The juggernaut U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, seeking its fifth gold medal since women's soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996, made its highly-anticipated Olympic tournament debut against New Zealand on Wednesday — two days before the opening ceremony in Rio.
The potent offensive games of Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan and the smothering defense of controversial goalie Hope Solo, Kelley O’Hara, captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg, led USA to a 2-0 victory at Mineirao Stadium and the squad’s 14th shutout of the season.
Overall, the USA improves to 15-0-1 in 2016 and the multi-dimensional, finely-tuned machine has scored 54 goals while allowing just four goals. The Olympic tournament will be played in seven venues across Brazil, including the jungle city of Manaus, in the Amazon rainforest, where the U.S. faces Colombia on Aug. 9.
(Photo Credit: americansoccernow.com)
Team USA can take one huge positive from their preliminary match against an inferior squad that will serve them well in the upcoming contests against powerhouse France and Colombia in Group G and possibly second-ranked Germany, fifth-ranked Australia, sixth-ranked Sweden and host Brazil, who lay in the cut as dangerous potential quarterfinal opponents.
Thankfully, superstar baller Lloyd is showing no ill effects from a sprained MCL she suffered in an April game with her club team, the Houston Dash.
Lloyd, who has an international resume fit for a King, is increasingly staking her claim as The G.O.A.T. She has proved to be clutch city with the game on the line and having her at 100 percent is imperative to Team USA’s gold-medal goals.
The reigning FIFA Player of the Year rose to stardom when she scored three goals in 16 minutes in the 5-2 win over Japan in July's World Cup final. It was historic and avenged the team’s loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final. Lloyd also scored the deciding goals in the gold medal matches in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
On Wednesday, she gave the USA an early lead in the ninth minute before her partner-in-pitch Morgan hit paydirt just 34 seconds into the second half.
Morgan is also comprising an illustrious career that has elevated her to the status of iconic legends in U.S. Women’s Soccer such as Mia Hamm. Another veteran of the "big shot," Morgan scored her fifth Olympic goal and 68th overall. The goal ties her with Hamm and 1996 Olympic star Tiffeny Milbrett for third behind Lloyd and Wambach on the USA’s Olympic goals-scored list.
Lloyd’s goal was the 89th of her career and seventh Olympic goal for the USA, pushing her to second all-time to Abby Wambach's 10 Olympic scores. The most capped player at the 2016 Olympics has now hit double-figures in goals scored for 2016 (10 goals); it is the fourth calendar year – and third in a row – that she's hit 10 or more goals (2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016).
And in the rich and continuous tradition of US Women’s Soccer, 17-year-old Mallory Pugh is getting her feet wet in Olympic competition and preparing to take the torch from Morgan one day as Team USA’s potent point-producer.
In fact, 11 Olympic newbies graced the roster against New Zealand in the team's first major stakes competition since the retirement of legendary Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday following the 2015 World Cup.
Pugh, who made her 15th appearance this year and 11th start has a team-leading seven assists. On Wednesday, she became the youngest American female player to start in an Olympic match.
The 2015 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year, was called into the senior team for the first time for January Training Camp. She earned her first cap in competition at 17 years and 269 days of age, coming on for Alex Morgan in the 58th minute and then scoring on a header, making her the 6th youngest goal scorer in U.S. history.
We can't forget Crystal Dunn, the lone African-American woman on the squad. She has a vicious leg game and has a futuristic chemistry going on with Pugh.
(Photo Credit: teamusa.com)
Tradition, integrity and influencing and inspiring social progress for women athletes has been a long-standing formula for Team USA, as the United States is probably the only country where the Women’s National Team is more famous than the men’s squad.
Last year, in the midst of a grueling World Cup run, U.S. players found time to lead a protest against the artificial turf used in the tournament held in Canada before winning their third title in the tournament.
This Olympics they will be fighting another battle and this one is a familiar foe; gender inequality. As the women’s team attempts to bring glory to the United States, an internal conflict is brewing as a U.S. federal agency looks at a wage discrimination complaint filed by five members of the 2015 World Cup Championship Squad, charging that they were paid millions less than their male counterparts The team's union also is looking for a new contract with U.S. Soccer.
Anyone who has followed international soccer the past 25 years knows that the U.S. Women are America’s soccer lifeline. As their claims are litigated, the woman will have the Olympic stage as its courtroom and the world as the jury. It’s pretty much a done deal that the women will be grabbing gold and getting their financial due when the current contract expires at the end of the season.
It will surely be another rock star run, where some young women emerge from the shadows to prove that they are among the most marketable, talented and groundbreaking athletes ever assembled.