USA forward Alex Morgan, left, and Canada defender Carmelina Moscato...

USA forward Alex Morgan, left, and Canada defender Carmelina Moscato look back after heading the ball in the first half of their friendly match in Salt Lake City. (June 30, 2012) Credit: AP

Every four years, the U.S. women make winning an Olympic soccer gold medal the No. 1 priority. This year, they have some more motivation.

The Americans believe they have some unfinished business from last year's World Cup final in Germany, allowing late leads in regulation and extra time to slip away before losing to Japan in penalty kicks.

"It's a huge motivating factor," midfielder Lauren Cheney said. "We don't like to lose . . . Feeling that loss, feeling that sting, being in a World Cup final and being that close, that's in the back of all of our minds.

"We want to be the best team in the world."

The United States has defined the 16-year history of the women's soccer tournament, having won three gold medals (1996, 2004 and 2008) and a silver (2000), losing the final in extra time. So not surprisingly, expectations are great.

"We are ready," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "We are full of confidence and we'll have fun at the Olympics."

Since Sundhage paired the human-battering ram Abby Wambach (138 international goals) and the speedy Alex Morgan in the qualifying tournament, the dynamic duo has combined for 20 goals in 11 games. "We definitely play really well together," Wambach said. "Her skill set is completely opposite of mine and that makes her a nightmare for any defense."

Sundhage tinkered with the midfield, switching the playmaking Cheney from the left side to a central role with 35-year-old Shannon Boxx, replacing Carli Lloyd. She also put Megan Rapinoe on the left flank and replaced veteran Heather O'Reilly on the right with Tobin Heath. Lloyd -- who scored the winner in the 1-0 gold-medal win over Brazil in Beijing -- and O'Reilly give Team USA a deep bench.

Ageless team captain Christie Rampone, 37, still has the speed and smarts to anchor the central defense, along with Rachael Buehler. And the U.S. has Hope Solo, revered as the best women's goalkeeper in the world.

If the Americans make it through their Group G matches (against France, Colombia), their true challenge will come in the knockout-round against the likes of Brazil and Japan.

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