Picking a Women's Olympic Soccer Dream Team
As the semifinals happen today, it's safe to say that most of the Olympic soccer tournament is behind us, though the best games are still yet to come.
With that in mind, fans can now look back on the games and sort out who has performed to the Olympic standard and who hasn't.
Whereas the men's game looks on the Olympics with slight disdain in some cases (viewing the World Cup, the Euros/Copa America and club prizes with more desire), the women still prize the Olympics over every other competition minus the World Cup.
Essentially then, an all-star team from the Olympics represents the best women's players in the world.
Here's a list of a few of them placed into a team. I don't have enough room to include them all, but bear with me!
GK: Hope Solo, USA
She has done nothing to disprove the pre-tournament assertion that she's still the best goalie in the world.
Since conceding two against France in the opening 15 minutes, Solo (and her miserly defense) has not conceded another goal in the entire tournament.
Undoubtedly Solo will be tested in the final two games, however they go for her and the team.
Yet if it comes down to penalty kicks, the smart money will generally be on Hope.
RB: Sonia Bompastor, France
I know, I know, she normally doesn't line up on the right.
Yet with so many quality left-backs (we'll get to that), I'm picking one who can play on the right.
And considering that Bompastor plays in the midfield at the club level, I think she has the versatility to do what I want her to.
Her buccaneering runs up the flank have jump-started many French counterattacks and will be critical if the French want to make it to the gold-medal game.
CB: Christie Rampone, USA
At 37, most athletes are winding down their careers and playing a backseat role.
Rampone, by contrast, is still regularly in the middle of events. She is literally the heart of the American defense and, despite her age, continues to be able to run down almost any striker in the world.
Shepherding opponents, attempting to strike on the counter and winning headers are all in a day's work for Rampone.
Her performance in the remaining games will weigh heavily on American aspirations for gold.
CB: Azusa Iwashimizu, Japan
Collectively, the U.S. is all too aware of the potency of Japan's defense.
As is Brazil, which the Japanese beat 2-0 to advance to the semifinals today against France.
And one of the linchpins of defending World Cup champion's defense is Iwashimizu.
Though her size (5'4") appears a weakness on paper, he rough style and aggressive approach more than make up for it.
This was especially true against the slick-passing Brazilians, where Iwashimizu had no problem jumping errant passes.
LB: Stephanie Houghton, Great Britain
Unbelievable as it sounds, Houghton was GB's leading scorer in the tournament.
As a left-back, that might sound preposterous.
Yet the talented and versatile Houghton filled any role she was called on to play, including scoring.
Her defending was also rock solid, as she didn't allow a single goal in the group stages.
CM: Carli Lloyd, USA
Lloyd is the quintessential midfielder.
She scored in the opener against France to help cement the massive four goal comeback.
And in other games, like against New Zealand in the quarterfinals, she helped to lock things down on defense.
Her versatility and calmness in possession are her best attributes, and ones which elevate her above the pack.
CM: Aya Miyama
Miyama is Japan's captain and regularly inspires them to greater results than the experts might forecast.
As a midfielder, she is everywhere, making tackles and scoring goals (which she did to make the difference in a 2-1 win over Canada in the group stages).
At only 27, she already has over a hundred national team caps and is clearly the focal point of an extremely well-organized Japanese team.
CAM: Marta, Brazil
I'm fully aware of the fact that she didn't have the best Olympic tournament.
Still, if we're trying to pick out a team of the best, Marta has to be on it.
Her skill both on the ball and moving without it is second to none in the world of women's soccer.
My theory on Brazil's struggles in this tournament is that it was more to do with the team as a whole than an individual player (ironically, though, as the "problem" was that they played like individuals and not a team).
Marta, however poorly she might have been at times, is still one of the finest players in the world.
FW: Christine Sinclair, Canada
This was a tough call between Sinclair and teammates Melissa Tancredi.
Yet Sinclair has put in a better all-around performance and gets the nod.
Along with the rest of her team, she was probably seen as an outside shot coming into the tournament.
Yet with their win over the host nation in the quarterfinals (a game in which Sinclair scored the second, back-breaking goal), Canada find themselves up against the juggernaut Americans for a shot to play for gold.
FW: Alex Morgan, USA
As the preeminent rising star in women's soccer, Morgan no longer flies under the radar.
Yet no matter how much teams focus on her, she seems to wriggle free from coverage.
In a one-on-one sprint, there may not be a defender in the world who can cover her.
And as teams try to compensate for shackling her speed, they've been regularly over-compensating.
This has left plenty of room and opportunity for...
CF: Abby Wambach, USA
...Morgan's partner in crime: Abby Wambach.
Wambach, 32, may be playing in her last major international tournament.
And it's come full circle for the prolific goal-scorer.
In the 2004 Athens games, she was the youngster trying to win one more gold for veterans like Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm.
Now, new youngsters like Morgan and Tobin Heath are trying to secure one more medal for Wambach.
If this is to be her last appearance on the grand stage of the Olympics, Wambach is making the best of it.
She has scored in every game she's played in, and her experience and tenacity could be the difference in the final two games.
In either case, the semifinals and final are building up to be extraordinary.