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US women prepare for World Cup qualifying
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World Cup qualifying for the U.S. women’s team looks like an easy road.

But then again, it looked that way the last time, too.

The U.S. team has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the past five years going into the CONCACAF championship, an eight-team tournament with three spots in next year’s World Cup in Canada up for grabs.

Back in 2010 they were also the heavy favorites in qualifying until they got stunned by Mexico.

The 2-1 loss in Cancun in the semifinals ultimately forced the United States into a two-game playoff against Italy which the team won 2-0 on aggregate. At the World Cup in Germany the next year, the United States fell to Japan in the final on penalty kicks.

“We don’t want to take any chances like we did last time around,” forward Alex Morgan said. “We want to come out on top this qualification and be seeded well for the World Cup.”

The United States last won a World Cup in 1999.

For this year’s qualifying, the United States is in a group with Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and Guatemala. On the other side are Costa Rica, Jamaica, Martinique and Mexico.

The United States opens on Wednesday against Trinidad and Tobago in Kansas City, Kansas. They’ll face Guatemala two days later in Bridgeview, Illinois, before facing Haiti on Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C.

The semifinals will be played on Oct. 24, in Chester, Pennsylvania, with the final and third place match two days later.

The top three finishers from the tournament will win a spot among the expanded field of 24 teams headed to Canada next year for the World Cup. The fourth-place finisher will get a chance to make the field in a playoff game against a South American team later this year.

Canada has already secured its spot as the host nation. Martinique, which is not a FIFA member, cannot qualify for the World Cup and will not advance out of the group stage.

The U.S. roster includes Morgan, along with veterans Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, as well as midfielder Megan Rapinoe and University of Virginia midfielder Morgan Brian. There was one roster move on Tuesday when Crystal Dunn sprained ligaments in her right knee during training and was replaced for the tournament by fellow defender Julie Johnston.

Trinidad and Tobago, the United States’ opening opponent, drew attention last week when coach Randy Waldrum went to Twitter to say his team had arrived for training in Texas with only $500 and no equipment.

Waldrum’s posts went viral in the soccer community, and the website set up a PayPal account to gather donations. The site is still collecting, and the fund has reached over $14,000.

Haiti’s team also heard of Trinidad and Tobago’s predicament and decided to send just over $1,300 in donations from selling T-shirts to its opponent. It was Haiti’s entire fundraising account.

But soon after Haiti’s women voted to relinquish all of their money, the Clinton Foundation stepped in and offered to fund the team, not just for the CONCACAF tournament but for the long haul.

“I’ve had my faith restored in humanity,” Waldrum said.

Trinidad and Tobago won the Caribbean Cup to earn a spot in the CONCACAF championships. Known as the Soca Princesses, they’ve never qualified for a World Cup or an Olympics. Haiti, likewise, has never qualified.

In contrast, the talented United States is already primed for success next year in Canada. Any pressure will really come from within.

“You know what? We didn’t get it done the last time, in terms of going straight through our qualifying tournament,” Wambach said. “So, obviously that’s our No. 1 goal, we want to win every one of our games in qualifying. I think that if we put all of our pieces together and we play well, and we believe in each other, I think this team is capable of anything.”