Hope Solo and Alex Morgan have become stars in the 2011 Women's World Cup, but their path to widespread recognitions has been anything but the same. On one hand you have Solo, a long-time US Women's National Team keeper that's become a star, the face of the team in this year's World Cup. On the other, there's Morgan, a late-game attacking substitute that's the up-and-comer, the youngest of the bunch. But the two, who have local connections to Washington, share the same ability to make a significant impact on the game, and could be a key in Sunday's Women's World Cup Final.
Solo has been steady in net throughout the Women's World Cup, coming up big in moments of need. Of the five goals she's conceded, only one can be chalked up to keeper error. A wonder strike from Marta, two penalty kicks and a deflected free kick in back-to-back games -- the final group stage match and quarterfinals -- left Solo nearly powerless to make the save, but she quickly redeemed herself each time. It was Solo making the stop in a penalty shootout against Brazil to ensure a happy ending to an already amazing comeback story. And it was Solo stepping up in the semifinals, keeping the US in the game ahead of another batch of late heroics.
Morgan has been the late boost of energy for the American side, coming on in the second half and harassing defenses with speed and skill. Her fresh legs had yet to pay-off in the form of a goal for herself, however, until the semifinals. And it couldn't have come at a more perfect time. After working in more of a setup role, earning corners and sending in crosses, Morgan did it herself against France, springing free and finishing clinically by chipping the goalkeeper.
Judging by how the Women's World Cup has gone for the USA thus far, expect both Solo and Morgan to have an impact on the game. Solo will have to be in top-form as she battles Japan, a team that can score in bunches with skill and precision. And if it comes down to crunch time, as it has in both knockout round matchups, look for Morgan to be in the mix, forcing the tempo with pressure.
The USA and Japan take the field in Germany at 11:45 a.m. on ESPN and ESPN3.