The United States women’s soccer team will begin its road to what it hopes will be a fourth-straight Olympic gold medal when taking on Costa Rica on Wednesday. The game in Frisco, Texas, marks the start of the Yanks’ attempts to qualify for Rio de Janeiro and retain not only Olympic gold, but its status as the best team on the planet, on the back of taking World Cup glory in Canada last summer.
As well as Costa Rica, the U.S. will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico in Group A, with the top two teams progressing to the semifinals. The two finalists will then grab an automatic berth in Rio. Given the U.S. romped through qualification last time around, winning all five games with an aggregate score of 38-0, qualification should be well within the Americans’ reach.
Following those spectacular accomplishments at the World Cup, this should be a feel-good moment for the women’s national team. However, qualifying will begin with several clouds hanging over Jill Ellis’ squad.
Most notably, there is the bizarre situation of the U.S. Soccer Federation filing a lawsuit last week against its world champions via the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association. The incredible and complex turn of events concerns the expiration of the team’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the end of 2012. Since then the two sides have been acting on a memorandum of understanding, which U.S. Soccer contends is effectively a CBA and would therefore prevent the players from striking as the two parties negotiate a new CBA. The Union, however, hotly disputes this interpretation.
As if that weren’t enough, the documents filed by U.S. Soccer included the personal email addresses and even home addresses of a number of the national team squad. That produced a furious response from players, notably Megan Rapinoe, who stated firmly that the compromising of their privacy and safety was “unacceptable.”
All of this comes hot on the heels of the women’s team pulling out of a match on their Victory Tour late last year due to a substandard artificial surface. That came just days after Rapinoe tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee when training ion a pitch that had also provoked criticism. Rapinoe now faces a race to be fit for the Olympics, and she is not the only World Cup winner who will miss out on qualifying. Also absent will be retired veterans Abby Wambach, Lori Chalupny, Lauren Holiday and Shannon Boxx, as well as pregnant duo Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez.
Instead there are some fresh faces, particularly up front. Crystal Dunn, 23, looks set to play a prominent role, having scored four times on the nine-match Victory Tour. Also included in the 20-woman squad is 17-year-old forward Mallory Pugh, who scored on her debut to kick off the team’s 2016 schedule against the Republic of Ireland last month.
There will still be plenty of experience through the side, particularly at the back, where the core of goalkeeper Hope Solo and defenders Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn is reunited. And in the middle will be World Cup hero Carli Lloyd.
If the players can ignore the off-pitch distraction, they should be confident of getting off to a winning start at the Toyota Stadium. The U.S. has won all 12 of its contest against Costa Rica, outscoring the Central Americans 66-2. And, while Costa Rica did reach its first ever World Cup last year, it failed to make it out of the group stage after failing to win a match. Still, the Ticas can count on Raquel Rodríguez, who last year won the MAC Hermann Trophy for the top female college soccer player in the nation.
Match time: 8:30 p.m. EST