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Global Feb 20, 2016

Hope Solo: Young U.S. Women’s squad are playing the most “incredible” soccer of my international career

HOUSTONHope Solo has been guarding net for the U.S. Women’s National Team for a long time – for nearly the entire 21st century, in fact, having made her senior-team debut way back in 2000.

But she’s never seen the USWNT playing with the fluidity and mastery that they’ve shown in 2016. And the children – relatively speaking – are leading them.

That was the outspoken goalkeeper’s message after her team thumped Trinidad & Tobago 5-0 on Friday night to book their tickets to Rio de Janeiro for this summer’s Olympic Games and reach the championship final of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, where they will duel border rivals Canada on Sunday.

+READ: Brazil bound: U.S. Women book Olympic berth with walkover win vs. Trinidad & Tobago

“I’ve been on this team a long time and I’ve seen a lot of different styles of play,” said Solo, “but we are finally playing an incredible possession style of soccer. It’s beautiful. That’s a testament to the youth, that’s a testament to growing the sport in America, it’s a testament to U.S. Soccer having the grassroots teams and putting the money into really building players at a younger age. So I think it’s incredible and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

A 17-year-old phenom (Mallory Pugh) starting games and creating goals. A 21-year-old (Lindsey Horan) and a 22-year-old (Morgan Brian) anchoring the midfield and setting the tempo. One exciting 23-year-old (Crystal Dunn) scoring goals in bunches, whether as a starter or off the bench, and another (Julie Johnston) a tenacious warrior in the heart of the defense.

After years of heavy reliance on proven veterans, the USWNT have finally opened the door to a new generation – and the youngsters have not only held their own, but sent notice that they are ready to push their elders to the limit.

+READ: USWNT: Cerebral youngsters Brian, Horan take control of world champions’ midfield on Olympic road to Rio

“I think it says a lot about this team, but even beyond that, I think it says a lot about the game here in America,” said Solo.

Stunningly, it was Pugh who set the tone on Friday, isolating Trinidadian defender Khadidra Debesette over and over and running at the exposed right back at will, a matchup that she exploited to create the game’s opening goal 12 minutes in.

“Mallory Pugh being on the field tonight, it was so cool,” said Solo. “I was so proud for her to start, and to be honest, she didn’t seem nervous, she just seemed excited, and happy, and it was good energy. She didn’t show her nerves, probably because she has other players around her who have been successful like Lindsey Horan, and players that she knows well. She just feels at home on the field with all of the players and the mix of all the different ages.”

+PODCAST: Mallory Pugh staying at UCLA, plus Amandine Henry to Portland, Australia NWSL rumors

Solo, 33, felt bullish enough to suggest that the USWNT’s youth movement are already prepared to lead the way in facing and dispatching the gritty, driven Canadian squad that has proven such a spiky matchup for the U.S. in years past.

“We never play our best game against Canada because it is such a physical game,” she said of the “bloodbaths” that border rivalry clashes have often become.

“Hopefully with this new group of players, we’ll find a way around that, we’ll find a way around their American football-style of play. We’ll try to move the ball more around them and not get into that blood match that we tend to do against Canada … That’ll be interesting, to see if we can just move the ball – we’ll have creative players on the field and keep possession and put them in their place.”

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