Tokyo – Time is running low for squad shuffling and eleventh-hour sprung surprises as the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament of the 2020 (in 2021) Olympic Games – the seventh of its kind since debuting at Atlanta 1996 – draws ever nearer.
With six weeks to go before the competition opens in Sapporo on 21 July, eight of the 12 participating teams for the Japan Games this July and August will take advantage of the June international friendly window that opens for the next seven days.
USA’s embarrassment of riches
One of Team USA’s biggest problems is its absolute surplus of Olympic-level talent. With coach Vlatko Andonovski (and all the rest) required to trim his squad to 18 (five fewer than the FIFA World Cup limit), the Stars and Stripes’ three contests this month will be crucial for the Macedonia-born boss – leading the USA into major competition for the first time since taking over from Jill Ellis.
The Americans – with veteran superstars like Megan Rapinoe and 300-time capped Carli Lloyd in the side – take on Portugal on 10 June and Jamaica two days later. They’ll close out what the US Soccer Federation has dubbed the ‘Summer Series’ with a contest against traditional African powers Nigeria on 16 June.
All three of USA’s June friendlies will take place in the state of Texas, with soaring temperatures likely to create a comparable atmosphere to what the team, four-time gold medallists hoping to become the first to win back-to-back World Cup and Olympic golds, can expect in and around Tokyo this summer.
“These games… are just more tests, more challenges and more learning opportunities, for the players and coaches,” said the USA boss, who’s selected 19 players from the NWSL – the country’s premier women’s club competition, currently in its ninth season. “The three matches will certainly be important in the selection of the Olympic Team, but we are also focused on the big picture.”
In the nine games the Americans have played against Portugal, they have never lost and, in fact, they’ve never even conceded a goal (scoring 38). Against Nigeria and Jamaica, the four-time World Cup-winning Americans have a similar dominance, coming out victorious in all previous encounters.
Tobin Heath, still a question mark for the Olympics – is working herself back to fitness after a serious knee injury. The Mewis sisters (Sam and Kristie), Lindsey Horan and Man City’s dominant defender Abby Dahlkemper are all in the 23-player squad for the June friendles.
Team USA’s Summer Series schedule, with two rest days between games, is designed to mimic the rhythm of Olympic group play. The Americans will round off their Olympic preparations with a so-called Send-Off Series, playing Mexico twice in Hartford, Connecticut on 1 and 5 July before departing for Japan where they open their Olympic account in Tokyo on 21 July against Sweden – the team that knocked them out of Rio 2016 at the quarterfinal stage.
The Canadians – USA’s neighbours to the north – are also in action with two June friendlies. With the team having picked up bronze in the last two editions of the Olympic Games, Bev Priestman is hoping for more this time out in her debut as a head coach in major international competition.