It was a magical summer of 2015 for the U.S. women's soccer team as they captured the World Cup, and the hearts of many Americans, in a 5-2 victory against Japan. This July, they are looking to defend their Olympic gold, but will face competition from Germany, Japan, England, and the host country Brazil. Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the women's Olympic qualifying tournament, where the top two teams advance to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. breezed through the group stage with a 5-0 win against Costa Rica, a late 1-0 victory against Mexico on a Carli Lloyd penalty kick, and a 10-0 throttling of Puerto Rico.
The roster has changed, with only 13 out of 20 players from the World Cup team. Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx, and Lori Chalupny all hung up their cleats this past December, while Christine Rampone is sidelined after minor knee surgery. Megan Rapinoe, tore her ACL two months ago and is questionable for the Olympic roster. Rapinoe is an important midfielder, and hopefully will be recovered for Rio.
We love the American stars - Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, but some new young talents have been called up recently. Crystal Dunn, playing as a striker, scored five goals in the last match against Costa Rica. At only 17, Mallory Pugh is the youngest U.S. senior team player ever, and has already scored a goal in a January exhibition. Pugh is facing the challenge of being on the best women's soccer team in the world, as well as studying for Calculus. She currently has plans to attend college at UCLA, just a few miles from the U.S. Soccer training facility in Carson.
The U.S. still have more to prove in the semifinal against Canada this Friday. The Canadians are 11th ranked in the world and have won their first two matches of the qualifiers. Teams like Mexico and Canada are the quality that will be faced in the Olympics, so this match will be a true test of strength for the American ladies.
February 19: Semifinals: USA v Canada (Olympic qualifying at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX). 8:30pm. NBCSN
February 21: Finals (Olympic qualifying at BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX). 5:00pm. NBC Sports Live Extra (Replay on NBCSN at 11pm)
March 3: England (SheBelieves Cup at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL). 7:30pm. FS1.
March 6: France (SheBelieves Cup at Nissan Stadium, Nashville. TN). 3:00pm. ESPN3.
March 9: Germany (SheBelieves Cup at FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.) 7:30pm. ESPN3
August 3-19: Olympics. NBCUniversal networks.