USWNT: Road to Tokyo Olympics

Olympic Rings are seen near the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.
Olympic Rings are seen near the National Stadium in Tokyo on January 8, 2021. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

If the headline of this piece sparked a minor case of déjà vu, don’t worry. We’ve been here before (remember our Tokyo 2020 predicted squad?) and things may change even more as the new year carries on. After all, the current path to the Tokyo Olympics looks very similar for the USWNT as it did almost a year ago.

The Summer Games are currently scheduled to kick off on July 23, 2021. If this date holds true, the USWNT will have five matches across January and February to prepare for the Olympics.

January training camp

Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States warms up during a training session at Gymnase Park des Sport on July 06, 2019 in Lyon, France.
Megan Rapinoe returns to team training for the first time since the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Currently, the national team is taking part in its first training camp of 2021. The camp began on January 9 and will conclude on January 22, following two friendlies against Columbia.

During the Orlando-based camp, head coach Vlatko Andonovski is overseeing 27 players. While he may have liked to have included certain mainstays in his squad, some players opted out of the camp.

Tobin Heath and Christen Press are two USWNT regulars that decided to stay with their club. It’s a wise move that limits their travel and allows them to carry on with top-of-the-league Manchester United.

Meanwhile, Alex Morgan recently revealed that she and her family are recovering from COVID-19. This news broke after the striker returned to California for the holidays following her time at Tottenham Hotspur.

On a more positive note, though, these omissions allow for other players to gain time with the national team. Young players such as Catarina Macario, Jaelin Howell and Sophia Smith will be able to build upon their relatively fresh senior squad experiences.

Veterans such as Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe also factor into the winter camp. Interestingly enough, both players have not been involved with either the national team or their respective clubs since the 2020 SheBelieves Cup last March.

That being said, Andonovski has an amazing palette of players to choose from as the U.S. squad takes on Columbia. The games will be played at Exploria Stadium, the home of the Orlando Pride, on January 18 and 22.

2021 SheBelieves Cup

Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida prior to an October 2020 fixture between Orlando Pride and North Carolina Courage. (Photo by Stacy White / SPP)

Exploria Stadium will certainly see its fair share of action during the first part of the year. Aside from hosting the 2021 NWSL Draft and the USWNT’s January friendlies, the stadium will also host every match in this year’s SheBelieves Cup.

Canada, Brazil and Japan join the United States in the sixth edition of the round-robin tournament. Games will take place on February 18–24, as the USWNT look to retain their title after last year’s dominance.

Of course, the national team’s main goal will be just like last year. That’s to say each player will be looking to make an impact on the field in order to increase their chances of being selected for the Olympic squad. Therefore, from here on out, each step the USWNT takes will be crucial for what all goes down in July.

Tokyo Olympics loom

Tokyo organizing committee chief Yoshirō Mori speaks to staff members in Tokyo.
Tokyo organizing committee chief Yoshirō Mori speaks to staff members in Tokyo on January 12, 2021 about preparation for the games amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo via Imago)

Excitement for the Tokyo Olympics has been understandably drawn-out. And while fresh doubts hang over the Summer Games, safety is the top priority for Japan.

Whether this means the games take place this next summer or not at all is yet to be seen. Regardless, Olympic and Paralympic athletes from all sports are still powering through with their sights set on gold.

For the USWNT, the Tokyo Olympics have always stood as tournament to solidify their international superiority. After all, it was during the 2016 Rio Olympics where the team witnessed a shock exit against Sweden during the quarterfinals.

The USWNT returned to the top of the podium during the 2019 FIFA World Cup. Yet, their global comeback would not be complete without Olympic gold.

January and February are crucial months for the national team. These two months may dictate exactly the kind of path the USWNT will pursue in 2021.

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