A year ago, we didn’t quite trust that the U.S. Women’s National Team would do well in the Women’s World Cup. The USWNT were still a favorite but they were in a tough group and with teams like Germany and Japan right there with them, it was going to be the most competitive World Cup yet. Add that the United States weren’t their dominant selves and it brought a bit of uncertainty.
As we saw last year, the USWNT got through the group stage with two wins and a draw and dominated in the World Cup Final, beating Japan 5-2 to win their first World Cup since 1999.
Now, the USWNT enter the Rio Olympics to try and be the first team to win a World Cup as well as an Olympic gold medal in consecutive years. And, oh yeah, going for an unprecedented fifth gold medal. So the question remains, can anyone beat them?
It would appear like no one can. Not only is the USWNT the favorite to win, they also don’t have to worry about facing their Olympic and World Cup Final for a fourth consecutive time as Japan failed to qualify or facing World Cup semifinalist England because they cannot participate due to the IOC recognizing Great Britain instead of England.
So with those two teams out of the way before the Olympics even start, that should make things easier for gold but it a certainty. For one, the group stage should be a big test for the USWNT as they face New Zealand, France and Colombia. With up to three teams qualifying for the knockout stage, the USWNT should comfortably advance but this could take a lot out of an 18-woman squad as they end their group stage in the horrendously humid rain forest stadium in Manaus. The USWNT may arguably be the fittest team in the Olympics but even they will be tested in this weather.
The USWNT roster is almost completely similar to the World Cup roster last year. Due to the Olympic roster being trimmed from 23 to 18 women compared to the World Cup, that resulted in some changes. Abby Wambach retired and Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are pregnant so that accounted for three spots, but that didn’t mean Jill Ellis keep 18 World Cup stars for the Olympics. Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long and Mallory Pugh are all those heading to Brazil who weren’t on the team in Canada.
Likely contenders to unseat the USWNT for gold will include Brazil, Germany and France. Brazil, the hosts, will always be strong as they will be used to the intricacies of playing in their nation as well as their fans. Germany was in the World Cup semifinals last year and will look to avenge the fact they didn’t qualify for the 2012 Olympics. And France will have the distinction of facing the United States in the group stage. They are a tough team unafraid to matchup with the USWNT and with the experience of playing against them just a week before, they could fix the things needed to put up an upset if they meet in the knockout stage.
So, can anyone beat the USWNT at the Olympics? As we have learned in soccer, never say never. But the USWNT are the favorites for a reason and while they will have a far more difficult road than anyone may realize, they know that anything less than a gold medal will be a disappointment. Expect to see them on the top step of the podium in a few weeks.
(The soccer portion of the Olympics start Wednesday, two days before the Opening Ceremony. The USWNT face New Zealand Wednesday 8/3 at 6 PM ET, France Saturday 8/6 at 4 PM ET and Colombia Tuesday 8/9 at 6 PM ET. All USWNT games are on NBCSN)