New­com­ers, vet­er­ans make a solid mix on U.S. team

Brian is among the play­ers mak­ing their World Cup de­buts and blend­ing in well.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

WIN­NIPEG, Canada — As Mor­gan Brian ran onto the soc­cer field ahead of her first World Cup game Mon­day, U.S. team­mate Kel­ley O’Hara si­dled over with a sug­ges­tion.

“En­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence,” O’Hara said.

Too late. Even be­fore Brian got to Canada, she told her­self to ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery mo­ment of this tour­na­ment. Be­cause there’s no guar­an­tee she’ll play in an­other one.

“You never know,” she said.

“This is some­thing that is so cool to be at. You have to re­mem­ber that it is a World Cup. It’s some­thing that we trained for our en­tire lives.”

Brian, 22, is the youngest player on the team and the age gap with some of her team­mates is con­sid­er­able. For in­stance, de­fender Christie Ram­pone, 39, en­tered col­lege the year Brian was born.

Yet, lost in the talk about the U.S. hav­ing the old­est and most ex­pe­ri­enced team in this tour­na­ment is the fact that eight play­ers are mak­ing their World Cup de­buts in Canada, among them Chris­ten Press, 26, whose sec­ond­half goal put the U.S. ahead to stay in its 3-1 victory over Australia on Mon­day.

New­com­ers Press, Syd­ney Ler­oux, Meghan Klin­gen­berg and Julie John­ston started in Mon­day’s game. Brian went into the game in the 86th minute, join­ing a lineup that in­cluded five play­ers 30 or older.

And though there were a lot of open­ing-night nerves to set­tle — “There’s some new play­ers on the field in a big, big mo­ment,” U.S. Coach Jill El­lis said — with this World Cup be­ing the long­est and most phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing, the U.S. will need strong per­for­mances from the rook­ies and the vet­er­ans if the team is to make a long run.

“I love the fact that it’s ex­pe­ri­ence with youth,” said mid­fielder Shan­non Boxx, at 37 the sec­ond-old­est player on the team. “Jill did a great job with that. Be­cause the World Cup is a dif­fer­ent level. … The at­mos­phere is very dif­fer­ent than any­thing you’ve ever seen be­fore.”

The tour­na­ment is be­ing played on ar­ti­fi­cial turf for the first time. That will pun­ish old legs faster than young ones, fur­ther rais­ing the im­por­tance of the World Cup rook­ies.

“We all know it’s go­ing to be a grind,” said mid­fielder Carli Lloyd, 32, who is play­ing in her third World Cup. “We’re go­ing to need all 23 play­ers to con­trib­ute to win this thing.”

Brian is just try­ing to drink it all in.

“This is a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity,” she said. “Ob­vi­ously, I want to en­joy it. You don’t want to take any­thing for granted.”

That’s the voice of ex­pe­ri­ence speak­ing. Not Brian’s, of course. Her ex­pe­ri­ence is just be­gin­ning.

But that wis­dom is some­thing she said she learned from team­mates Abby Wam­bach and Megan Rapi­noe, who have been in six World Cups be­tween them.

“They’re vet­er­ans and they’ve been to so many World Cups,” Brian said. “And they still don’t take it for granted. It’s my first one. It’s some­thing you’ve just got to en­joy.”

Mid­fielder Tobin Heath nod­ded in agree­ment. Her first World Cup was four years ago, when she played in four games as a sub­sti­tute, in­clud­ing a fi­nal the U.S. lost to Ja­pan on penalty kicks. And although she’s only 27, she has 93 in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances.

Play­ers such as Brian can’t match that ex­pe­ri­ence. But Heath smiles when asked whether the rook­ies make up for it with the kind of youth­ful en­thu­si­asm that re­minds the older play­ers that soc­cer is just a game.

“It’s just so cool to see th­ese young play­ers evolve,” Heath said. “I love our young tal­ent. They de­serve to be here. They’re go­ing to help this team go far.”

Jeff Rober­son As­so­ci­ated Press

MOR­GAN BRIAN, cen­ter, is among a group of tal­ented young play­ers join­ing vet­er­ans such as Ali Krieger, left, and Tobin Heath on the U.S. women’s soc­cer World Cup team. Brian, 22, is the youngest team mem­ber.

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