Despite losing 3-0 to Germany in the group stage, the U.S. under-20 women’s national soccer team, featuring Blue Devils Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb, advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
After finishing second in Group D, the U.S. will play North Korea in the knockout stage at Komaba Stadium in Saitama, Japan Aug. 31.
“At this stage, everything starts over,” Pathman said. “It doesn’t matter how we got here. It’s how we learn the lessons along the way. And I think we have [learned].”
Playing at Hiroshima Big Arch, the U.S. started the tournament with a decisive 4-0 victory against Ghana Aug. 20 and then tied China 1-1 Aug. 23. The team then lost to defending champion and unbeaten Germany 3-0 Aug. 27 at Miyagi Stadium in Rifu, but because the U.S. won the goal-differential tiebreaker over China, the Americans secured their spot in the quarterfinals.
“Looking at our past three games, we’re really happy with the challenges that they brought,” Pathman said. “Every team was different, and from each game we learned a lot. And I think this will help us going forward in the tournament. We saw teams [from three different continents] and they all have very different styles.”
By finishing second in its group, the U.S. earned a matchup with North Korea, the only team other than Germany that remains undefeated.
The North Koreans breezed through Group C, defeating Norway, Argentina and Canada. Additionally, it posted a tournament-high plus-12 goal differential, led by seven scores from Kim Un Hwa. In the match against Argentina, Kim notched five goals to spur a 9-0 win.
For the Americans, both Duke players could play a key role in a potential upset, after they earned considerable playing time in the group stage. Cobb earned her first start at center forward against the Chinese, and Pathman has played all 270 minutes of the tournament so far.
“Playing with Mollie’s amazing,” Cobb said. “It’s a little different because I’m used to her playing left forward at Duke, and now she’s playing left back, but she… plays the full 90 minutes. She’s solid, in and out, goes after every ball and blocks the crosses.”
In addition to playing with the best youth teams in the world, Cobb and Pathman have had the opportunity to explore the country, having matches in three different cities so far.
“It’s been an amazing cultural experience,” Cobb said. “We’ve been to a lot of memorial sites like the Peace Dome in Hiroshima [and] the Tsunami memorial here.”
Meanwhile, Duke has opened its season without the two forwards, jumping out to a 2-1 record. Pathman and Cobb, however, have been keeping close tabs on their teammates via Skype and GoDuke.com, Pathman said.
“We miss our teammates,” Cobb said. “We miss the atmosphere. We miss playing alongside them, but they’re obviously doing amazingly and having a great start to the season… and I know that they’re supporting us over here.”
And when they return to Duke, Cobb and Pathman will have the wisdom of international competition to share with their Blue Devil teammates.
“Soccer-wise it is a great experience to be able to play against the top teams in the world, and every team has a different style so you get to learn a lot,” Pathman said. “It’s kind of like a crash course in soccer right now, and it’s a great experience.”