The ticker tape parade — the first for a women’s sports team — was to celebrate winning the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The USWNT defeated Japan 5-2 to be named the world’s best. One year on, the United States embarks on yet another high-pressure international tournament — the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Stars and Stripes have brought home gold the past three Olympics and begin their quest for a four-peat against New Zealand in Belo Horizonte on August 3, two days before the Opening Ceremony. Gold in Rio would be their fourth straight, with Team USA becoming the first country to win a World Cup and Olympic gold in consecutive years.
“I don’t think anything compares to the expectations we have for one another,” co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn told ussoccer.com. “We know how difficult it will be to be back-to-back winners. That pressure drives us. We always look for that next challenge because we constantly want to achieve that next level of greatness. People expect us to win, we know what it actually takes to win and that comes with a different level of accountability and sacrifice.”
The US has medaled in each of the five Olympics it has participated in; winning gold in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. The team earned silver in 2000, a year after winning the 1999 World Cup on home soil.
The USWNT is 24-3-2 in 29 matches in the Olympics, while outscoring opponents 58-23.
Despite past success, the team is focused on the present and future. Coach Jill Ellis’s roster selection is certainly indicative of that.
Out of the 18 players chosen for Rio, 11 will be competing in the Olympics for the first time: goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher; defenders Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger; midfielders Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan and Allie Long; and forwards Crystal Dunn, Christen Press and Mallory Pugh.
“Certainly going into the World Cup we recognized we had more of a senior roster,” Ellis told ussoccer.com. “Now, it’s not just having your eye on the Olympics this summer, it’s having your eye on what’s beyond that. Getting younger players experience in this world event will help down the line. I think that’s part of what you have to do in this position is always plan to continue winning world championships.”
Despite the majority of the roster being Olympics rookies, the USWNT boast a veteran presence in goalie Hope Solo, midfielders Carli Lloyd (co-captain), Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, and forward Alex Morgan.
Lloyd, Solo and Heath will each play in their third Olympics; only Christie Rampone has played in more (4). Solo has 100 clean sheets in 198 international caps. Lloyd, who scored three goals in the World Cup Final, has the sixth most goals in US women’s soccer history.
After their opening Group G game against New Zealand, Team USA remain in Belo Horizonte to play France on August 6 before concluding group play against Colombia in Manaus on August 9.