Golden goal: For U.S. women to take it all

Brian Miller
Posted 7/19/12

HIGHLANDS RANCH — Even after more than a decade, the memories of the 2000 Summer Olympics remain fresh for Michelle French. French, who was 23 …

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Golden goal: For U.S. women to take it all

HIGHLANDS RANCH — Even after more than a decade, the memories of the 2000 Summer Olympics remain fresh for Michelle French.
French, who was 23 during the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, was a member of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team that dropped a heartbreaking 3-2 decision to Norway in the Gold Medal game that year. The United States brought home the silver before going on to reclaim the gold in 2004 and 2008.
Now the time has come for the 2012 U.S. Women’s team to make a push for a fourth overall gold.
First-round games begin July 25 in London.
“The feeling you have representing your country is like none other. When you put that jersey on, there’s so much pride,” French said. “For people to be able to come out and see — whether it’s future Olympians like (Colorado’s) Lindsey Horan or (Seattle’s) Stephanie Cox, who’s been an Olympian — it’s incredible for the country.
“Hopefully we’ll have great success with the Olympics this coming summer and then people will continue to support us in some regard.”
French was in town the final weekend in June to coach the Seattle Sounders in back-to-back W-League games against the Colorado Rapids Women’s team and the Colorado Rush. In her first year with the Sounders, French has had the opportunity to coach four players — Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux — who will compete in London.
“While the players were in and out, when they were there they were invested in being a Sounders player,” French said. “When I first took the job, I never dreamed that’s what the team would develop into but I’m thankful it did — not only for our entire team but for the northwest.”
The U.S. women’s national team has always attracted a big following, but during World Cup and Olympic years, the admirers tend to extend beyond just fans of soccer. Who can forget the images of Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey and falling to her knees after helping the U.S. win the 1999 World Cup in a shootout?
Mia Hamm retired in 2004, but the former Olympian is still one of the most popular soccer players in U.S. history. Colorado School of Mines senior-to-be Megan Woodworth, who competed against the Sounders as a member of the Rapids Women’s team earlier this summer, recalled winning an essay writing contest when she was 9 years old.
She received the chance to sit on the bench with the women’s national team, though Hamm, her favorite player, wasn’t there that day.
“That’s a moment I definitely will never forget,” Woodworth said. “They had all been my heroes since I was so little.
“The U.S. women’s national team has always been a role model for me … to be able to see how hard they work and be able to see them play in the Olympics is definitely something to look up to.”
Woodworth’s teammate at Mines and with the Rapids Women, Kelsey Neal, said she intends to watch every game she can and hopes the support will be there throughout the country. Having competed against the likes of Solo and Morgan earlier this season, Neal added that she understands a bit better what it takes to compete at that level.
“I think just watching these games and seeing how people play at that high of a level will help me as an individual,” Neal said. “I do think we have a great group going into the Olympics. It shows we are a high-level country when it comes to soccer.”
Solo, the starting goalkeeper during the gold-medal run in 2008, was in net when the Rapids and Rush played in Seattle back in late May and early June. The Sounders won both those contests, though Lindsey Horan did score a goal for the Rush. Horan, who graduated from Golden High School in May and is headed to the University of North Carolina in the fall, said the experience was exciting but credited her team for helping her get the goal on Solo.
She’s also looking forward to the upcoming games.
“I just watched them in the World Cup a year ago, and I’ve been watching them ever since I was a little kid,” Horan said. “It’s a little inspiration for me so I can see what I want to be when I’m older. That’s my dream, to be on the full women’s national team.”
 Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series surrounding the Olympics and the buzz it creates headed into the 2012 Summer Games in London. Next week: Removal of softball, baseball from games a controversial decision.


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