Why the U.S. Women's National Team Are on Course for World Cup Glory in 2015

John D. Halloran@JohnDHalloranContributor IIApril 12, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 12:  Abby Wambach #14 of the United States celebrates her second goal of the game with her teammates in the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium on December 12, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Wambach's goal was her 150th international goal. USA won 4-0. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Over the 22 years since the inaugural Women’s World Cup, held in China in 1991, no team has been more dominant in the women’s game than the United States women’s national team.

The team won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999, finished second in 2011 and third in 1995, 2003 and 2007. The USWNT has won Olympic gold in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012, winning the tournament four out of the five times it has been part of the Olympics. They finished second in the 2000 Olympics, the only time they didn’t win the tournament.

The USWNT are currently ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA and have held the top spot, amazingly, for over five years. The team is unbeaten in their last 31 games.

Usually, national teams experience an ebb and flow of success. Teams are successful when they get a so-called “golden generation” of players, or a coach capable of getting the best out of their players. Even the best teams, with a few key injuries or a head coach that doesn’t quite click with their players, experience periods of poor results.

Considering the U.S.'s success over the past two decades, one might think that time has come for the USWNT. But any pundit who thinks the U.S. is on the downward slope of success is dead wrong.

Here is why the USWNT is primed for success yet again in 2015.

The team’s young stars may be better than its aging veterans

Coming off the team’s runner-up finish at the 2011 World Cup and its gold medal performance at the Olympics in 2012, there were a number of questions surrounding the team, particularly with its aging players.

With eight of the team’s 18 players on the wrong side of 30 at last summer’s Olympic games, there have been serious questions as to how the team would replace some of its key players should they not make it to the 2015 World Cup. The players over the age of 30 at last summer’s Olympics include Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx, Hope Solo, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach and Nicole Barnhart.

However, over the past two months, a cadre of future stars has emerged that appears to be every bit as good as the players they are replacing.

Crystal Dunn has burst onto the scene and appears to be fully capable of replacing Heather Mitts, who recently retired. With full deference to Mitts’ outstanding national team career, Dunn may even be an upgrade at the position. Dunn is a tenacious defender, makes fantastic overlapping runs out of the back and has a whole lot of speed to boot. With Mitts retired, even if Amy LePeilbet doesn’t make it back for 2015, the outside back positions will be well taken care of by Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara and Dunn.

Christen Press looks fully capable of replacing any goal-scoring hole that will be left if Abby Wambach retires. The scary thing for U.S. opponents is that Press’ emergence as a threat up front has happened before Sydney Leroux has even had a chance to emerge as the U.S.’ next great goal-scorer. Leroux and Press would form a lethal combination on their own, and that’s without even discussing goal-scoring sensation Alex Morgan. The average age of Leroux, Press and Morgan is only 23.

Whitney Engen has been terrific in the back line over the last two months. Engen has great positioning and terrific instincts. If captain Christie Rampone retires, Engen, along with Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel Buehler, should be able to hold down the center-back positions quite well.

Yael Averbuch has been deployed repeatedly over the past two months in the holding midfield position that has been owned by Shannon Boxx over most of the past decade. While Averbuch is still in the infancy of her national team career, she appears to have all the requisite skills to be the U.S.’s next holding midfielder.

In Averbuch’s appearances in the Algarve Cup and the recent friendly against the Netherlands, two things that have stood out are her vision and her threat as a goal-scorer. Averbuch has that rare ability to make “can-opener” passes, switching the field to find players wide open on the weak side of the field. She also likes to takes shots on goal from distance and can really crack the ball.

Losing Hope Solo would be a big loss to the team as she is undeniably the best goalkeeper in the world, but Nicole Barnhart has looked solid replacing an injured Solo over the past two months. Barnhart is also over 30, but the U.S. also has Jill Loyden and Ashlyn Harris, both 27, waiting in the wings.

Finally, if Carli Lloyd doesn’t make it to 2015, Tobin Heath or Lauren Cheney can easily become the next playmaker for the U.S. However, considering Lloyd’s legendary training regime, it is hard to imagine she won’t be ready to go in 2015.

The U.S. has more firepower than anyone else out there

It is almost embarrassing how many different ways the U.S. can win a game. Abby Wambach is there if the U.S. needs to batter down the front door and win a game off a set-piece or service opportunity. Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press give the U.S. more speed than any opposing defense should reasonably be asked to defend.

Megan Rapinoe’s goal scoring ability from the wing is, quite simply, the best in the world. Carli Lloyd can run through the middle of the field and bomb shots from distance. Tobin Heath’s playmaking ability is world class and Lauren Cheney demonstrated in the 2011 World Cup that she can be an attacking force as well.

Just for good measure, the U.S. defenders love to get in on the goal scoring and already have five goals to their name in 2013.

The only problem for new head coach Tom Sermanni is how to get all that firepower on the field. In the U.S.’s recent 3-1 win over the Netherlands, Sermanni was able to bring Cheney and Morgan into the game off the bench. No other team in the world has that luxury.

The U.S. can win even without its top stars

The scary thing about the U.S. is that they can win even when their top stars are out of the lineup. Normally international teams cannot sustain injuries to their top players without a serious dropoff in play, but that is not true for the USWNT.

In the Algarve Cup last month, the U.S. was without five players from its Olympic gold medal team. The U.S. was missing Solo (injury), LePeilbet (injury), Amy Rodriguez (pregnant), Mitts (retired) and Lloyd (injured during the tournament).

Even without Solo, the best goalkeeper in the world, and Olympic hero Lloyd, the U.S. managed to win the tournament for the ninth time, beating the No. 2 team in the world, Germany, 2-0 in the final.

For the most successful team in the history of the women’s game, things don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon for the USWNT.

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