A team in transition: Republic of Ireland comes to Portland to face USWNT

Ireland Women's National Team features five players born in the US

Aine O'Gorman, Ireland WNT

Photo Credit: 
(Getty Images)

DUBLIN, Ireland. – The Portland Timbers may be enjoying some vacation time, but there is one more big game still to be played in JELD-WEN Field on November 28.

The USWNT roll into the Rose City to take on the Republic of Ireland Senior Women’s on November 28 as part of their USA Women’s Fans Tribute Tour (7pm PT, FOX Soccer), which follows on from their summer heroics at the Olympic Games.

You may know a lot of the US superstars, but what about their opponents? Here is a breakdown to Sue Ronan’s 18-player squad taking on the US in Portland and then again in Arizona on December 1.

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Who are they?
Listed as 34th best team in the FIFA World Rankings, Ireland have yet to qualify for any major tournament since playing their first international game in 1973, but have made great strides in recent years.

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The foundations originally put in place by Mick Cooke were built on by Noel King before he passed the baton over to current head coach Sue Ronan in 2010. She has done some excellent work since then in recruiting new players and defining a style of play.

While results have not always gone their way in recent years, this is an Irish team in transition. However, they are showing signs of improvement and they will be hoping to earn qualification for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be staged in Canada.

For this two-game tour to the US, Ronan hopes to see her players rise to the challenge of competing with the best team in women’s soccer and she believes it will be a vital experience in their development.

"It is a chance to look at new players, to get more experience for the players – and there is no better way than to play against the best team in the world – and to get the group together again," said Ronan.

"The experience of this tour will be huge for the players. For them, playing in front of a massive crowd in a game that will be live on TV and against the Olympic champions is a massive opportunity."

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Key Players

Emma Byrne (Arsenal)
The most experienced player in the Ireland squad, this Kildare native is widely seen as one of the best goalkeepers in the women’s game. She started off with Dublin club St Patrick’s Athletic then moved Denmark with Fortuna Hjorring before joining English side Arsenal in 2000, where she has won all of the major club trophies. She is bound to be a thorn in the side of the US attackers.

Louise Quinn (Peamount United)
A natural-born leader, Quinn guided Peamount to glory in the inaugural season of the Women’s National League in Ireland and has established herself as a regular in this Irish team. Strong in the air, tough in the tackle and crisp with her passing, the 22-year-old can play at centre-back or in central midfield. Few players can compete with her strength, but she is also composed on the ball.

Aine O’Gorman (Doncaster Belles)
Whether she is playing as a winger or a striker, you can be sure that O’Gorman (above) is wreaking havoc and pushing opposition players onto the back foot. She previously made her name in Ireland with Peamount, but is now standing out in England, where her reputation as a clinical finisher has made her one of the Women’s Super League’s most recognisable faces.

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Do any play in Europe’s big leagues?
Women’s soccer is growing rapidly in Europe with England, Germany and Scandinavia particularly thriving, while Ireland are catching up with the new Women’s National League, which is in the middle of its second season.

Five Irish players ply their trade in England with Arsenal (Emma Byrne, Yvonne Tracy, Niamh Fahey), Chelsea (Sophie Perry) and Doncaster Belles (Aine O’Gorman), while Ruesha Littlejohn plays for Glasgow City in Scotland.

In Norway, Meabh de Burca and Shannon Smyth are regulars for Amazon Grimstad FK, Diane Caldwell plays for Avaldsnes IL and Fiona O’Sullivan stars for SC Frieburg in Germany. The other squad members all play in Ireland for either Peamount United, Raheny United or Cork Women’s.

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Is there a US connection?
With an estimated 35 million people with Irish heritage living in the US, it is hardly surprising that a few have made their way into the Ireland national team. In the current squad, there are five players who were born in the US – Eve Badana, Mary Therese McDonnell, Shannon McDonnell. Fiona O’Sullivan and Shannon Smyth.

Both McDonnell sisters play for Chicago Red Stars in the WPSL Elite League, while goalkeeper Badana is part of the Drexel College team in Philadelphia, but strikers O’Sullivan and Smyth are tied to clubs in Germany and Norway respectively.

The US connection is also strong with players who have previously lined out for US college or club teams, like Meabh de Burca (Boston Aztec), Julie-Ann Russell (LA Strikers) and Diane Caldwell (Hudson County Quickstrike Lady Blues).

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Haven’t we seen these team before?
If you saw the US team tour the US back in 2008, you may be familiar with some of the names on this Irish roster as six were involved back then – Emma Byrne, Yvonne Tracy, Meabh de Burca, Mary Therese McDonnell, Niamh Fahey and Aine O’Gorman.

Also involved in that tour, which saw them visit Philadelphia and New Jersey, was Katie Taylor. The Bray native has since given up playing soccer to take up boxing, where she won a gold medal at the London Olympics.

Gareth Maher writes for the Irish Daily Mail on both domestic and international football.