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The United States women’s national team hasn’t lost under its new coach, but is still looking for a first major trophy — no offense, SheBelieves Cup — for Vlatko Andonovski.
It’s also looking for redemption on the OIympic stage after failing to medal for the first time In its history when it exited at the quarterfinal stage in Brazil.
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But all-in-all, these 18 players are very experienced World Cup collectors who are used to living under a microscope at the international level, where winning without style gets a finger wag and so does drinking invisible eta in celebration.
What can we expect from the women in Tokyo? Well, a lot.
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The back-to-back World Cup champs — No. 1 in the world — have something to prove in Tokyo
Vlatko Andonovski’s first 23 matches in charge of the women have been phenomenal, with one draw and 22 wins and an ongoing 502-minute clean sheet streak.
Throw in the Yanks’ status as the winner of the last two World Cups, and you’d think this team would be cruising into the tournament as pure favorites.
And maybe that’s true. Well, it’s almost certainly true.
But the USWNT’s biggest failure in the past three decades came at the Rio Olympics, where a disjointed team won Group G but finished the group stage with a 2-2 draw against Colombia.
The poor play lingered into the quarterfinals, where Alex Morgan needed a 77th-minute equalizer to force extra time against Sweden and then lost in penalties.
That meant no semifinal, which meant a gold medal game without the USWNT for the first time ever. And it meant that the Yanks failed to medal for the first time despite collecting four golds and a silver between 1996-2012.
So there are a number of the country’s greats still awaiting a first Olympic medal, including Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, and Rose Lavelle. Expect hunger.
Dominance over the field
The United States women’s national team has been a controlling force in the game for a long time, ranked first or second in the world for every year since 2003.
And since reclaiming first in the FIFA Rankings in 2008, the Yanks have only dipped into second place twice and only finished a single year outside of the top spot.
Of course, every team would love to be the one to knock the U.S. from its perch, but Germany, France, and the Netherlands sit 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and want the chance to assert themselves as a No. 1 contender. Only the Netherlands made this tournament.
But as the Women’s Super League in England has brought USWNT stars to its soil and made claims about itself as a league in comparison to the National Women’s Soccer League, you can be sure that the U.S. won’t simply be measured by winning but by how they win.
As noted above, the USWNT has only finished outside the semifinal stage once between eight World Cups and six Olympics. Surely Andonovski will be gunning to make 2016 a blip.
Speaking of Vlatko and another “new” face
You’d think that winning 22 of 23 matches and drawing the outlier — against a very good Sweden, no less — would have Vlatko Andonovski on hallowed ground.
But the respected former FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign (now OL Reign) boss has only a pair of SheBelieves Cups on his resume with the USWNT (difficult but U.S. hosted tourneys that they are) and will be just as hungry as any of his players to put a stamp on their tenure together.
Now this 18-player roster may look plenty familiar with your Rapinoes and your Morgans and your Sauerbrunns, but here’s a player vying to have a breakout couple of weeks on the international stage: Catarina Macario.
The 21-year-old Lyon star has been a force wherever she’s played and the Brazilian-born Stanford product will enter the tournament with the fewest appearances of any non-field player with the USWNT (seven).
Aside from Macario and backup goalkeepers Adrianna Franch (six caps) and Jane Campbell (five), every player has appeared at least a couple-dozen times for the U.S. including a remarkable nine players with over 100 caps.
Several USWNT players can pass hallowed names in the program record books, and some of those doing the passing are already pretty well hallowed themselves.
Carli Lloyd is five appearances from matching Christie Pearce (Rampone) for second all-time (311).
Megan Rapinoe is three assists off of Abby Wambach’s 255, which puts the big striker Ithird all-time.
They’ll be targeted… from all sides
While the Olympics often provide a gathering ground for citizens of all beliefs to come together in support of their national peers, the USWNT’s lightning-rod status and megawatt personalities have led some to be extremely critical of the team.
Look no further than Monday night’s defeat of Mexico, as a political web site accused some players of “turning away” from a World War II veteran playing the national anthem on harmonica, a notion that produced plenty of noise and forced the U.S. Soccer Federation’s communications team into debunking fake news rather than informing the fan base.
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Five things to know about the USWNT before the Olympics in Tokyo originally appeared on NBCSports.com