The United States women's soccer team is looking to avenge their World Cup Finals loss to Japan, as the Olympics begin in London this week. Their run in last summer's competition made Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach household names, but the tournament ultimately ended in heartbreak, as Japan took the title in penalties 2-2 (3-1). The team isn't going to settle for anything less than a gold medal in 2012.
The US women have had great success at the Olympic games, having won the gold medal in both 2004 and 2008. Both finals were tightly contested, with the US defeating Brazil in extra time for a 2-1 win in Athens and a 1-0 score most recently in Beijing. They come into London as the top team in the FIFA World Rankings.
Winning a third consecutive gold medal won't be easy for the US with a field including Sweden, Brazil, and reigning World Cup champion Japan.
What will give them the edge in London is forward Alex Morgan. The 23-year-old is making her first Olympic appearance and has already made her presence felt in the team's opening win over France on Wednesday.
France began the match with two goals that put the US in an early hole. Abby Wambach quickly got one back, and Alex Morgan knotted the score before the half. Carly Lloyd put the US on top early in the second half and Morgan sealed the match with her second goal, as the United States defeated France 4-2.
The almost immediate hole that the US dug for itself was troubling, but with Wambach and Morgan leading the offensive attack, no deficit is insurmountable. Wambach, who played on the 2004 gold-medal team but missed the tournament in Beijing due to a broken leg, spoke about her on-field relationship with Morgan to Brian Straus of Sporting News.
“I think one thing that I remember in 2004 is that Mia (Hamm) and I complemented each other, and I think that’s what Alex and I have now,” Wambach said during a conference call from the U.K. “She takes a more little bit more attention off of my back, and I know that she’s making a name for herself. ... Hopefully, she can continue on through these Olympics.”
Morgan gives the US a formidable scoring attack, and her two goals Wednesday give her 19 on the year in just 17 matches. The club is 15-1-1 in those matches, with the tie and loss both at the hands of Japan. In the last meeting between the two sides on June 18, however, the US came out 4-1 winners, with Wambach and Morgan scoring twice apiece.
Looking ahead, the team will have two more matches in group play before the knockout stage begins. They take on Colombia at noon ET Saturday before finishing up against Korea DPR on July 31 at 12:15 p.m. ET. With 12 teams comprised of three groups of four, only four teams will be eliminated in the opening round, meaning all first- and second-place group finishers will advance along with two of the three third-place finishers.
At No. 28 in the world, Colombia should be outmatched, and the US will likely clinch a spot in the next round before taking on Korea DPR—a much tougher test. They are ranked No. 8 in the world and defeated Columbia 2-0 to open up group play, but their match wasn't without controversy.
Korea DPR, also known as North Korea, had a player pictured next to a South Korean flag on the scoreboard. The political issue caused the match to be delayed for about an hour, as Korea DPR refused to take the field. They eventually played, and it looks as though there will be no issues moving forward.
Japan, Sweden and Brazil will pose the biggest threat in challenging the US for gold. All won their opening matches, and all are ranked within the Top 5 in the world.
Alex Morgan is key to the team as a magnificent goal scorer, but she also takes some of the pressure off Wambach, and the pair creates nightmares for the opposing defense. The attack has the ability to outscore any team in the Olympics; look for Morgan to lead the club all the way to Olympic gold.