The U.S. WNT won’t have an easy time of it this August in Rio de Janeiro when they look to make it a hat-trick of Olympic Gold Medals. The Americans will be challenged by a tough trio in the opening round where they are drawn against France, New Zealand, and Colombia in Group G.
Then again, even against a backdrop of player unrest the World Cup Champions are on a high right now having compiled an 11-0-0 record so far in 2016. Jill Ellis’s squad rolled through the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers with a minimum of fuss before emerging from the much more competitive SheBelieves Cup, where the host nation went undefeated against top international sides Germany, France, and England.
And just last week a Colombia team battling far worse economic issues than the U.S. was swept aside by a combined 10-0 score over two matches by a U.S. WNT that is operating at a very high level just now.
After backstopping the U.S. to a 7-0 win in the first game of that twin bill in Hartford, Connecticut last week, Hope Solo brought up one possible concern, “I don’t know if we are peaking a little bit too early for Brazil,” before conceding that, “we looked really good.”
The controversial keeper has also raised the issue of the Zika virus telling Sports Illustrated back in February, “If I had to make the choice today, I wouldn’t go.” The U.S. number has since changed course on the issue, on Thursday telling the same outlet, “it’s clear there are still so many unknowns and risks involved with going to the Games, but I will compete in Rio and take the necessary precautions to protect myself as best I can.”
And then there is the issue of relations between U.S. Soccer and the members of the Women’s National Team. As we know, the Federation has sued the players, in part because the players refused to waive their right to strike, and the players responded by filing a Wage Discrimination Action versus U.S. Soccer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
After winning in Hartford Solo struck a conciliatory note praising the team’s staff for its professionalism and noting that “at the end of the day, we all want to win when it comes down to Rio, we want to win a back to back World Cup, followed by an Olympic Gold. It’s never been done before,” Solo said, adding, “I think having that common goal just brings us all together.”
Less encouraging was this from team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, with Solo one of five signators of the team’s EEOC complaint. Speaking to former U.S. WNT great Julie Foudy, now working for ESPN, Sauerbrunn was asked about a possible Olympic boycott.
“It would still be on the table,” Sauerbrunn said. “We are reserving every right to do so and we’re leaving every avenue open. If nothing has changed and we don’t feel any progress has been made, then it’s a conversation that we’re going to have.”
Sauerbrunn’s comments were consistent with what the lock down defender told GotSoccer when she sat down with us for an exclusive interview in the team’s hotel lobby in Hartford one day prior to that April 6th dismantling of Colombia.
“We felt that U.S. Soccer wasn’t going to meet the compensation objectives that we set for ourselves,” the increasingly vocal Sauerbrunn said then, “and so the talks kind of stagnated and this we felt was the next logical step in order to fight for what we felt we were owed.”
The two sides clearly have work to do before August and so, we will wait to see how this all plays out, and if the U.S. WNT does indeed play in Rio, will these very serious outside issues affect a team that has been known for its laser-like focus in the face of past distractions.
Assuming the team does defend its 2008 and 2012 Olympic titles this summer, the Americans will be expected to advance from Group play, most likely with France. The top two teams in each group move on to the quarterfinals, as do the best two third place finishers, so even in a fairly tough group anything other than advancing would be a shock of historical proportions for the world’s number one team.
The other two groups in the 12 team tournament have their challenges as well, even in a tournament that is without 2012 finalists Japan and FIFA’s fourth-ranked team, England. Group E is led by host’s Brazil, sixth-ranked Sweden, coached by Pia Sundhage, who led the U.S. WNT to gold four years ago, and China, with only South Africa an easy touch. Germany, Australia, and Canada make Group F the most treacherous of the three groups with Zimbabwe bringing up the rear.
Below are the groups for the women and men’s tournaments at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
Women’s Olympic Draw
China PR (CHN)
South Africa (RSA)
New Zealand (NZL)
Men’s Olympic Draw
South Africa (RSA)
Korea Republic (KOR)