The United States Women’s National Team return to action tomorrow night in Columbus against Thailand for the first time since bowing out of the Olympics this summer with the worst finish in a major competition in the history of U.S. Women’s Soccer.
The Americans had never before failed to advance to the Olympic Finals, winning Gold at every Olympiad since the introduction of the women’s game at the 1996 Atlanta Games, with the exception of a second place finish to Norway in 2000.
Coach Jill Ellis and her team traveled to Rio intent on becoming the first team to win gold the year after annexing the Women’s World Cup but with former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage at the helm Sweden eliminated the favored Americans on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. The Americans have never been knocked out of the World Cup before the semifinal round.
And while U.S. Soccer would like the focus to be on Heather O’Reilly on Wednesday night as she plays the final match of her international career, the always classy veteran figures to be upstaged by a player who isn’t in Columbus, goalkeeper Hope Solo.
As we all are well aware by now the ex U.S. goalkeeper was suspended for six months and had her contract with U.S. Soccer terminated after calling Sweden “a bunch of cowards” in the aftermath of that loss to Sweden.
Another possible controversy looms over the national anthem and the question of whether U.S. star Megan Rapinoe will stand or kneel once again in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Rapinoe stood with and locked arms with her teammates during the anthem prior to Seattle’s home game out of respect for the 9/11 anniversary and it would not be too much of a surprise to see Rapinoe similarly abstain in Columbus rather than steal the spotlight from her popular and well-respected teammate.
As for the match, the Americans have never faced Thailand before but with the disappointment of the Olympics still fresh it would be a surprise if the U.S. did not look to put on a show against the 32nd ranked FIFA nation tomorrow night at MAPFRE Stadium.
Other than Solo, who has very like played the final game of her U.S. soccer career, Ellis will also be without Mallory Pugh and Morgan Brian. Recently turned 18, Pugh is with the U20 team as it prepares for the age group World Cup which runs from November13 – December 3 in Papua new Guinea.
Brian is unavailable after taking an elbow to the head while playing for the Houston Dash on Sunday against the Boston Breakers. Brian exhibited concussion-like symptoms and is being held out as a precaution.
After Thursday’s match the U.S. WNT travel to Atlanta where it will play the Netherlands Sunday night (September 18) at the Georgia Dome.
These friendlies take the place of the expected and lucrative Victory Tour that fans of the U.S. Women’s team have come to expect as the team, and the women’s game enters a fallow period with no major tournament to prepare for until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.