It’s not too often — actually it’s as rare as Halley’s Comet and sasquatch sightings on the same day — that a top-ranked national soccer side practices right here in River City.
And yet it was with very little fanfare that the United States national women’s soccer team, the reigning Olympic champion and No. 1-ranked side by FIFA, worked out Monday morning at the Waverley Soccer Complex in front of a handful of media.
That will change by Thursday, of course, when the Americans face Canada in an international friendly at Investors Group Field that figures to draw over 25,000 fans.
"I expected a lot of fans. I hadn’t heard that (25,000 tickets sold) yet, but back when I was 17 and I played in the Pan American Games here we had a lot of fans come out, so I expect a big crowd here in Winnipeg and I’m sure they won’t disappoint," said American goalkeeper Hope Solo. "I’m excited to see the other host cities, the Vancouvers, the Edmontons... I don’t know much about all the cities in Canada, but this is my second trip to Winnipeg."
The U.S. side that faces Canada on Thursday will feature a few new faces, as four regulars are unavailable for the match: forward Alex Morgan, midfielders Kristie Mewis and Megan Rapinoe and defender Rachel Van Hollebeke are all injured. The team is also working with a new coach as Jill Ellis is in charge on an interim basis.
"I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people in the stands," said Ellis after the American practice. "But I think for both teams this is a great opportunity to showcase in case, in Canada with the World Cup coming (to Canada in 2015), two very good teams playing against each other. Both teams will be ready.
"The last World Cup in Germany gave women’s soccer a boost globally and in both (Canada and the U.S.). Certainly, the success Canada had in the Olympics and the game itself in the U.S.... it’s becoming the biggest sport for females. I think it’s fantastic we’ve got such crowd support and now avid support, it’s not just people who show up because they’re interested. They follow these teams."
Asked what she and her team hoped to accomplish out of Thursday’s match, Ellis grinned: "A result, certainly."
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Canada Soccer and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced Monday they are partnering to cover the cost of the free fan-fare service for fans attending the game on Thursday. Any fan with a game ticket is eligible for transportation to the game, which includes Winnipeg Transit and the Park & Ride service.
Those fans driving to the game should know that on-campus parking will be available Thursday 90 minutes before the 7 p.m. kickoff. As well, a new $10 car pool lot off University Crescent will be offered and is available to any vehicle with three or more passengers. All other lots are $20.