USWNT could win Olympic gold if they can balance experience with next generation

We had a saying about the National Team: Adversity builds character. Every time we went to the Cockroach Motel, we screamed: CHARACTER BUILDING! When we had to cross the country by plane with 2 or 3 stopovers (to save money) : CHARACTER BUILDING! Middle seat, back row, smoking area: CHARACTER BUILDING!

The problem is that we have reached a point where our ears and eyes are losing their character. There was no more room for the characters, and frankly we were running out of patience, so we decided we didn’t really need a character anymore – we just needed to nurture the characters around us. Fortunately, we finally found a way.

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I can’t even imagine how many times the current national team has had to scream in 2020: Forget your character! Or maybe something more colorful. The pandemic has caused leagues to close, then sports, fields, parks, gyms everything you need in your job to keep playing. So the players did what any motivated athlete would do…. They figured out how to make it work safely. They went abroad, played in the NWSL bubble, got games and trained wherever they could.

Fortunately, they’ve finally found a way.

If you need more evidence to know if they’ve passed the 2020 aptitude test, look no further than the 27th’s match in Holland. November. It was a repeat of the 2019 World Cup Final and it should be noted, against a very good Dutch team with many players in the professional leagues who continued to play in Europe (more regularly than in the United States, to be sure) after much of the continent had returned to the sport.

I thought the American team would quickly look rusty and tired, with few players holding out for 90 minutes. Instead, we saw USWNT sweep the Dutch from the field. And now, as 2021 greets us with a huge Faustian smile (wait, it’s not written that way), the big question – WHERE IS THE VOICE? as we face the challenges of 2020 – has been answered.

The key point in the run-up to the Olympics in July is, I think, this: How does a young man end up in this veterans group? Or maybe not. But I’d say it’s the most important decision coach Vlatko Andonovski will have to weigh in on in the coming months.

The Americans had another golden generation that won everything there was to win. But refreshing this group with young talent for the next Olympics is a big challenge. Photos by Brad Smith/ International Institute of Photography/Getty Images

Carly Lloyd will be 39 when the Olympics begin. Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn will be 36 for the Olympics. But of course it’s not age that counts, it’s always what comes with numbers, in terms of the learning environment and the conditions they’re in.

In 2020, Carli Lloyd missed most of her playing time due to injury. Megan Rapinoe also barely played in 2020 because of concerns about COVID-19, and as she said recently: I wasn’t ready for the game because I didn’t have a consistent training environment with my teammates. She talked about the need for a longer track. And just as important: His body just needed a break.

It is not for nothing that no women’s team has ever won the World Cup and the following year’s Olympics. That’s a cool twist. The players are exhausted. Perhaps, dare I say it, this Olympic slowdown will provide a recovery that will make the team better, as two of its biggest superstars have had a chance to recharge physically and mentally. Or maybe it was because the wait was too long. The next three months will tell us everything.

Can Lloyd and Rapinoe come back with the same strength and ability to change the rules of the game after such a long layoff? With only 18 players on the Olympic team (compared to 23 at the World Cup), it’s hard to say they’d be taken below their peak form. And if you don’t take them, what young players can fill the void? Are these young players ready for the big stage? How does this affect the dynamics of this team? So many questions to be answered.

The good news is that there are some very talented young players who have the potential to be part of this 18-man Olympic team. To give just a few examples….

Catarina Macario, a Stanford superstar who moved to the United States from Brazil at age 12, was born at age 13. January that she can now play for the United States as an American citizen.

She is a player who scored at will at Stanford (she led the nation in goals and assists in 2019), led them to a national title in 2017 and 2019, and twice won the Mack Herman Trophy for best college football. She will not finish her final season at Stanford, as she just signed with Olympique Lyonnais in France.

Sophia Smith, also from Stanford University, was selected to the 2020 NWSL by the Portland Thorns and dominated the junior teams. A broken ankle in her freshman year at Stanford in 2018 slowed her career, but Sophia said she was back and healthy after being named MVP of the 2019 College Cup.

It’s also clear that in the mix of young players who are still in college or who are …

Emily Fox of UNC, who was just selected as the NWSL’s No. 1 expansion team, Racing Louisville
Jaylin Howell, a junior from Florida who helped lead her FSU team to a national title in 2018
Naomi Girma, a Stanford junior who was recently named U.S. Junior Player of the Year.

It’s important when you’re coach Andonowski, but there are some tough decisions to make. Buckle up!

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