WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—The 4-1 win by the U.S. Women’s National Team over a game but outmatched Switzerland squad Wednesday evening at WakeMed Soccer Park felt faintly like a fait accompli. Switzerland has already qualified for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but the no. 19 FIFA-ranked Swiss women were no match for the top-ranked USWNT squad as it gears up for World Cup qualifying this October.
The scoring started early, when Sydney Leroux crossed a ball atop the box to an unmarked Megan Rapinoe, who fired a low liner that deflected off Switzerland defender Rahel Kiwic before nestling inside the right half of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“I think [the ball] popped out wide to Sydney, and I was filling in atop the box,” Rapinoe said. “I took a quick touch and hit it. I think it took a little deflection going in, but it was on frame at least.”
That margin lasted until the second half, when the scoring deluge began. In the 56th minute, Rapinoe's cross from the left side of the box hit the hand of Switzerland's Fabienne Humm for a penalty. Carli Lloyd stepped to the spot converted the PK for a 2-0 lead.
Switzerland got a goal back in the 70th when Rapinoe committed her own handball penalty off a Swiss cross from the left side. Forward Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic calmly converted her PK past goalkeeper Hope Solo, scuttling Solo’s bid for a record-setting U.S. clean sheet.
Seven minutes later, however, Christen Press scored the goal of the match. Following a U.S. free kick, a short clearance ended up bouncing out to Press stationed about 25 yards from goal. Press chested down the ball, then fired a looping shot that cleared goalkeeper Stenia Michel and ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar before landing across the goal line.
“I got on the second ball, and it was sort of a chest-shoulder volley before it bounced,” Press said. “It was one of those [shots] where you strike through the ball a little on one side and it bends into the upper part of the net.”
The final goal came in the 87th minute off, of course, another penalty kick. Second-half sub Abby Wambach drew a foul against Switzerland’s Nicole Remund in the box. Wambach took the PK and powered her shot off Michel’s hand and into the back of the net for Wambach’s 168th national team goal.
There seemed to be as many fireworks off the field as on it during the USWNT’s visit to Cary. CBS News filmed interviews
with Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux during a Tuesday afternoon training session. Standing on WakeMed Soccer Stadium’s pristine grass pitch, the players spoke about their objections to the decision to hold World Cup matches next year in Canada on artificial turf fields, citing the higher incidents of injury and the double standard with their male counterparts, who are required by FIFA rules to play matches on natural grass surfaces.
Some commentators expressed consternation
that Wednesday’s friendly was scheduled midweek between the end of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) regular season and the start of their playoffs. Ten players on the U.S roster this week in North Carolina must return to play in the NWSL semifinal stage this weekend.
And Hope Solo is currently embroiled in legal troubles stemming from criminal charges of domestic violence. The U.S. goalkeeper declined to speak with the media during her visit to Cary
, including after Wednesday’s match, her first with the national team since her arrest in June. That prompted a row between several reporters and representatives of U.S. Soccer that continued through the post-match media interview session.
However, the greatest impact of Wednesday’s event might well be felt locally. The official attendance of 9,992 is a single-game record for WakeMed Soccer Park, the first sellout since the completion of stadium expansion last year. Reportedly
, over 400 members of the American Outlaws Supporters group representing 12 different chapters were in attendance. Area college teams were on hand, along with the Stanford women’s soccer team
, which is in town for their season opener against the University of North Carolina this Friday.
Also conspicuous in their presence was Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, and Dan Flynn, Chief Executive Officer of both U.S. Soccer and the NWSL. The payout of Wednesday’s sellout crowd undoubtedly proved alluring to the USSF powerbrokers. But Wednesday was also an occasion to showcase the appetite for women’s soccer in the Triangle. The NWSL is the third attempt to establish a major women’s soccer league in the U.S. And with U.S. Soccer still largely bankrolling the effort, the long-term future of this or any other U.S. women’s soccer league is always precarious.
But as expansion of the nine-team NWSL remains under consideration, the Triangle market could prove a viable candidate. The Carolina Courage of the defunct Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) called WakeMed Soccer Park (then SAS Soccer Park) home from 2001-2003. While the Courage’s three-year average attendance of 5,604 was the second-lowest in the WUSA
before the league folded after the 2003 season, that average would be the second-highest in this year’s NWSL.
Longtime USWNT standout Heather O’Reilly and her husband relocated last year from Massachusetts to Chapel Hill, where O’Reilly attended UNC and played college soccer from 2003-2006. Speaking to the media before Tuesday’s training session, O’Reilly spoke favorably about the prospect of a NWSL franchise in this area, albeit a prospect that has many hurdles to clear beyond winsome speculation.
“I think this is rich soccer community, and I was thrilled when I saw [Wednesday’s friendly] sell out in just a couple of days,” O’Reilly said. “It just proves how excited people are when we come to town, and it shows how much this sport is growing. It’s one of those pockets in America where soccer is very strong.”
The atmosphere was not lost on the rest of the U.S. players, who were greeted by screaming fans in the parking lot as the team arrived to the stadium for Wednesday’s friendly.
“I think the environment tonight was phenomenal,” Press said. “When Abby walked into the locker room [before the match], she said, ‘That’s how it should feel going to play a soccer game.’ We all had chills with the girls outside screaming and supporting us, and all the tailgaters. It’s actually phenomenal for us to see such motivation, and we’re so blessed to have this support going into our World Cup qualifiers.