U.S. Women Begin Olympic Quest
U.S. Women Begin Olympic Quest avatar

With a third consecutive Gold Medal on its collective mind, the U.S. Women’s National Team begin Olympic Qualifiers Wednesday night at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas against the Ticas of Costa Rica.

Ellis will be looking to lead her team t another gold medal.  (IS Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

Ellis will be looking to lead her team t another gold medal. (IS Photos/Jose L. Argueta)

History is there for the making for this group and anything less than an Olympic berth would be not only shocking but humiliating for coach Jill Ellis and her charges.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers. The U.S. WNT enter the CONCACAF Championships/Olympic Qualifiers having won this event on three consecutive occasions without ever having lost a game. The Americans have also returned from three straight Olympic Games with Gold Medals dangling from their necks and have won the Olympic tournament four times in total.

And, of course, the World Cup Champs are attempting to become the first team to win the World Cup and Olympic Gold in consecutive years, all this and the CONCACAF tournament is being played on home soil for the Yanks.

Wambach last game for the U.S.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Wambach last game for the U.S.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Opponents and the upset-minded can point to China’s win over the U.S. on December 16 in New Orleans in the final game of the “Victory” Tour, a game that more significantly also served as the legendary Abby Wambach’s swansong. China defeated the Americans 1-0 that night at the Superdome to end a U.S. unbeaten streak of 104 games over 11 years at home. So, it can be done.

Perhaps a bigger threat to continued U.S. WNT hegemony in the region is the recent lawsuit filed by U.S. Soccer against the very players who will be expected to dominate this event and advance to Rio.

Lloyd was recently voted FIFA player of the year. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd was recently voted FIFA player of the year. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The dispute shouldn’t be enough to derail the favorites but just two nations will qualify for the Summer Games from this event so it will be up to team leaders like new captain’s Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn to see that this somewhat transitional group maintains focus beginning tomorrow night against Costa Rica.

Ellis used the Victory Tour to integrate new members into the squad but it should not be overlooked that 10 players from the World Cup-winning squad are not with this team. Stars like Wambach and Lauren Holiday have retired, Megan Rapinoe is recovering from a serious knee injury and Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are both pregnant and will be unavailable.

Seven newcomers include NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan the former Paris Saint-Germain striker, and new Portland Thorns signing, who will be expected to fill a crucial role as Holiday’s replacement as a central, defense first midfielder.

Dunn has continued to shine for the women's team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Dunn has continued to shine for the women’s team. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Both Dunn and Horan exemplify the versatile makeup of this group as explained to U.S. Soccer.com by coach Ellis. “With only 17 field players allowed on the roster, and minimal time in between matches, I think we have one of the most versatile rosters ever for a qualifying tournament,” Ellis said. “Most of the field players are capable of playing at least two positions and as CONCACAF competitions generally present teams that will sit low and get numbers behind the ball, it is important to have players that can individually and collectively break teams down to create chances.”

Assuming good health and allowing for squad some rotation Ellis’s first choice 11 should look something like this.

Hope Solo
Ali Krieger, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg.
Crystal Dunn, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath.
Carli Lloyd.
Alex Morgan.

Ellis could opt for a little more offense from the right back spot and start Kelley O’Hara over Krieger, I would, and the formation could be a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 or a true 4-4-2 with Lloyd alongside Morgan, but this is the 11 I expect to see.

*U.S. WNT 2016 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Schedule (all times CT):

Feb. 10

USA vs. Costa Rica

7:30 p.m. | NBC Live Extra

Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas

Feb. 13

USA vs. Mexico

3 p.m. | NBC Live Extra

8:30 p.m. Replay | NBCSN

Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas

Feb. 15

USA vs. Puerto Rico

7:30 p.m. | NBCSN & NBC Live Extra

Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas

Should the U.S. WNT advance to the semifinal match on Feb. 19 in Houston, the match will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. CT. The tournament’s two semifinal winners will advance to this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio. The tournament final on Feb. 21 will be streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra at 4 p.m. CT with a replay to follow on television at 10 p.m. CT on NBCSN.

Additionally, all 15 matches will be streamed with Spanish language commentary on NBC En Vivo Extra with the USA’s Group A game against Mexico, both semifinals and the tournament final broadcast on NBC Universo.

For updates throughout the tournament as well as in-game coverage, follow the U.S. Women’s National Team on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @ussoccer_wnt, @ussoccer_esp and Snapchat (ussoccer_wnt).

*All scheduling information via USSoccer.com

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (7): Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (5): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash)

FORWARDS (5): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)

About Peter Nolan

Peter Nolan is a staff writer for the GotSoccer Magazine, covering MLS and other US leagues, He's GotSoccer's chief National Team Correspondent.
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