In the past, the Sounders Women have been a collection of local players who had a healthy passion for soccer. Some were college players looking for some summer competition. Others were more veteran players who could usher those players into a more competitive league.
This year, that all changed.
“Initially when I took the job it was just going to be a bunch of local girls,” said new head coach Michelle French, herself a former player for the US National Team and the Sounders Women. “Things have definitely changed over the last month.”
With the signing of US National Team stars Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Stephanie Cox and Megan Rapinoe, the Sounders Women have become an out-and-out spectacle.
Among them, those five players have 287 caps and 41 goals for the US Women. They will all suit up tonight when the Sounders play their first preseason game against Seattle Pacific University at Starfire. As will Mexican National Team forward Veronica Perez, a University of Washington product who scored her only international goal in helping Mexico qualify for the 2011 World Cup.
For those players, they have the opportunity to play together to help prepare for the 2012 Olympics in London beginning July 27 and going through August 12.
“We have nowhere to play on our breaks. It is hard to find a corner by yourself, juggling the ball, striking long-range balls to nobody. It’s not the intense, competitive environment that we all strive for going into the Olympics. That’s what you need as a pro athlete,” Solo said. “So I’m grateful to have a soccer team that lets me come home and I can drive down the street and be in a professional environment with really good players that are going to help me in my preparation for the Olympics and make me a better player.”
Solo played her college soccer at the University of Washington, but hasn’t played in Seattle since and cherishes the opportunity not only to play at home, but to do so in front of a raucous crowd that is building up to the Olympics themselves and pining for the chance to see players from the US Women’s team for the first time in recent memory.
As exciting as it is for fans young and old to see women’s players of that caliber, it’s likely more exciting for Solo to get back to Seattle.
“I haven’t played in Seattle since I graduated from the Huskies. It’s time for me to give back,” she said. “I honestly would not fulfill my dreams if I didn’t come to Seattle. It’s my time to give back to the fans who always supported me. It’s my time to bring some entertainment to the game here in Seattle.”
It also gives her the chance to put an exclamation point on her career outside of the national team.
While the 2008 Olympic gold medalist still strives for World Cup gold, playing in Seattle may fall third in that list of goals.
“I always knew at the end of the day I'd end up back here, whether it was when I retire or even before that,” she said. “The end goal is to really help build the game here in a city that I love. That's my ultimate goal, and hopefully win some games, as well - maybe a championship.”
The Sounders will play Seattle Pacific on Monday, Seattle U on Friday, then the University of Washington on May 4 before kicking off their season May 27 in Vancouver. Their first regular season home game is May 31 at Starfire against the Colorado Rush.