The Summer Olympics has featured women's soccer five times, and the USA has won four gold medals, only losing in 2000 on a golden goal to Norway. A year after they won the Women's World Cup in Canada,
Jill Ellis' gals are favored to take home another gold medal. Here are three reasons why they'll win.
1. Great depth and versatility.
With 18 players on
Olympic rosters -- both men and women -- compared to 23 players at World Cups, coaches must put a premium on versatility. Suspensions and non-serious injuries leave teams with very short benches and
coaches must have players available to play multiple positions.
U.S. group-stage schedule: Aug. 3: New Zealand, in Belo
Horizonte, 6 p.m. ET, NBCSN, Soccer Specialty Channel, NBC Universo Aug. 6: France, in Belo Horizonte, 4 p.m. ET NBCSN & Soccer Specialty Channel Aug. 9: Colombia, in
Manaus, 6 p.m. ET, NBCSN, Soccer Specialty Channel, NBC Universo
Even with the retirements of Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday, among others, and Amy Rodriguez and
Sydney Leroux Dwyer on maternity leave, Ellis has the deepest team a U.S. coach has ever assembled.
That depth has been tested this year as Megan Rapinoe (since December)
and Carli Lloyd (April-July) have been sidelined by knee injuries and Tobin Heath and Morgan Brian bothered by minor hamstring injures.
That's all four starting
midfielders returning from the Women's World Cup. (Holiday, the fifth starter, retired.) Any other team would be reeling, but Lindsey Horan and Allie Long have stepped in and made big
contributions in central midfield. Brian is healthy again, which means Horan and Long, teammates on the Portland Thorns, are likely fighting for a starting job in their first trip to a major
How and where Ellis uses Rapinoe, the USA's best taker of set pieces, remains to be seen. Rapinoe will likely not be a factor in the tournament until the third group game
2. Pugh polls well with her coach.
child for change on the national team is UCLA-bound Mal Pugh, the youngest of the 11 Olympic debutants at 18 but already a likely starter after just seven months on the national team. She leads
the USA in assists this year with seven and earned the respect of her coach for her smooth transition on and off the field.
“She does’t get rattled, she's very competitive,
always has a big smile on her face," says Ellis. "She’s having fun. She’s enjoying it. So I think for her, I think probably if you were to ask her I think the hardest part of this was
probably January, where she came in, didn’t know people, socially it was very different in terms of other players in there. She just didn’t know any of them. I think she’s settled
in. I think her performances on the field and on the training ground have earned the respect of her peers, her teammates, and now she’s just one of the players on the team and players give her a
hard time, but that’s a good thing because they give everyone a hard time, so they don’t treat her any differently."
3. Defense remains old reliable.
Hope Solo returns for her third Olympics, but she played behind entirely different back fours four years ago at the London Olympics (Kelly O'Hara, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler and
Kelley O’Hara) and at the 2015 Women's World Cup (Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston andMeghan Klingenberg).
In Brazil, the USA will have
its most experienced defense ever with O'Hara back in the starting lineup in place of Krieger at right back but otherwise unchanged from a year ago. The defense kept the USA in the Women's World Cup
long enough for Lloyd and the rest of the attack to catch fire late in last's World Cup, and it has been outstanding all year with 13 shutouts in 15 games as the USA is 14-0-1 in 2016.