champion has proven that title was no fluke, backing it up with a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and its first Asian Cup championship in 2014.

Canada (8): The Canadians haven't advanced from the group stage since a fourth-place finish in 2003, but America's fiercest rival has a major edge as the host and a veteran-laden team.

France (3): A team on the rise, France was runnerup at this year's Algarve Cup and made the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time in 2011 and was fourth in the 2012 Olympics in its first appearance.

Whom to watch It's not all just about the Americans. Some stars on other teams worth watching:

Marta

Forward, Brazil, age 29

Many consider FIFA's world player of the year a record five times the greatest player never to win the World Cup. If Abby Wambach hadn't scored in the dying seconds of stoppage time against Brazil in the 2011 quarterfinals … Well, Marta has at least one more chance to overcome the memory of what might have been.

Christine Sinclair

Forward, Canada, age 31

Sinclair has 133 international goals, third on the all-time list behind Americans Abby Wambach (182) and Mia Hamm (158). As a member of the Portland Thorns in the National Women's Soccer League, Sinclair is a teammate of U.S. star Alex Morgan and Germany's Nadine Angerer.

Nadine Angerer

Goalkeeper, Germany, age 36

She was named the best goalkeeper of the 2007 World Cup, when she led Germany to its second straight title, and hasn't slowed. She saved two penalty kicks in a 1-0 victory over Norway in the 2013 European Championships final. Her defense will be needed more than ever with Nadine Kessler, FIFA's player of the year in 2014, out with a knee injury.

Lotta Schlein

Forward, Sweden, age 31

The captain of a strong Swedish team has 79 international goals, breaking her country's record. She led the 2013 European Championships with five goals and has helped lead her team to the semifinals in both that event and in the 2011 World Cup.

Homare Sawa

Midfielder, Japan, age 36

The 2011 world player of the year was the captain as Japan captured a stunning World Cup title, defeating the United States in the final. She and her teammates then backed up that showing by earning the silver medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, losing the final to the Americans in a rematch.



It has been a long time

The United States is a serious contender in every major competition it enters, and has been ever since winning the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991. Four Olympic gold medals in five attempts, and 10 titles at the prestigious annual Algarve Cup, attest to that.

But except for Christie Rampone, this generation of American players is missing something: a World Cup title.

In 1999 the U.S. women won the World Cup at home and became a national sensation, but three tournaments have come and gone since without a championship. Rampone, who will turn 40 during this year's tournament, is the only player left on the U.S. roster from that '99 team.

Two third-place finishes followed that 1999 title, then came a runnerup showing in 2011 with a stunning 2-1 overtime loss to Japan in the final.

In the interim, Germany tied the Americans with two world championships.

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