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Hucles Steps Up

QINHUANGDAO, China (August 1, 2008) - A veteran for the U.S. Women’s National Team, Angela Hucles has thrived under the direction of head coach Pia Sundhage. She is poised to play a key role in the 2008 Olympics, whatever that role may be.

Angela Hucles has always been the consummate team player. As a hard worker willing to play any role for the team, she understands the importance of having a player who can come off the bench to give the team just what it needs, just when it needs it. Even better for the U.S., she has been able to bring those qualities to several different positions.

This is the fourth consecutive world championship team that Hucles has made for the U.S. A nagging shin injury kept her on the bench during the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, she played in two matches for the Olympic gold medalists in Greece in 2004 and did not get on the field for the U.S. at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but this tournament could be different.

She has played in 18 of the USA’s 22 matches in 2008, coming off the bench in all but one, and this year has played an increasingly important role in the U.S. attack.

“I’ve grown over the years as a player, especially with the experience at playing a few different positions,” said Hucles, who heads into the Olympics with 88 caps. “But I think I’m very comfortable with Pia’s style of coaching. I like her possession-oriented philosophy and it definitely suits my style of play. I think the things I’ve picked up most from Pia are that she wants us to possess the ball, but also have the freedom to be creative. That has helped my confidence on the ball and off.”

Hucles has scored three dramatic goals for the U.S. in 2008, one coming at the Peace Queen Cup in South Korea where she was named MVP.

The first came in a wild 5-4 shootout with Australia on May 3 in Birmingham, Alabama. With the scored tied 4-4 in stoppage time of the second half, Hucles struck with a thunderous volley, running onto a flicked free kick from Abby Wambach to blast her game-winner into the net.

“I remember Cat (Whitehill) striking the ball and seeing that Abby was going to win it,” said Hucles. “Before Abby even won it, I started creeping in behind her and the defender to the back post. I yelled ‘one more, one more’ asking her to flick it, which was the only thing she could have done at that point. I was able to finish it off in the air. Everything happened in slo-mo, but I wasn’t really thinking about it at all.”

Hucles got the game-winner in the championship of the Peace Queen Cup in June in Suwon on what was a fortuitous and sort of wacky goal. The teams had battled to a 0-0 draw through 90 minutes when the U.S. got a free-kick about 40 yards from the net.

“I set the ball down and looked up and Lauren Cheney was wide open making a run to the near post,” said Hucles. “I was looking to play her in and I kept it low on the ground. Let’s just say she did a nice fake over the ball to allow it to go in. The intention was to play a quick ball and catch the Canadians off-guard, but the ball was slightly over-hit, caught the goalkeeper off-guard and slipped in.”

It was a strange goal for sure, but indicative of Hucles’ magical touch this year. She would score from even further out against Norway on July 2 in Fredrikstad, but this shot was premeditated.

“It happens every so often in a soccer game that the ball falls to your feet and the goalkeeper is way off her line,” said Hucles. “Always, your first inclination is to shoot, but usually you are so far away that you’re not sure if you should pull the trigger. That is exactly what happened to me. But then for some reason, my brain told my foot to shoot. My body had little to do with it. Luckily, I got a real good strike and she wasn’t able to get back quickly enough.”

As the U.S. heads into the Olympics having lost three players to injuries over the past few months, Hucles may have to provide cover in both the midfield and on the forward line. But true to the team-first philosophy espoused by Sundhage, Hucles is ready to play a part in a team success.

“I think it would be both an injustice and psychological detriment to think that anyone of us could replace Abby or the other players we’ve lost,” said Hucles. “We have to continue to play the way we have been playing, and each player has to continue to contribute her special talents. In the Olympics, we just have to take it up a few more notches. It’s important not to feel any more pressure because we don’t have certain players with us. We will continue to believe in each other and ourselves.”

For Hucles herself, the key is consistency.

“Wherever I’m playing, whenever I step on the field, I need to continue to do what I’ve been this year, whether its possess the ball, score goals, setting up my teammates, being vocal or playing defense,” said Hucles. “All of that needs to come each time we hit the field.”

The U.S. hits the field for the first time in the 2008 Olympics on Aug. 6 against Norway at Qinhuangdao Olympic Sports Center Stadium. Fans can tune in at 7:45 a.m. ET live on MSNBC, Universal HD and the NBC soccer channel.