The United States women’s national team will look to secure a trip to Rio de Janeiro, and a chance to go for its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, when taking on Trinidad and Tobago in Houston on Friday. As with the first semifinal of the Concacaf qualifying competition, between Canada and Costa Rica, Friday’s second match at the BBVA Compass Stadium will see two teams squaring off in a winner-takes-all battle for a place in Sunday’s final, and more importantly a trip to the 2016 Summer Olympics.
While there is always an element of tension in such a win-or-bust scenario, the U.S. has every reason for confidence. In 17 Olympic qualifiers, the U.S. has not lost once, dominating the North, Central America and Caribbean region. And Jill Ellis’ squad will go into Friday’s match off the back of a 10-0 evisceration of Puerto Rico.
The victory featured a five-goal haul for Crystal Dunn, tying a U.S. team record and taking her international tally 10 goals.
“I can't believe I'm amongst some really great names,” she said afterward, reports Concacaf.com. “This is a very important moment for me. It's not like it’s easy to score this many goals. I would like to think there is more to come. I will hold it in my back pocket for now.”
The 23-year-old’s performances have helped fill the void left by the retirement of the highest scorer in the history of international soccer, Abby Wambach, who joined fellow veterans Lauren Holiday, Sharon Boxx and Lori Chalupny in departing the stage following last year’s World Cup win. Also dealing with the absence of playmaker Megan Rapinoe with a knee injury and an ongoing labor dispute, the U.S., other than a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win over Mexico, has thus far progressed without complication.
Yet Dunn insists neither she nor her teammates will be taking anything for granted ahead of Friday’s semifinal.
“We haven't secured a spot yet,” she added. “This is a great step for us. We are going to be focused. We have work to do. There is always going to be pressure for us. We're preparing for a high quality game and securing a ticket to Rio.”
The U.S. has won all nine of its previous meetings with Trinidad and Tobago, triumphing 6-0 most recently as part of the World Cup Victory Tour last December. Still the Soca Princesses did hold the U.S. to just a narrow 1-0 win when the countries met in qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. The Caribbean team would ultimately miss out on the trip to Canada, losing a playoff to Ecuador to remain without a place at either a World Cup or an Olympic Games.
But, despite a 6-1 loss to Canada, Richard Hood’s side made it through its Olympic qualifying group thanks to a 5-1 victory over Guyana. And midfielder Ahkeela Mollon has explained her eagerness for another opportunity to make it to a major tournament and for her team to test themselves against the best side in the world
“I feel excited going into the U.S. It is always an honor gracing the field with them because they are world champs,” she said. “After being close to having the opportunity to play on the big stage, I think my teammates and myself will be happy to take the field to take on the champions and see if we can make that dream come alive. Now is our opportunity to grace the field for a chance to play in another major tournament. We’re looking forward to Friday.”
Match time: 8:30 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN, NBC Universo