Everybody seems to know Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo as United States women’s national soccer team heroes.
Expect others to join them in the galaxy of women’s soccer stars this month at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. aims to claim an unprecedented gold medal just a year after winning a FIFA Women’s World Cup title. We just don’t know who will become U.S. women’s soccer’s next difference-maker.
This is the first, and perhaps most important, of our Olympic women’s soccer predictions. Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx have retired since last year’s World Cup triumph. Christie Rampone is out of the picture. Time waits for no player, and Team USA is in transition.
While the 18-woman roster contains 11 Olympic debutantes, a lack of tournament experience isn’t an issue. Seven of those 11 new Olympians were on the Women’s World Cup team in 2015, including starting defenders Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg. Midfielders Allie Long and Lindsey Horan and forwards Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn represent Team USA’s class of newcomers in 2016.
One or more of these players might become household names in the United States in a few weeks’ time.
The outcome of the tournament alone won’t determine which players’ profile increases. Too many off-field factors affect players’ reputations, and other Olympic sports undoubtedly will command attention. Nevertheless, prepare yourselves to meet a new generation of women’s soccer stars.
Other predictions include:
Lloyd won’t score the winning goal in the final
The reigning FIFA Women’s Player of the Year scored game-winning goals in the gold-medal games at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final. Although she has more appearances (223) and goals (87) than any current USA player, Lloyd won’t score the winning goal in the Olympics final in 2016. Why? Because the law of average says she won’t.
Solo will be involved in an unsavory episode
Whether it comes on or off the field, expect the U.S. goalkeeper to grab headlines for the wrong reasons. Solo has found herself on the wrong side of the law and her team at times during her glittering career. She has been quiet in recent months, but something tells us this is only temporary.
Megan Rapinoe won’t play much
The wizard on the U.S. wings tore her ACL in December and hasn’t played a competitive game this year. Yet, Rapinoe earned a spot on the Olympic roster by impressing head coach Jill Ellis during a training camp earlier this year. Rapinoe won’t be a mainstay in the lineup like she was in 2012 and in 2015. Instead, expect her to make an impact as a substitute or a starter against weak opposition (New Zealand perhaps) in pool play or the quarterfinals.
Less rest, more rotation
World Cups last a month. Olympic soccer tournaments span just two-plus weeks.
Ellis selected the roster with a condensed tournament in mind. The sprint format — as many as six games in 17 days — favors players with high levels of energy and versatility. Expect Ellis to rotate her team liberally in the preliminary round before settling on a set rotation in the knockout rounds.
USA will come up short
The margins between success and failure are always paper thin. Stability and hunger characterized Team USA’s build-up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Labor strife between the players and the U.S. Soccer Federation exposed dissatisfaction in the U.S. camp, and pregnancies forced the absence of at least two would-be Olympians.
Add the transition of generations and Team USA’s relative inexperience to the list, and we conclude a silver medal is in Team USA’s destiny.
Thumbnail photo via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Images