Olympics: USWNT is heavy favorite, but gold is no sure thing

This is the seventh Olympic women's soccer competition, and never has the USA been a bigger favorite.

It has yet to lose a game under head coach Vlatko Andonovski -- 22-0-1 since his appointment in late 2019 -- and enters the Olympics with a 44-match unbeaten streak -- the second-longest in team history -- over a span of 30 months.

The women's field -- limited to 12 teams -- is without Germany, the 2016 gold-medalist, and France, which is the last team to beat the USA and holds two of the four victories over the USA since the last Olympics in 2016.

That's the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams in the world out of the Olympics because FIFA only takes three European teams and UEFA uses placements at the Women's World Cup to determine its three representatives. (Germany and France both lost in the quarterfinals in 2019.)

What can go wrong?

The USA went to Sydney in 2000 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 as reigning world champion and did not return home with the gold, so it is not a shoo-in. In 2000, the USA lost to Norway in the gold-medal game on a golden goal. Five years ago, it did not even win a medal, falling to Sweden in a shootout in the quarterfinals.



Even when the USA has won, it has been close.

All four gold-medal victories were one-goal games:

1996. China, 2-1.
2004. Brazil, 2-1 (OT)
2008. Brazil, 1-0 (OT)
2012. Japan, 2-1

And six of the 10 semifinals and finals the USA has played have gone to overtime:

1996. Norway (semifinals), 2-1 (OT)
2000. Norway (final), 2-3 (OT)
2004. Germany (semifinals), 2-1 (OT)
2004. Brazil  (final), 2-1 (OT)
2008. Brazil (final), 1-0 (OT)
2012. Canada (semifinals), 4-3 (OT)

The USA is not a young team -- 10 players on the original roster of 18 players are 30 years old or older -- and it has not played particularly in 2021. It was fortunate to earn a 1-1 tie with Sweden in the only blemish of the Andonovski era and has repeatedly been wasteful against sparring partners in the run-up to the Olympics.

The USA won't be a surprise to many of its opponents. Two teams are coached by former U.S. national team head coaches -- New Zealand (Tom Sermanni) and Brazil (Pia Sundhage) -- and two others are coached by former U.S. national team assistants -- Australia (Tony Gustavsson) and Team GB (Hege Riise).

Still, this is the USWNT we're talking about.

The major concern has been the status of two-time world champion starters Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz, who both suffered knee injuries in 2021, not severe enough to keep them off the Olympic team roster but bad enough that they had long layoffs.

Problem?

Heath returned to action with the national team after a layoff of seven months and scored in her first two games back. She will be battling for a starting spot on the frontline, where only Christian Press of the other four veterans has played consistently well in 2021.

The USA was so good in France two years ago that Lindsey Horan did not even get off the bench in the final against the Netherlands, but she has been the best U.S. player since being inserted in the No. 6 position Ertz plays following her injury at the start of the NWSL season.

The last-minute decision to expand rosters from 18 players and four alternates to 22 players -- 18 can still only dress each game -- will allow Andonovski to bring in players like Catarina Macario and Lynn Williams, both starters early in 2021 but initially selected as alternates, and rest some of his veteran attackers, if need be, during the brutal schedule (six games in 17 days).

4 comments about "Olympics: USWNT is heavy favorite, but gold is no sure thing".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 20, 2021 at 6:12 a.m.

    It has been a long wonderful ride from 1991 to 2021. Thank you and best wishes.

  2. Chance Hall, July 20, 2021 at 4 p.m.

    Still don't understand why pino is still on the team.  Too slow, too predictable.  Any of the four alternates should have been selected instead.  Regardless best of luck to the USA women!!!

  3. uffe gustafsson, July 20, 2021 at 6:15 p.m.

    Tonite is the first test.
    sweden and they want to put a brake on the US team.
    seem like in every tornament we get grouped together.
    but a 1.30 am game I can't stay up for so high lites it will be.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, July 20, 2021 at 9:15 p.m.

    It is being broadcast again later in the day.

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