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9 U.S. Women’s Soccer Players At Olympic Qualifying Are Aiming For Their First Olympic Games Too

By Chrös McDougall | Jan. 28, 2020, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

 

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, with the Paralympic Games following Aug. 25-Sept. 6, and while they may be months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.

 

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, with the Paralympic Games following Aug. 25-Sept. 6, and while they may be months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about — from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks — as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.

The turnaround from the FIFA Women’s World Cup to the next year’s Olympic Games is notoriously fast. The transition is so difficult, in fact, that since women’s soccer was added to the Olympics in 1996, the defending World Cup champion has never won the gold medal.

The U.S. women’s national team has experienced that directly, going from World Cup winners in 1999 to Olympic silver medalists in 2000, and World Cup winners in 2015 to eliminated in the Olympic quarterfinals in 2016.

Coming off a second consecutive World Cup championship last summer in France, the Americans will aim to end that trend this summer in Tokyo. That quest begins with the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament, which kicks off tonight and runs through Feb. 9. Only the winners of the two semifinals, to be held Feb. 7 near Los Angeles, will qualify.

With such short turnaround between the major tournaments, turnover in the U.S. roster is expected to be minimal. Furthering that, the Olympic qualifying roster will feature just 20 players while the World Cup roster had 23. The teams that qualify for Tokyo will be even smaller at 18 players.

Case in point: In 2012, the U.S. brought just one player to the Olympics who didn’t take part in the previous year’s World Cup, and in 2016 all but four were holdovers.

Only two players competing for the USWNT this week are new from last year’s World Cup team. They and seven other U.S. players are aiming for their first U.S. Olympic Team.

Here’s a look at their chances.

The Flight To Tokyo Is Waiting
If you start in the World Cup final, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll make the next year’s Olympic team. That’s the case for defender Abby Dahlkemper and midfielders Rose Lavelle and Samantha Mewis. All have proven that, when healthy, they’re first-choice players for the USWNT. So as long as they’re healthy, they’re safe bets to make their first Olympic team. Mewis was also one of four alternates for Team USA at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Just Got To Keep It Up
Defender Emily Sonnett and forward Jessica McDonald are also back from the World Cup team, though both played depth roles in France and will likely have more to prove to secure their spots on their first Olympic team. Sonnett, who played just eight total minutes in France, was one of four alternates for Team USA at the Rio Games. McDonald played 45 minutes.

Newbies Look To Break Through
Midfielder Andi Sullivan and forward Lynn Williams are the lone players taking part in Olympic qualifying who weren’t part of last year’s World Cup team. Sullivan, whose omission from the World Cup team was seen as somewhat of a surprise, went on to thrive in the NWSL season, starting 23 of 24 games for the Washington Spirit. The 24-year-old has 15 caps with the national team. Williams, meanwhile, has been one of the NWSL’s most prolific goal scorers as part of the two-time defending champion Carolina Courage. At 26, she is the only forward on the Olympic qualifying roster who is under 31. Breaking into the ultra-talented U.S. forward group is a tall task, but if Williams can translate some of her NWSL scoring to the national team this week it’ll be hard to keep her off the field. She’s scored six goals in 21 games with the national team.

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Backup Goalies Might Be Fighting For One Spot
One of the big questions going into the 2019 World Cup was how the U.S. would fare without longtime star goalie Hope Solo. Alyssa Naeher proved up to the task, starting (and winning) all seven games, and she should be headed to her second Olympics this summer. Both of her backups are aiming for their first Olympics, though only one can make the team. Ashlyn Harris has more experience, with 24 caps to Adrianna Franch’s three, though Franch is five years younger at 29 and might be seen to have more upside.

Don’t Forget The Others
Of course, the Olympic qualifying roster isn’t going to be the 2020 Olympic roster. At the very least, two players competing this week won’t be in Tokyo just due to the roster size. But also don’t forget that five World Cup veterans are not competing this week, and none have retired. Of the five, four were part of the 2016 Olympic team. Tierna Davidson is the exception. The 21-year-old defender who plays for the Chicago Red Stars is reportedly still recovering from an ankle injury but will no doubt be looking to return to the fold and make her first Olympic team. Others will also have opportunities to break into the rotation at the SheBelieves Cup in March, which features four of the world’s top teams in the U.S., England, Japan and Spain.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

 

Emily Sonnett competes in a game against Costa Rica on Nov. 10, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla.