The U.S. Women's National Team are favorites to win a third successive gold medal at the London Olympics. Their squad is rich in talent and equipped with some of the most celebrated athletes Team USA will bring to the Games.
But unlike their U.S. Olympic teammates set to steamroll the men's basketball tournament—the untouchables cast of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Co.—the 2012 USWNT are a dream team you can actually pull for. And here's why.
Firstly, they're a collection of players we've seen face failure together. The likes of Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Lauren Cheney, Carli Lloyd and Heather O'Reilly were all party to World Cup final heartache in 2011 and met their fate with commendable grace and dignity.
Their opponents that day were Japan—a nation reeling from the earthquake and tsunami disasters of March 2011 and in desperate need of a lift, no matter how small.
When it arrived in the shape of World Cup glory, the beaten U.S. players displayed their humility and found perspective easy to come by.
"Maybe their country needed them to win more than our country needed us to win," said Wambach after the U.S. were beaten on penalties (USA Today)
"Deep down inside, I thought it was our destiny to win it," said Lloyd (USA Today). "But maybe it was Japan's."
Said Hope Solo, as per the The Guardian:
I truly believe that something bigger was pulling for this team. As much as I've always wanted this, if there were any other team I could give this to, it would have to be Japan. I'm happy for them and they do deserve it.
Rarely has defeat shone so well on a group of players than it did that night in Germany on the USWNT. They'd already shown us their courage and ability en route to the final—most notably in defeating the might of Marta and Brazil in a thrilling quarterfinal—and now they showed us their human touch.
It's a small step from there to my second point. Watch their version of Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" (above) and you'll quickly see the 2012 U.S. Olympics squad are a close group who don't take themselves too seriously. They might be playing hard for a gold medal, but you get the feeling they'll be having fun along the way, too.
Isn't that the epitome of the Olympic spirit? And isn't that exactly the right message to send the USWNT stars of tomorrow—that this is a joyous romp worth breaking your back training for?
And then there's the tone set by the USWNT on the field. They've scored 68 goals in their last 12 games and possess some of the most exciting attacking talent in the women's game. Morgan and Wambach are the focus, but a midfield crackling with creative spark is equally responsible for their prolific return this year.
We can say fairly confidently that they won't be parking the bus at the Olympics. France, Colombia and Korea DPR will be likely be punished severely for any defensive lapses during the group stages, and entertainment is pretty much guaranteed when the USWNT take the field.
The final reason for pulling for Team USA at the Olympics is just how much it would mean for Pia Sundhage's squad to bring home gold. When it comes to women's soccer, the Olympics tournament is a seriously big deal.
For the USWNT, it's allowed them to reach a new audience—both at home and abroad—and leave a lasting legacy that's evident every time a young girl puts her boots on.
Winning gold is arguably even more important for the U.S. in the wake of the WPS league's collapse for the 2012 season. Star names have had to drop down a level to play regularly, and the USWNT will feel a responsibility to rejuvenate enthusiasm in the professional game back home by doing the business in London this summer.
One dream team is a collection of obscenely-paid stars doing what's expected of them and little else. The other is the USWNT—on a humble sporting quest to win over hearts and minds and bring home the ultimate prize for the good of the game they love.
I know which one I'll be cheering for.