The U.S. soccer team is on a mission at the Rio Olympics — to become the first side to win the Women’s World Cup and an Olympic gold medal in consecutive years.
Incredibly, no defending WWC champion has accomplished that. Coach Jill Ellis is confident her team can win a fourth successive Olympic title and fifth overall.
“One of the things that I have looked into is why the repeat has never been done,” she said. “Is it change of personnel? Is it complacency? Is there time [between competitions] to make sure it doesn’t happen? One of the questions I posed the players: are you as hungry; do you feel as focused? The resounding response was yes.’’
While several starters from the 2015 WWC team have retired — including all-time goal-scoring leader Abby Wambach, the team’s core returns. The back five, which allowed only three goals in seven matches last year, remains intact. That includes Hope Solo, considered the world’s best woman’s goalkeeper, and an outstanding quartet of defenders in Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd, who scored the winning goal in the last two Olympic finals and converted that unforgettable hat-trick in the WWC final, returns from a knee injury. Striker Alex Morgan, hampered by injuries in 2015, is healthy.
They will be supported by newcomers, including two Long Islanders — midfielder-forward Crystal Dunn (Southside H.S., Rockville Centre) and versatile midfielder Allie Long (Northport H.S.). Another new face is 18-year-old attacking midfielder Mallory Pugh, who has played well beyond her years.
Ellis gambled by including playmaking midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who hadn’t played a competitive match since a knee injury in December, on an 18-player roster (five less from the WWC).
Brazil, with the great Marta, Japan, Germany and Japan are medal contenders.
Mexico and 2012 Games hero Oribe Peralta will try to become the fifth men’s team to win back-to-back golds. The U.S. men’s team did not qualify.