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USA Women: Sense of freedom and spirit key

The U.S, winners in 1991 and 1999, have had their setbacks in the past year, including a defeat to Mexico that meant they were in danger of not making the tournament for the first time, and needed a play-off win over Italy to avoid that fate.

In Germany, the U.S. lost to Sweden during the group stage, were moments away from elimination in the quarter-final against Brazil before equalizing in the final seconds of extra-time and going on to victory in a penalty shootout.

Every time the dream of repeating the success of the hugely popular 1999 team looks set to be dashed, the Americans find a way to turn things around.

That spirit, according to the American's Swedish head coach Pia Sundhage, comes from the difficult days when participation in the tournament was on the line.

"Because we had such a bumpy road, we had to play those play-off games against Italy, we came out stronger and we have learnt the lesson that we cannot take anything for granted," Sundhage said during a conference call on Thursday. "So we have tried to enjoy every day and be grateful for every day we have a game or training.

"This team has great heart and spirit and we are humble enough to recognize when we need to change some things."

In the past two games, the U.S. were able to beat two teams, France and Brazil, that many observers believed were more technically gifted then Sundhage's team.

"That tells you about the heart," said Sundhage. "If you are in the locker room at half-time, players saying 'come on, we can do this,' you can feel the positive atmosphere. I think we gained some real positive energy from the last two games."

While the U.S. locker room is a place where the players can rely on support, it is also a loud and proud place.

"You put a bunch of women in a locker room and it is going to get crazy sometimes," Solo told reporters. "You have people that sing, people that dance, people that have crazy music going. It's fun, there are so many different personalities."


It is not just the freedom to stand up and shout in the locker room that makes the team special though, says Solo, but rather the freedom they are given by the 51-year-old Swede to express themselves on the field.

That, says the goalkeeper, is something that is not always always encouraged by American coaches.

"From the moment Pia stepped in, she changed the entire dynamic of this team. A completely different philosophy, she is one of the more laid-back coaches I've ever had," said Solo.

"A lot of American coaches want to be involved in every pass, in every play. She likes to sit back, she says, 'you guys are creative, you are soccer players', she wants us to think and read the game for ourselves."

"Of course we need her expertise, her input and she shows that when she brings a change of tactics but every player likes to have a bit of freedom on the field. It brings the joy back to us, back to the time when we were little kids and just played for the hell of it."