Twenty-four USA players have arrived in Florida for a two-week training camp, with each set to make their final case for a roster spot before 21 will embark on a long, but much-anticipated journey to Japan for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in August.
For the Americans, their return to the global stage not only marks a sixth successive appearance, but represents an opportunity to re-establish their tag among the favourites. Following disappointments at youth level two years ago, with the U-17 side failing to reach the world finals for the first time and a quarter-finals exit at Germany 2010 for the U-20 squad, attention has shifted towards maintaining the Stars and Stripes' place among the international elite.
And while the United States have since moved on from those hardships in 2010 with success in CONCACAF qualifying at both age levels at the start of this year, there is perhaps no other player than defender Mollie Pathman with better perspective on the current mentality and expectations among the Americans.
Having served as team captain for the U-20s in Panama for Japan 2012 qualifying, Pathman has made a name for herself at nearly every level for USA, with only a call-up to the senior side a dream she has yet to check off. FIFA.com caught up with the forward turned left-back as USA make their final preparations for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan.
Climbing the ladder
While only a select few players have the opportunity to grace the international stage, Pathman has made it a consistent feat since first seeing time in a USA shirt at U-14 level when she just 13 years old in 2005. It was then Pathman was first asked to adapt to playing in the backline. “We attack a lot with our outside backs so I get to use some of that forward role,” Pathman said. “Most of our backs are actually converted from other positions and I think it adds to our attacking, aggressive style.”
At Germany 2010, Pathman was just 18 and was named in the squad as a late replacement. Her role as a substitute that year has since progressed into one of leadership as she was appointed captain by coach Steve Swanson for the Americans’ qualifying campaign back in March.
“It was such a great honour,” said Pathman, who also finds the time to study as a pre-med student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “I definitely have a different role then I did two years ago, but overall the team is full of leaders and not just one.”
There is a strong desire among the current player pool to eclipse the pain of Germany 2010, however, Pathman did note the U-20 squad is now a different side, with distinct strengths from teams of the past.
“We are in a really good place,” she said. “We’ve worked really hard, and have really focused on our attacking and defending. But, I think different than any other national team I’ve been on [for USA], this team gets along so well and is there for each other.”
However, the experienced Pathman, who was modest about her place on the team as coach Swanson finalises his roster, also confirmed there is a strong competitive spirit among the Americans. “You are always fighting for something whether it’s a certain spot, playing time, or playing on the team. I think that’s good and just speaks to the competitive nature of the team. I think the competition will make us better.”
Although USA are still making their final adjustments for Japan 2012, a tough draw in holders Germany, two-time runners-up China PR, and Ghana - which lies ahead of them in Group D - is something Pathman and her team-mates are well aware of. “It’s definitely a challenging group, but we’re really excited,” she said. “I think that’s the main thing we focus on - how excited we are for our group and to have gotten into this tournament.”
Pathman also concluded the team is very "hungry and really wanting the gold", while USA coach Swanson echoed her sentiments. “All the players in our pool, I think they feel it’s a real honour to represent the United States,” Swanson told ussoccer.com. “It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. They want to do the best they can to bring the World Cup home and perform well.”