For the U.S. women's team the biggest difference between this year's World Cup and the two previous editions is simple: There's no six-month residency before the tournament. Because the WUSA season lasts through August, the American players won't train together until three weeks before their Sept. 21 Cup opener, meaning that nearly every other team in the field of 16 will have worked together longer than the defending champs.
Will those nations gain an edge in cohesiveness over the U.S.? Or will the weekly competition in the WUSA keep the Yanks sharper? While lauding the league's long-term benefits, U.S. coach April Heinrichs says, "The rest of the world is celebrating that we're not in residency. [It's] the best program ever' invented by the federation."