New England Soccer Today

U.S. Women Prepare for Olympic Opener

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team kicks off their 2016 Rio Olympic campaign on Wednesday at 6 pm ET against New Zealand. On paper this should be the women’s easiest match in group stage. But don’t look for the US to let up on pressure with the margin of victory potentially playing a role in a group with France and Colombia who are both looking to move on as well. New Zealand will be the punching bag of the group. Head coach Jill Ellis will likely be looking to score as many goals as possible in order to better the USWNT chances on goal differential. The US beat New Zealand handily 4-0 earlier this year in a friendly. We could see a similar score line on Wednesday.

New Zealand’s team is not much of a threat offensively. They’ve scored only three goals in their last seven matches. They’ll be looking to counter attack against a much better offense. The main threat for New Zealand is forward Amber Hearn. She’s the all-time leading scorer for New Zealand and has 45 goals in 102 matches. The team’s other player who may make defending difficult is the central attacking midfielder Annalie Longo. Longo and Hearn will be playing off each other for most of New Zealand’s attacking play.

The USWNT offense is on a hot streak as they’ve scored at least 1 goal in each of their last 15 games. The US line-up will be familiar to recent competitions, but two new faces (to the international stage) that will make an impact are forward Mallory Pugh and winger Crystal Dunn. Pugh, who is delaying college in order to focus on the USWNT and US U-20 team, is 18 and already has 3 international goals under her belt. She has garnered plenty of awards for her impressive play, including Gatorade player of the year, Young soccer player of the year, and Youth player of the year. But her first true test on the biggest stage will be how she performs during her first Olympics. Dunn was the first overall pick in the 2014 NWSL draft and spent her second season becoming the league’s leading scorer and league MVP. These two women aged 23 and 18 are going to be making a big splash in this tournament.

This will not be the same team that won the world cup. The biggest change of course is the retirement of Abby Wambach who was both a leader and a scorer. Someone will have to step up and replace those giant shoes of hers. It could be Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd or Christen Press. Maybe it’s one of the youngsters. This squad is full of talent on all sides of the ball. This team is also a different one because they have their swagger back. In the last Olympics they were still reeling from their World Cup loss to Japan in 2011. The USWNT has won the last Olympic gold medal and the last World Cup. They are no longer the team looking to get on top of the mountain; they’re standing on top.

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