Seeking to defend their gold medal from the 2012 London Olympics, the U.S. Women’s National Team officially booked their passage to the 2016 Rio Olympics tournament over the weekend. Qualifying alongside border rivals Canada, the U.S. won the CONCACAF qualifying tournament on Sunday in Houston by a 2-0 scoreline over the CanWNT.
The United States and Canada join seven other countries qualified for the Olympic tournament so far (hosts Brazil in addition to Colombia, France, Germany, South Africa, Zimbabwe and New Zealand), with three more countries, two from the Asian Confederation and one from Europe, still to be determined.
So is the U.S. the favorite to take the gold medal again? Put simply, yes. They’ve won four of five gold medals historically, snagging silver the other time. That track record, even with other countries coming on in leaps and bounds in their women’s soccer development, speaks for itself. And add to that the World Cup won just last year, and there’s plenty of reason for the Americans to be confident heading into the tournament.
That said, the U.S. is in a transition phase at the moment. 13 of the 20 players on the squad for Olympic qualifying won the World Cup last year, and most of the starting spots will remain unchanged. But retirement (Abby Wambach, Lauren Holliday), pregnancy (Amy Rodriguez, Sydney Leroux) and injury (Megan Rapinoe) means there will be some open slots in the squad, and some of those players will get playing time at the Olympics.
In particular, it will be interesting to see the forward situation for the USWNT in Brazil. Local product Alex Morgan looks to be the focal point up top, and will likely get major minutes at the Olympics as a lone striker, even though she’s still working on getting back to her best after a chronic injury limited her for more than a year. South Bay native Christen Press will probably also see some time, possibly up top or in another position, and there are the likes of Crystal Dunn, who has been scoring buckets of goals for club and country for the past year, and teenager Mallory Pugh, who scored her first senior team goal in San Diego during the buildup to the qualifying tournament.
And given the likes of France, Germany, Brazil on home soil and even 2012 bronze medalists Canada already in the field for this Olympic tournament, the road to gold may not be as easy as many U.S. fans expect.
Still, the U.S. has officially clinched their berth and they’ll be looking to carry on their tradition of success this summer at the Olympics.