The U.S. women’s national soccer team has won gold in four of the last five Olympic Games, including three in a row. And yet, it hasn’t won the World Cup since 1999, when Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain and others put women’s soccer on the map in the states.
The Americans finished third in 2003 and 2007 and were runners-up in 2011, losing to Japan in the final.
Olympic gold is great, but there’s a reason golfers tell you the Masters is the most important major. Well, the World Cup is the same way for soccer players.
“I would for sure trade in both my Olympic gold medals to win the World Cup,” U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “That’s just how big it is for people that don’t know. It’s the epitome of our sport and it’s pretty much what you work your whole career for.”
Heath, 26, will have an opportunity to win a World Cup this summer in Canada.
“I’m so excited,” the New Jersey native said. “Obviously the hype right now going into it is huge. Our prep has been spot on. Now it’s about just going in there and taking care of business.”
The Americans have been matched with Australia, Sweden and Nigeria in the so-called “Group of Death.” Australia is an athletic, physical team; Sweden beat the United States 2-1 in the 2011 World Cup and will be led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage; and Nigeria boasts Asisat Oshoala, who won the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Golden Ball.
Heath, however, won’t be intimidated.
“Everyone’s saying (it’s the toughest group), but I think it’s the Group of Death because we’re in it,” she said. “But anytime you’re in a tournament like this, you’re going to have to beat the best to win. So in that way, it’s no different than any group or any game because we’re going to have to be at our best to win.”
Heath has won at every level. She was a club national champion in high school, she led North Carolina to three national championships in college and she has tasted Olympic gold. Twice.
Heath began playing soccer since the age of 4 and hasn’t looked back.
“I fell in love with the game,” she said. “And from there, it just took off. None of the sacrifices ever felt too big because it was something that I loved to do and I enjoyed to do. I always felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing. If something’s fun, you always want to do it, right? So I think that’s important for the kids.”
Heath credited her parents for their role in her career.
“My parents were fantastic,” she said. “They brought me everything, gave me all the opportunities I needed. But at the end of the day, they knew they weren’t soccer coaches. So they just tried to get me the best and put me in the best environments. That was all I needed – just their love and support and all their long hours in the car.”
Heath anticipates a very competitive 2015 World Cup.
“Japan won the last World Cup, so obviously they’re among the top contenders,” she said. “But also there’s big super powers in Germany and France and Brazil – all those teams we’re used to facing. But what’s so special about the women’s game right now is it’s super competitive. There might be a dark horse in there because any team at this point can beat another. That’s what’s going to be so exciting about this World Cup.”