Over the final three years of Pia Sundhage's time at the helm of the United States, there were many - maybe too many - constants; Abby Wambach scores goals, Carli Lloyd passes to the other team (but did you know she scored the winner in the 2008 gold medal match?), lots of clapping, to name a few. But the two most glaring of these constants were things the opposite of constant.
One was Amy Rodriguez, a starting striker whose play, particularly her ability to score goals, was anything but regular. The other was the U.S. backline as a revolving door, always containing some familiar parts but very much looking like those parts had been selected by Sundhage pulling the lever on some slot machine-like device with the faces of a dozen or so players where the sevens and cherries would be if this machine was in a Vegas casino instead of an office in Chicago.
Inconsistency aside though, Rodriguez seemed to keep reappearing. As did Amy LePeilbet, whose face started popping up regularly on Sundhage's little machine in 2009. But now, as the USWNT heads into its first camp under new head coach Tom Sermanni, Amys LePeilbet and Rodriguez will both be absent. Rodriguez is pregnant with her first child, while LePeilbet has a torn ACL. But with Rodriguez slowly sliding down the striker depth chart and LePeilbet part of a defensive corps whose numbers continue to grow; will the USWNT really miss them?
Well, as for Amy Rodriguez - probably not. Rodriguez never quite lived up to her billing, netting just 26 goals in 102 appearances. A regular starter under Sundhage, Rodriguez frequently used her speed to get into dangerous positions, but often had trouble converting anything but field goals. And at first, Rodriguez' job never seemed to be under any kind of threat during the Sundhage era. Sundhage was notoriously steadfast in her lineups and camp rosters - keeping the USWNT striker pool dangerously shallow for much of her time at the helm. But then came Alex Morgan, and as much as Sundhage tried to ignore the rise of the one they call Baby Horse, Morgan couldn't be ignored forever. For as long as Sundhage kept her as "super-sub," Morgan kept proving that Alex Morgan Time needed to be longer than those final 15 minutes. Rodriguez meanwhile, spent her time frustrating, grabbing a few goofy rebounds and goals from inside the six. Eventually, it had to happen. Morgan took her place alongside Wambach in the XI; Rodriguez became the second half sub. But A-Rod continued to fade away. After Morgan came Sydney Leroux, and now there is no more Pia.
Now there is Tom Sermanni, a guy who made a name for himself as the head coach of the Australia WNT, and has a reputation for giving younger players a shot on the full team. Sermanni's first camp roster, perhaps not surprisingly, gives a nod to that mentality, but still relies heavily on the names Sundhage made us remember. The forwards on Sermanni's list for Jacksonville aren't all that surprising; Leroux, Morgan, Wambach, and the still unproven Christen Press. With Rodriguez now absent, Sermanni has added recent first pick in the NWSL draft Zakiya Bywaters to the camp. And that's the problem for A-Rod. Rodriguez was already sliding down the depth chart before Sermanni, her starting spot rightfully claimed by Morgan, Morgan's super-sub role claimed by Leroux. Now there is Press, Bywaters, Sermanni's penchant for youth. By the time Rodriguez is ready to come back (she's reportedly due in August) she may have already been left behind.
The answer on LePeilbet on the other hand, is more complicated. Where Rodriguez is a forward who often couldn't score goals while playing at the position of forward, LePeilbet is a center back who often couldn't defend while playing the position of outside back. Despite earning her first cap in 2004, LePeilbet didn't become a regular until late 2009. LePeilbet had impressed Sundhage with her play for WPS's Boston Breakers and with Christie Rampone injured and then on maternity leave at the end of 2009, LePeilbet was the obvious choice. She slotted in seamlessly alongside Rachel Buehler in the center of the defense, but when Rampone returned to the starting lineup in October of 2010, Sundhage got the magic slot machine, and things got complicated.
Sundhage was determined to keep Rampone, Buehler and LePeilbet, all center backs, in the starting eleven. And so the grand experiment of Buehler or LePeilbet at outside back began. When Becky Sauerbrunn got added to the mix, well, then things got really complicated. Injuries, retirements, club commitments and players falling out of favor allowed Sundhage to keep the experiment going. And it never quite worked out for LePeilbet. A two-time WPS Defender of the Year winner, LePeilbet was one of the game's best and most consistent center backs. But on the outside? LePeilbet never quite looked comfortable. Fish out of water, left to flounder, other marine animal metaphors.
So will the USWNT miss LePeilbet? Right now, probably not. Sure, with 84 caps LePeilbet is something of a veteran presence, but she and Buehler sort of made each other excess parts. Rampone's still around after 276 caps and Buehler and her 98 appearances is a more than fine option alongside the longtime captain. Ali Krieger is in her first camp since an ACL injury of her own a year ago. Sauerbrunn turned down the Unshakeable Consistency sleeves, but she's wearing the Unshakeable Consistency hat, and it fits like a glove. Converted outside back Kelley O'Hara is slowly shedding whatever marine animal metaphors she brought to the position, Heather Mitts took back that whole thing about retiring, and Sermanni has added Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston and Crystal Dunn to the list of usual suspects for the Jacksonville camp.
The question is whether LePeilbet, like Rodriguez, will get left behind when she's ready to come back. Where Rodriguez' contribution was easy to assess in numbers - and yes, there are other factors, but Morgan and Leroux have proven their worth here too, often pulling defenders away from Wambach or vice-versa - LePeilbet's contributions can't be calculated in quite the same way. Sure, there are goals against and shots allowed, but it's a less tangible thing than a forward who either scores goals or doesn't. Much of what LePeilbet's future will be depends on Rampone, who's 37 and still two years away from the next major tournament, and of course, on Sermanni, and just how much youth he's willing to bring in.