US Olympic Women's Soccer Team 2012: Updated News & Analysis for America's Squad

Neri Stein@neristeinFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2012

US Olympic Women's Soccer Team 2012: Updated News & Analysis for America's Squad

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    The US Women's Soccer team has just under two months before they take on France in their first group match of the 2012 Olympics, and Pia Sundhage has named her 18-woman roster. 

    Team USA is No. 1 in the world, and when you look at the roster, it's not hard to tell why. 

    Captain Christie Rampone is back for her record fourth Olympics, and she will lead a defense that is missing Ali Krieger while Sydney Leroux's goal-scoring sprees during qualifying have earned her a spot up front with Abby Wambach (who broke her leg just before the 2008 Olympics and had to stay home) and Alex Morgan. 

    The midfield will be anchored by Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd while Megan Rapinoe and Heather O'Reilly supply the crosses from out wide. 

    And of course, in goal will be the ever-present and ever-dominant Hope Solo. 

    So, let's take a deeper look at the US squad that will be trying to bring home its fourth (out of five) Olympic gold medal. 

Who's Missing?

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    Ali Krieger is the most notable name missing from the Olympic roster, and it's got to hurt her. Krieger tore her ACL and MCL earlier this year, but she worked hard in her rehab and would've been fit by early July. 

    Pia Sundhage decided not to take the gamble, though. The US defense has been solid, albeit without facing too many stern tests since Krieger went down, and Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts and Kelley O'Hara are all capable replacements in the right-back spot.

    Lori Lindsey is another name missing from the roster, but after losing her starting spot in last summer's Women's World Cup to Lauren Cheney, she had to see it coming. Lindsey is on the replacement list and will train with the squad in Sweden in June, however.

    At the end of the day, Sundhage and Team USA will leave behind a handful of players who could walk onto the starting XI of most of their competitors.

Goalkeeper

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    Hope Solo is the best goalkeeper in the world, but she'll be the last one to tell you that. In her mind, she still has plenty to prove, and she'll be working harder than just about anyone on the pitch. 

    Solo is one of the more athletic, better-moving keepers in the game today, and you never need to worry about her controlling the ball with her feet or coming out of her box to collect. She moves fast and takes command in her penalty box better than anyone. 

    Her backup, Nicole Barnhart, is also one of the best keepers in the world, but she probably won't see much action in London. 

    If the US breezes through their first two group matches, it might not be a bad idea to give Solo a rest and let Barnhart have her moment in the spotlight. Especially if Solo's shoulder is getting a bit stiff on her, Barnhart is a more than capable replacement for a game. 

Defense

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    Ali Krieger's pace and tenacity on the right-hand side will be missed by some for the US, but her replacements have not let the team down so far. 

    Rachel Buehler, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts and Kelley O'Hara have all split time and positions across the backline in recent games, but Christie Rampone and Becky Sauerbrunn have remained constants in the center. 

    Sauerbrunn seized her chance in the Women's World Cup last summer when she replaced a suspended Buehler, and she and Rampone have made an excellent pair. They are tough, no-nonsense defenders and work very well with Hope Solo in the net as well as Shannon Boxx in center midfield. 

    LePeilbet and Buehler can be worrisome, as they made some silly errors that cost the team last summer, but they have both shaped up this year. 

    Without Krieger, the right side is a question mark, but it's not a weakness at this point. 

Midfield

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    Megan Rapinoe was in and out of the starting lineup last summer in Germany, and as she went, so went the whole team.

    Rapinoe lost her starting spot to Lauren Cheney but was able to have a big impact as a substitute (see Brazil match). However, in the games she started, the US struggled to stay in sync offensively and keep the ball (see matches against Sweden and France). 

    Now however, Rapinoe has become more comfortable down the left side and is almost a must-start for Pia Sundhage and Team USA. Her delivery, defense and work rate have all improved in the last year. 

    Cheney meanwhile has moved back from a striker's role to almost a support striker. This move says one thing about Sundhage's tactics: She wants her team to score goals. 

    Midfielders who get forward and score, or at least take the shot, can be the difference in tough contests, and the USWNT has plenty of midfielders hungry for goals. 

    Heather O'Reilly was in and out last summer as well, but due to injury. She's stayed healthy this year, and her pace and crossing ability will be very much needed. She's also done a good job of protecting the right side with Ali Krieger out. 

    Young stud Tobin Heath will likely be used as a substitute every so often, and she'll want to prove she belongs any chance she gets. 

    And with Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd controlling everything from the back, the US should see a lot of possession this summer.

Forwards

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    This is where it gets really fun. The USWNT forwards have been on fire in 2012, and all signs point to that trend continuing in London. 

    Amy Rodriguez has been moving between a central striker and support striker, and while she hasn't been scoring as much as the rest, she's been getting it done in other ways. She can hold the ball up well, distribute and score from long range. 

    Alex Morgan is on another level, plain and simple. She can't stop scoring, and she's scoring in every way possible. She's also started piling up the assists. Goal machine. 

    Abby Wambach missed the 2008 Olympics due to an injury just before the Games, and in 2012, she's finally started looking like the striker she used to be once again. She's always had the knowledge of where to be and when (case in point), but at times, she's lacked pace and finishing prowess. 

    She's got it all back now. 

    The one to watch here is Sydney Leroux. The 22-year-old, the only player on the Olympic roster who was not on the World Cup team last summer, probably earned her spot when she scored five goals against Guatemala earlier this year. Outside that game, she's been lively and looked hungry for more goals. 

    Just what a coach and fans want.

Best Formation

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    Pia Sundhage has favored the traditional 4-4-2 lately, and the beauty of this USWNT squad is so many players fill so many roles. 

    Megan Rapinoe and Heather O'Reilly can attack from out wide or drift in. Lauren Cheney and Amy Rodriguez can play as central strikers or supporting midfielders. Amy LePeilbet and Kelley O'Hara have great pace on the wings as well. 

    The US will probably keep a 4-4-2 shape for the most part, but don't be surprised if it evolves into a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-3-2 when they have possession for long stretches of time. 

Some Stats

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    Women's football has been an Olympic sport since 1996, and the US has won gold every year but 2000, when they won silver. In 24 games, they've won 18 and lost two, while scoring 42 goals and only allowing 17. 

    Christie Rampone will be appearing in her fourth Olympic games, the first American woman to do so (in football). She is currently tied atop the list of US players for Olympic games played at 16, a record she'll—barring injury—no doubt break this summer. 

    The USWNT more than anything is experienced. Seven players have made over 100 appearances for the national team: Rampone, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Heather O'Reilly and Heather Mitts. 

    Alex Morgan has scored 24 goals in 39 matches for the US, including 14 in 2012. 

Prediction

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    The USWNT are overwhelming favorites to bring home yet another gold in London, and anything less would be a failure. 

    The US would most likely have to go through Brazil in the semifinals before tackling Japan in the final, but the only thing that could stop this team is itself, like last summer. 

    Hope Solo and the defense need to keep their focus for the entire match, while Shannon Boxx needs to marshal the midfield and not let any slack passes get through. Up front, Abby Wambach and Co. just need to finish their chances

    If the US plays their game, there's not a team in the world that can stop them.