With the Olympics in full swing the buzz around these games has ranged from the ever-popular phrase “Spoiler Alert!” to how many medals Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will split. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is also garnering quite a bit of attention as they are seeking their third consecutive gold medal and looking for a little redemption after the bitter loss last summer in the FIFA Women’s World Cup when they finished second behind Japan.
It was no surprise when the U.S. squad won their group and easily moved on to the quarterfinals, which they will play on Friday against New Zealand. (9:30am EST NBC Sports Network) The fashion in which they won was a bit of a bonus as they earned the full nine points needed to clinch Group G and give them the best position moving forward.
Opening against a very versatile French team the U.S. actually fell behind 2 goals before coming back with a 4-2 victory. It was the last two goals the team would give up as they handily beat a scrappy Colombian team 3-0 and then took a 1-0 win over North Korea in the final group stage match.
Not to take away from a talented young New Zealand team, but it is hard not to look ahead towards next week and what could be a great semi-final match against either the host country of Great Britain or our northern neighbor Canada. The historic pitch of Old Trafford, home to Manchester United will serve as the host for the semi-final with the winner going on to the final gold medal match to be played at Wembley stadium in London. On the other side of the bracket looking to book their own tickets to the final are Brazil, Japan, France and Sweden. Though the U.S. players won’t admit it out loud, it is no secret that many of them are praying for a rematch against the Japanese. There is a chip on their shoulders that only a gold medal will ease.
And for the future of women’s soccer in the United States, a gold medal right now is what is needed in order to kick start another professional soccer league. The members of the national team will return home to uncertain professional futures as the Women’s Professional Soccer league folded last winter and plans for a new league have yet to be ironed out.
Perhaps unclear futures await them but it is fair to say that women’s soccer in this country is clearly on the upswing. Despite the second place finish last summer the team was embraced on their return and the names Rapinoe, Wambach and Morgan can be found adorned on the backs of the young girls who look to emulate them and the new fans who have fallen in love with them.
Some might say the week has been a bit spoiled by the Twitter rant displayed by goalkeeper Hope Solo in her attack on commentator and former national team member Brandi Chastain. Solo took to her Twitter account blasting Chastain for her commentary over defender Rachel Buehler’s play during the game against Colombia. While some have lauded Solo’s attempt to defend a teammate, most came away from the incident scratching their heads as to why Solo would want to draw any negative light towards the team. Solo as we have seen in the past (and not so recent past) is never one to hide her views or be shy about expressing them. And perhaps she is just looking for more ways to thrust her beautiful face further into the limelight as she is pushing her book Solo: A Memoir of Hope which is slated to come out fittingly right after the Olympics.
Although not all publicity is good publicity, the recent antics of Solo put the team squarely in the national spotlight that is already brimming with many other Olympic story lines. It is a spotlight that the team tends to thrive under and one that will hopefully only deepen as they make their push towards another gold medal next week.
There is certainly a buzz in the air right now at the Olympics, and the U.S. women are hoping that buzz sticks around long after these games are over.