World's best coming to KSU
by William Bretherton
wbretherton@mdjonline.com
October 01, 2010 12:00 AM | 723 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Abby Wambach, who finished the WPS season as one of the league’s leading scorers, will be one of the Americans’ key players against China.
<Br>Staff photo by Mike Jacoby
Abby Wambach, who finished the WPS season as one of the league’s leading scorers, will be one of the Americans’ key players against China.
Staff photo by Mike Jacoby
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KENNESAW - While KSU Soccer Stadium has been busy in its inaugural year, Saturday's women's exhibition between the U.S. and China, two international powers, could be one of the highest-magnitude events held at the recently built facility.

For Atlanta Beat midfielder Tobin Heath, a U.S. national team veteran who is recovering from knee surgery and won't be playing Saturday, just the chance to watch such a notable event on her club's home field will be a treat.

"It's awesome," Heath said. "It's obviously one of the best facilities for women's soccer, and the U.S. is the No. 1 team in the world, so it's only fitting they come in here and play in this great stadium."

Along with playing host to the Beat's first season, the stadium has also hosted Women's Professional Soccer's All-Star Game and currently has the Kennesaw State women's soccer team as its primary tenant.

But now, for one night at least, international soccer will be the focus.

It will be the U.S. women's first trip to Georgia since 1999, when they beat Japan 6-0 in an exhibition at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston.

Heath was one of two Beat representatives on the U.S. roster, though both will miss Saturday's game with injuries. Goalkeeper Hope Solo recently underwent surgery on a torn labrum in her right shoulder.

Despite the loss of her top goalkeeper, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage believes her team will be in good shape until Solo's expected return in February or March.

"I say Hope Solo, before she was injured, was the best goalkeeper in the world," Sundhage said. "With that having been said, I'm looking at the team with what I have. We're trying to win the next game. We're not trying to look too much forward or in the past. Right now, she's not with us.

"But, hopefully, with her attitude coming back and wanting to get back, she will be back around the Algarve Cup in March. Will that change our style in defending or in the attack? In small details, yes, but not much."

Starring for the U.S. on Sunday will be many of the top players from WPS. Nicole Barnhart, who helped FC Gold Pride win the league championship last weekend, will start in net. She finished as WPS' leader with eight shutouts and a 0.77 goals-against average.

"Nicole Barnhart has been around Hope for awhile. It's her time to step up," Sundhage said. "In the long run, we will have two greater goalkeepers, even better than when Hope got injured, because Nicole will have more experience playing."

Forwards Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez, who finished second and third, respectively, in goals scored in WPS, also are expected to start Saturday. Shannon Boxx and Lori Lindsey will see time in the midfield.

China and the U.S. have a great deal of history coming into Saturday's match. Dating back to 1986, the two teams have faced each other 32 times, with the latest match being played in two years ago in Detroit.

Arguably the nations' most famous meeting came in the finals of the 1999 Women's World Cup when the Americans won in penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl. The crowd of 90,185 remains the largest to ever watch a women's sporting event.

The U.S. leads the all-time series 23-8-1, but the Chinese will still present a challenge to the U.S.

Saturday's game will be the first of two against China, the second coming Wednesday in Chester, Pa. They are a precursor to the team's CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament next month in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

"First of all, we're happy that we have two games, so that we have a chance to try different things," Sundhage said. "And the fact that it's an Asian team means it's a more technical team that is well-organized, so it's important for us to look at the rhythm of the game because they are organized. We don't want it to be a battle. We want it to be a more sophisticated match."
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