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Women's World Cup Run Inspires B-N Soccer Players

Lana Esparza, Natalie Bierbaum, and Kylie Stanton
Lana Esparza, Natalie Bierbaum, and Kylie Stanton, all 11-year-old teammates on the Illinois Fire Juniors U12 soccer team in Bloomington.

The whole country will be watching Sunday when the U.S. women face Netherlands in the World Cup final. That includes 11-year-olds Lana Esparza, Natalie Bierbaum, and Kylie Stanton, all teammates on the Illinois Fire Juniors U12 soccer team in Bloomington.

The young soccer players have been watching the U.S. team’s championship run and think they’ll pull out the win Sunday.

“I think it’s awesome and it’s inspiring because we could be one of those players one day,” said Bierbaum, from Heyworth, who usually plays goalie for her team.

As a goalie, Bierbaum’s favorite moment of the tournament was U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher’s game-saving penalty kick save against England.

For Esparza and Stanton, it was Alex Morgan’s five goals against Thailand in the 13-0 opening-game blowout.

“She played really hard and just went out there and got it all,” Esparza said.

The Illinois Fire Juniors players say they love the U.S. team’s swagger, including the 13-0 rout of Thailand and Morgan’s teacup-trolling celebration after scoring on England. (Two of them were wearing Morgan jerseys during Friday’s interview at WGLT studios.)

“It boosted their confidence for all the other games,” Stanton said of the Thailand game.

The U.S. has now made it to the finals of the last three Women's World Cups. But it's never won back-to-back titles.

Why is the U.S. team so good this year? Stanton says they’re good at passing, spacing, and communication. Esparza says they’re looking for those easy through-balls that can catch their opponent’s defense off-guard, leading to breakaways.

The final against Netherland is Sunday in Lyon, France.

“It’s gonna be a good game. It’s gonna be close,” Esparza said.

“I feel like if they play their best, they can win,” Stanton added.

Esparza, Bierbaum, and Stanton and their U12 teammates will soon be seeing some international competition themselves. Later this month they'll compete in the USA Cup in Minnesota, which features teams from 20 different countries.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.