The factions that have often existed in US World Cup teams of the past seem absent this time around in France

It wouldnt quite be fair to say that the US have been the best team for the entirety of this World Cup. Even after they beat France in the quarter-final, players from both teams agreed that the hosts played better football. But they have consistently had the edge in one thing: mentality. The Americans have played with a ruthless streak that other teams simply havent matched in this World Cup at least not yet.

At its core, this is a team that has grittiness, fight and a never-say-die attitude, says defender Kelley OHara, who on Sunday will play in her third consecutive World Cup final. That was something we had to make sure we were instilling in the young players coming up. It was something the older players instilled in me.

The US are the oldest team at the World Cup, with an average age of 28.6, while the Netherlands average just 25.5. With that extra experience, the Americans have learned how to get into the right mental state. While Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan talk about visualizing goals to get focused before games, Christen Press has been a longtime practitioner of Vedic meditation.

OHara has also added meditation to her repertoire. Sometimes when youre younger, you kind of just go out there and have a good time and wing it, OHara says. But as you get older, you realize you need to have certain things you can fall back on. I meditate before every game but thats something Ive added to my regime in the recent years.

The US have often employed sports psychologists and so-called mental skills coaches over the years, although there is not currently a full-time staff member working in either of those roles. The federation has a partnership with a well-known meditation app to provide personalized programs for everyone on the team. Jill Ellis, the US coach, has brought in motivational speakers as well.

But the mental edge the Americans have displayed doesnt come from anything specific Ellis or the federation have done its been a part of the US team for years. As Pia Sundhage, who coached the US to two Olympics golds, once said: The Americans, they had it its not that I brought it to them. Even the players from USAs first World Cup victory in 1991 have said they didnt think they were the best team there they were just mentally a lot stronger than everyone else.

The US team that won the Womens World Cup four years ago was also the oldest squad in that tournament, and their mentality was also a crucial part of them going on to lift the trophy. But if theres anything thats noticeably different about the team this time around, its how close the players are. The factions that have often existed in US teams of the past seem absent, at least from the outside.

The highlight for me, being one of the older players one of the captains and a veteran is seeing the younger players rise to this occasion, says Megan Rapinoe. She says that first-timer Rose Lavelle has been balling out and Samantha Mewis and Lindsey Horan have stepped up. When Rapinoe gets to Christen Press, who is playing in her second World Cup, she fights back tears when Press scored against England, she looked up to the sky in tribune to her mother, who died in January.

For me, every game there is another moment that is so special about this team, Rapinoe says. Everyone always talks about with a team that you want that camaraderie, but we really do have a tight team. Whoever needs to be leaned on, the whole team is comfortable leaning on that person.

OHara agrees: The team chemistry is great. Weve been on the road now for, like, 42 days, this is our 10th or 11th hotel and we still want to sit outside and hang out and chat and banter and spend time together. Its refreshing to be part of a group where, what we show on the field, having each others backing and taking care of each other and winning for each other, is really felt off the field as well.

Its evident from the teams widely discussed goal celebrations that the Americans are having fun, whether its Alex Morgan sipping tea or Megan Rapinoes wild leg-kick in against Thailand in their opener. The bench has been involved in the celebrations too, reinforcing a sense that the whole team is equally part of the journey, even if some players shine more brightly than others.

The Americans have been labeled as arrogant, but they rebut that charge they say they are just having the time of their lives with their best friends. Why shouldnt the team have fun? We work hard and play hard, Rapinoe says.

They could well get their reward for all that hard work on Sunday.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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