With just a few hours to go before the United States women's national team's first Olympic qualifying match in Vancouver, I was able to get a few minutes of rising star midfielder Lauren Cheney's time.
If you read Sports Illustrated, you probably saw the story in last week's magazine about the important role Cheney plays in coach Pia Sundhage's new 4-2-3-1 formation.
You probably also saw, and by now I'm sure almost all of you know, that Cheney is dating 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday.
Last week, EqualizerSoccer.com's Jeff Kassouf reported that Cheney will be joining Holiday in Philadelphia this summer, by signing with the Independence.
Cheney told me that she doesn't have a contract signed anywhere in WPS yet, but also didn't deny that she might be on her way here.
Here's the interview. You can watch Cheney and the rest of the U.S. squad take on the Dominican Republic tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Universal Sports and UniversalSports.com.
Everyone knows that the World Cup qualifying tournament two years ago did not end well for the United States. How important is it to get the Olympic qualifying tournament right from start to finish? And how big is it to have the rematch with Mexico in the group stage?
The qualifying tournament is huge for us. If we don't make into the top two, we won’t be going to the Olympics.
Obviously, playing Mexico in World Cup qualifying, they won that game on that day, and we respect them for that win. We’re going to play maybe thinking about it a little bit, but going in as a new team and in a new tournament.
Part of that ‘new team’ mentality is a new formation. Coach Pia Sundhage has changed your system to a 4-2-3-1. What role do you play in it, and what has the change been like?
I’m in the center of the three. I love it. I think just being able to play in our new formation, I think emotionally, mentally, physically, it's good for us.
I think the new formation allows us to have a different style of attack, to get more numbers forward. I think it’s great for our personnel. We’re able to interchange. And maybe it’s a more technical style of soccer than what Americans are used to.
We have different options for the outside players. I think they are constantly changing. Right now, everything’s open, and anyone can compete for those spots. We definitely have speed up top, and on the flanks if we need it. All of us being able to interchange is a huge positive.
How important is success at the Olympics for the future of WPS, and women’s soccer in general?
I think that every game that we play and every tournament that we’re in are extremely important for women’s soccer and the state of WPS.
A lot of what we did in the World Cup opened people’s eyes to women’s soccer, and now continuing that success - not only to win games, but to better our play and to be respected on a different level of soccer ability - is huge for the women’s game in general.
The more that we can close that gap with what people see men doing and what people see women doing, it’s going to be huge for us to gain the respect that we deserve.
How much of a soccer fan is Jrue?
Well, I don’t think he was much of a soccer fan before the World Cup. But I would say he’s a pretty big soccer fan now. Maybe not so much of European teams, but he definitely loves the U.S. women’s national team.
That Sports Illustrated story about you last week mentioned the similarities between his role as a point guard and your role as a playmaking midfielder. Expand on that, if you would, and what the two positions have in common.
I think that we’re both thinkers. Jrue’s basketball IQ is phenomenal. When you watch him play, you can tell that he just sees the game so well. I think that’s why he’s so successful, along with his tremendous athletic ability.
I’m maybe not the best athlete on the field, but I love soccer. I love to think soccer and to talk about soccer. I think that helps me, because I read the game well, and I think that’s my strength.
Have you signed anywhere in Women’s Professional Soccer yet?
I’m definitely still working on signing. I have an idea of what I want to do, but right now I am just focused on the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Here's a sample of what Cheney has done for the U.S. in recent times...