Olympics Preview: USA

Impetus’ North American women’s football expert Catherine Paquette details the United States (pictured above by USA Soccer), who are one of the red hot favourites to take the gold medal in Tokyo.

Squad News: 

The final US Olympic roster was largely unsurprising.  Nearly all players brought to Tokyo were those who had seen the most game time in the 2021 build-up.  The exclusion of Margaret Purce and Andi Sullivan did stir debate, due to their recent form, as did the inclusion of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz, due to their recent injuries.  

Since the squad was announced in June, Tobin Heath has returned to play against Mexico and showed that she is back to full health.  In the latest team pictures though Julie Ertz still had a knee brace on.  They, alongside the other twenty players on the team, are part of a squad made up of seasoned veterans with a few Olympic debutants.

Jane Campbell, Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, Casey Krueger, Catarina Macario, Emily Sonnett, Lynn Williams, Rose Lavelle, and sisters Kristie and Samantha Mewis will all be playing in their first Olympic Games.   However, more than half those debutants were part of the last Women’s World Cup team and therefore have major tournament experience. 

Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Christen Press will be at their second Games, although technically it is a third for Press if you consider the fact she travelled to the London Olympics as an alternate.  Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe will be at their third Olympics. Finally, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd will be attending their fourth Olympics. 

The team is on the older side, with an average age just a touch under thirty years of age.  In total they have two thousand one hundred and nineteen caps between them, with only Catarina Macario and goalkeepers Adrianna Franch and Jane Campbell having less than ten caps. At twenty-one years of age Macario is the youngest player in the team.

Eight players have over one hundred caps while Carli Lloyd has three-hundred and six caps and is the highest goal scorer on the team with one hundred and twenty six international goals.  At thirty-nine years of age she is the oldest player on the team.

Coach:

Vlatko Andonovski took over as head coach of the United States women’s national team after Jill Ellis stepped away from the position in October 2019.  Prior to his time in charge of the US, Andonovski had had a seven year NWSL head coaching career in which he won the NWSL Championship twice.

Since taking over as US manager his team has won twenty-two matches and had only one draw, which came against Sweden earlier this year. This is the best start record of any US women’s team head coach ever.

Olympic History:

The United States have participated in every Olympic women’s football tournament since it was introduced in 1996.  They won silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and gold at 1996 Atlanta, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing and the 2012 London Games.

The only games where the US did not medal was the most recent, the 2016 Rio Olympics.  They were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Sweden.  It was their worst major tournament result ever.

Above: The USA showing what they are capable of with a stunning team goal against Mexico.

Qualifying:

The Americans qualified for the Tokyo games through the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying championship held in February 2020.  The US, alongside Mexico and Canada, received automatic entry into the championship.

The eight team tournament started with a four team group stage phase.  The top two teams from each group then progressed to the semi-finals, with the first placed teams playing the second placed teams of the opposite group.  The winners of each semi-final were the CONCACAF’s entrants for the Tokyo Olympics.

The United States topped Group A, winning all their matches against Costa Rica, Haiti and Panama with an eighteen goal difference.  They then beat Mexico in the semi-final stage 4-0 to qualify for the Tokyo games.  

The Americans did not concede a single goal during the whole of the qualifying championship.

Strengths:

The Americans arguably have many strengths.  An important one is their squad depth.  There really is no change that Andonovsky could make from the starters to the bench that would result in a marked drop in performance of the team. They have twenty-two players who are each highly talented, experienced and capable of dealing with any opponents. 

Their physical fitness is also a strength.  The American program has always prized fitness as a key part of their game, playing a heavily physical and fast style of football.  While the team may be older than its Olympic counterparts, that will not affect the US’s ability to field players who can play ninety-minutes every three days. 

Development Areas: 

To find development areas in the US side is to nit-pick.  This is because the squad is very strong in nearly every position.  There have been issues raised about the possible speed of the outside backs, with the notable exception of Crystal Dunn, and whether they could be tripped up by some of the fast wingers they could face.  However, they are all experienced and have shown the capabilities of defending well out wide.

With Julie Ertz currently injured, the team has no other six.  While Lindsey Horan has played the position in recent games, she is better suited up the field. The American midfield should be able to deal with its opponents in the group stage, but they will hope that Ertz is back to full health should they meet a more technical team like the Netherlands or Japan later on.

Goalkeeping is also an area that could trip up the US.  Alyssa Naeher is expected to be the starter.  While she has at times been the best goalkeeper in the NWSL, she has shown that she can be prone to mistakes.  However, those have been less and less in recent years. This tournament could be the one where she finally silences her critics.

Key Players:

Captain Becky Sauerbrunn will continue her reign of calm, collected and controlled play in the back line. While there are players who could come on and replace her skill-wise at centre back, should she get injured or be subbed off, the leadership Sauerbrunn brings to the US side cannot be understated. 

The midfield duo of Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle are important for chance creation. Lavelle had an amazing 2019 Women’s World Cup, where she showed her skill to the world.  Horan could equally do this alongside her in midfield at these Tokyo games. 

The American forward line-up is frightening, if you are an opposition. Christen Press, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe have been in incredible shape this year for both club and country. Even an older Carli Lloyd and a returned injured Tobin Heath have shown how deadly they still are.  When the ball makes it up front, opposition defenders will have a lot to contend with.

One to watch:

Above: Sam Mewis scoring from the spot for the USA against Sweden recently. Photo: The Guardian

Samantha Mewis has had a terrific FAWSL season with Manchester City. The 2020 US Soccer female player of the year continued this form upon her return to America with the North Carolina Courage.

While Mewis does not get on the scoreboard as often as some of her more famous American teammates, she has been vital to the transition and offensive development capabilities of the US for a few years now.  The Tokyo Olympics have the capacity of highlighting this in the same way the 2019 Women’s World Cup highlighted her former Manchester City teammate Rose Lavelle’s skill and vision. 

If you want to see where the US’s goals end, watch the strikers.  If you want to see where the US’s goals begin, watch Samantha Mewis.

Prediction:

The United States is in the so-called group of death.  While they should beat the Kiwis, and a victory against the recently out of form Australians is easily within their reach, Sweden will not be an easy game for them. The Swedes are the only team in the last eighteen months to hold the US to a draw.  Despite this, the US should be able to finish in the top two of their group and is arguably expected to top it.

As the 2016 Rio Olympics showed us, knock-out phases of tournaments can be unpredictable.  Still, it would be a second rare shock indeed should the Americans be eliminated again at this stage.

However, with the team the US has they should reach the podium, with gold being a goal they could realistically achieve.

Group Fixtures including KO times (local/UK):

DateMatchTime
Wed, July 21Sweden vs. USA9:30 BST
Sat, July 24New Zealand vs. USA12:30 am BST
Tues, July 27USA vs. Australia9 am BST

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