World Cup champs turn focus to Olympics

United States national team player Julie Johnston says the team is starting to turn its focus toward next summer’s Olympics in Brazil.
United States national team player Julie Johnston says the team is starting to turn its focus toward next summer’s Olympics in Brazil. The Associated Press

The U.S. Women’s soccer team has reached not only the midpoint of its FIFA World Cup victory tour, but also a turning point.

The national tour, which pulls into Seattle at 7 p.m. Wednesday, is shifting from a celebration of past achievement to preparation for future goals. The USA will meet Brazil at CenturyLink Field in a friendly televised on ESPN2.

“This team continues to want to keep getting better, striving for more,” defender Julie Johnston said before training Tuesday. “We know that Olympics is only a year away, and now we’ve kind of had that transition to the road to Rio.”

The USA has breezed through the first four matches of the 10-game tour: 8-0 and 7-2 over Costa Rica, 5-0 and 8-0 over Haiti. Brazil marks a significant step up in class.

“Certainly Brazil is a quality opponent, and we’re going to get some good looks at certain players in positions to see them,” coach Jill Ellis said. “Listen, 10 games is a lot to celebrate the past. I think we’ve done that, but now we’re moving forward.”

That said, there also will be nods to the past. Three players from the team that claimed the World Cup in Vancouver, B.C., on July 5 have announced their retirements from the team: Lauren Holiday, Lori Chalupny will leave the team this weekend, while Wednesday will mark the farewell for 38-year-old midfielder Shannon Boxx.

Ellis also paused Tuesday to pay tribute for former national team member Stephanie Cox of Gig Harbor, a member of Seattle Reign FC who announced the end of her playing career this week and who will continue her involvement with the sport as co-coach of the girls team at Gig Harbor High School.

“Her demeanor and her soccer brain is going to make her an amazing candidate for coaching,” Ellis said. “And just her contributions on and off the field: She has just been a wonderful representation of this program. I know the Reign (will) miss her a lot. Steph is one of the most high-quality people I’ve been around. She’s going to be missed on the field, but now she’s really going to hit it when she gets into coaching. I hope we can at some point get her in with our youth teams.”

Ellis also was cheered by news earlier in the day that the National Women’s Soccer League is expanding to Orlando, still growing at a time when previous women’s leagues were sinking.

“This is a critical year,” Ellis said. “It’s year four — the first time we’ve been to year four. It’s a critical league. There are still things that we’re trying to improve. But that fact that there’s still interest in terms of growing the number of teams in it I think is a wonderful sign for our sport.”

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808