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Hucles the Hero

To put into perspective Angles Hucles’ performance in the 2008 Olympics, consider these statistical nuggets:

  • Heading into 2008, Hucles had scored exactly five goals in 70 career caps (just 27 starts) and had not scored since 2004.
  • In 2008, she has seven goals, including a team-leading four in the Olympics where has started all five games.
  • She had played in 18 matches heading into the Olympics – all in the midfield – and had started exactly one.

But when Abby Wambach went down with a broken leg 30 minutes into the USA’s last Olympic warm-up match, Hucles was called upon to step up.

It was quite a LARGE step.

Playing as a withdrawn forward behind the speedy Amy Rodriguez, Hucles has filled a valuable role linking the midfield with the forward line while finding pockets to receive the ball in front of defenses. She has been able to turn and run at the back line, play the center midfielders or spray balls to the wings. That ability has helped the U.S. attack move forward, leading to all sorts of scoring chances for her and her teammates.

“Angela Hucles is a fantastic story,” said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage, who actually traded Hucles from the Boston Breakers to the San Diego Spirit after the final WUSA season in 2003. When Sundhage took over as U.S. coach, she saw a Hucles who was fitter. faster and better able to play the style of soccer she desired. “She has been one of the most important players in this team.”

You can call it the experience of veteran player coming through. You can call it preparation meets opportunity.You can call it the right player at the right time or the right fit for the right style. Whatever you call it, call it a heck of a performance so far.

“Coming from playing in the midfield and now playing up top, I’m still playing almost directly with Shannon (Boxx) and Carli (Lloyd), so we’ve been used to playing together and it’s not as big of an adjustment,” said Hucles. “Just playing over the years with this team and having that chemistry both on and off the field has helped me personally. When there’s an adjustment like that, it really comes down to the chemistry which has helped us be successful.”

It’s not like forward is a foreign land to Hucles. It was her college position, where she is the University of Virginia’s all-time leading scorer, and also played up top for the U.S. Under-21’s. But when she broke onto the full women’s team in 2002 it was loaded with forwards, thus she moved to the midfield.

“It’s been a few years since I play forward and I haven’t been in this position where I’ve been able to shoot this much and have these kind of scoring opportunities,” said Hucles. “But overall, I’m happy whenever I get to play. Being part of the Olympics is a huge thing, much less being able to play in an Olympic final match. I love being able to score goals if that’s what’s asked of me and any way I can contribute I’m happy to do that.”
While her move from midfield to forward is impressive, her transition from the bench to the starting eleven has necessitated the most change in her outlook.

“I’ve been pretty much a substitute this entire year,” said Hucles. “My role has changed a bit with this Olympics. I think being a bench player is one of the hardest positions on this team. When you’re on the bench, you’re still playing in the game, you’re having the emotional drain, cheering, supporting your teammates, and you don’t get that physical relief that players on the field do. The substitutes don’t get enough credit a lot of time, or are overlooked.”

After Hucles scored her second goal against Japan, she ran to sidelines to celebrate with the substitutes, sharing the moment with her bench brethren.

Score one - actually two - for the reserves.