5 Things to Know About the U.S. Women's Soccer Team at the Rio Olympics
Here's everything you need to know about the U.S. women's soccer team as they compete for gold at the Rio Olympics
With three World Cup championships and four Olympic gold-medal wins under their belts, the U.S. women could make history again, becoming the first country ever to win Olympic gold while holding the title of world champions, which the U.S. claimed by winning the 2015 World Cup.
Looking for a crash course in U.S. women’s soccer now that play is underway? We’ve got you covered. Here are five things to keep in mind:
1. Fans May Boo Goalie Hope Solo, But She’s Used to Hard Times
Controversial and talented goalkeeper Solo, 35, inflamed raw Brazilian nerves when she threatened to skip the Olympics due to the Zika virus, and then declared she would play only “begrudgingly,” and stay in her hotel when not at practice or games.
The local crowds are giving her an earful. They booed or chanted “Zika!” whenever she touched the ball in the opening match. But Solo – who has a world record 100 shutouts and is widely regarded as the world’s best female goalkeeper – is no stranger to public trouble. Her run-ins with the law include alleged substance abuse and domestic violence against her half-sister in 2014. But her coach and teammates stand by her, and Solo has a remarkable ability to thrive under pressure and focus on keeping the ball out of her net.
2. Key Veterans Are Still at the Helm
All eyes will be on Carli Lloyd, the 34-year-old co-captain and New Jersey native, who has experienced many ups and downs in her long career. The highs have been spectacular and memorable, as Lloyd delivered the winning strikes in the gold-medal matches in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, as well as the jaw-dropping three goals in the opening 16 minutes of last year’s World Cup final.
Her teammates hope that her golden boot can work its magic again, as it did in the opening half of play against New Zealand, when she struck the first goal in Rio for the U.S. The team will also rely on prolific Alex Morgan, the striker at the height of her powers who is the natural successor to retired legend Mia Hamm. Morgan is also part of the team’s secret yoga crew.
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3. Megan Rapinoe Is Back From Injury and Could Make a Crucial Difference
The U.S. relies on the creativity of 31-year-old winger Megan Rapinoe to stretch opposing defenses, and when she tore an ACL last year many thought she would miss the Olympics. The California native, who helped the U.S. win gold in the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 World Cup, made a remarkable comeback with the support of trainers and her fiancée, recording artist Sera Cahoone. The common wisdom is that Coach Jill Ellis will save her for the biggest moments of the tournament, when her flair and speed will be an essential part of the U.S. attack.
4. A New Generation Will Rise
Some well-known women who lifted the World Cup last year are retired or otherwise not on the Olympics roster, including Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Holiday and Christie Rampone. Their absences mean Coach Ellis is turning to fresher talent. Expect a few stars to be born among the likes of deft and crowd-pleasing Crystal Dunn, midfielders Morgan Brian, 23, and Lindsey Horan, 22, and 18-year-old Mallory Pugh, the youngest player on the U.S. team.
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5. The Defense Is a Formidable ‘Wall’
The defending duo of co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston are so hard to beat that many U.S. opponents leave the field without getting more than a sniff at goal. (Just ask New Zealand.) Sauerbrunn, the 31-year-old St. Louis native and co-captain, and Olympics debutante Johnston, 24, known to fans of her club team as “The Brick Wall” for imposing her will on opposing attackers, are supported by stalwarts Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara. If the back line holds as it has in previous competitions, the U.S. women will be in a good position to make it to the gold-medal match.