Jillian Loyden has gotten to see world-class soccer since she was a little girl. She watched the United States win the gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics in person.
The Vineland native followed the national team through the World Cup and every international competition since then. Now, Loyden gets a front-row seat.
The 25-year-old was one of 21 players named to the U.S. Women's World Cup team Monday.
"I never thought I would be here," Loyden said by phone from Columbus, Ohio. "It was a far-fetched dream. It didn't seem like this could be a reality, but I was given the chance and just ran with it."
Loyden has been part of the national team since February 2010. She has one international appearance, when she competed against China last October. For every international competition, U.S. soccer officials pick the team out of a pool of players.
Loyden is one of five New Jersey natives on the team that will go to Germany to compete in the World Cup. Midfielders Carli Lloyd (Delran), Heather O'Reilly (East Brunswick) and Tobin Heath (Basking Ridge) and defender Christie Rampone (Point Pleasant) are the others. Loyden is one of three goalies on the roster, along with Hope Solo and Nicole Barnhart. Solo has been her teammate for a number of years, even with the two of them bouncing around teams in the Women's Professional Soccer league. They are currently on the Florida-based magicJack.
"Learning from the best and training with the best every day will only make me get better," said Loyden, who recently came back from a broken hand that kept her sidelined for 12 weeks. "You pick up parts of their game to put in your game and not just from a soccer aspect. Hope has also helped me as a person. She's always rooting for me. It's nice to have that kind of support."
The U.S. National team finished a three-week training camp in Florida on Friday and is currently in Columbus, Ohio. It will compete in a Women's World Cup qualifier against Japan at Columbus Crew Stadium (6:30 p.m., FOX Soccer Channel) on Saturday and at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. (7 p.m., ESPN2) on May 18.
The U.S. team will play a World Cup send-off match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison (2 p.m., ESPN2) on June 5 before the players go on a break. The U.S. team will leave for Austria in mid-June for a pre-Women's World Cup training camp.
The U.S., which is in Group C with North Korea, Colombia and Sweden, opens its tournament June 28 in Dresden against Korea. The match will be live on ESPN at 11:45 a.m.
Loyden is one of the best players to come out of Vineland, where she was The Press Girls Soccer Player of the Year in 2002, and Villanova University, where she played in college. Loyden is the only player to be named the Big East Goalkeeper of the year for three straight seasons. She also holds Villanova's record with 48 wins, 37 shutouts and 7,542 minutes played.
Loyden competed in the Women's Professional Soccer league since graduating from Villanova in 2006, and has been teamed with one of the greatest goalkeepers in U.S. women's history.
"Everyone has high expectations," said U.S. Women's Soccer coach Pia Sundhage on a teleconference call Monday. "It was extremely hard to pick the 21. We have very diverse goalkeepers. Not only these three, but the fourth and fifth."
Twelve players, including Loyden, are making their World Cup debut. But this is the first U.S. Soccer team compiled of entirely professional players.
The coaches have evaluated the players for at least three years through training camps, international competition and WPS matches.
Sundhage said she looked for a balanced team with defense and offense and hopes to continue the success the team had in 2008, when it won the Olympic gold medal. She said she didn't necessarily pick the best 21 players but the 21 that complemented each other best.
"We need to continue to work on fitness and other things, so we sharpen up a little bit and make sure everyone is healthy," Sundhage said. "But the biggest thing for these days in front of us will be balancing how much we should work on defending and how much we work on the attack. If I look back in 2008, we did a great job in our preparation for the Olympics, and while it's important to give them a little bit of everything, we also must stick with the game plan as we move toward our group games."
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