They called it one of the greatest games in Olympic history. The USA v. Canada semifinal during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was an edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster ride, complete with a never-before-seen stunt: the Goal Olimpico. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe's goal scored from the corner was the first any woman or man had achieved at the Olympic Games, earning her a spot in the sport's history, as well as international recognition.
This summer, Rapinoe will join team USA at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. The competition is fierce, with highly ranked teams from all over the globe — including Canada and Japan, the team USA beat in 2012 to win gold.
Team USA was ranked second in the world, bested only by Germany. And the athletes of Team USA have proven they're ready for the challenge. The women were undefeated in 2013. Forward Abby Wambach has scored more goals than any player, male or female, in history. In 2014, goalkeeper Hope Solo broke the U.S. National Team record for shutouts, adding her 72 to her career in a game against Mexico. And the team earned its seventh CONCACAF championship last year by beating Costa Rica 6-0.
Team USA has its work cut out for it in the World Cup, though. In June, USA will battle Australia, Sweden and Nigeria to advance to the next stage of competition, the round of 16. Of these, Sweden presents the biggest challenge. The Women's National Team lost to Sweden 1-0 in last year's Algarve Cup; in 2013, in the same tournament, the two teams ended in a draw.
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The WNT is also under the direction of a new coach, Jill Ellis; former coach Pia Sundhage stepped down to coach in her home country after the 2012 Olympics. The twist? Sundhage is Swedish. She'll be Team USA's opponent, rather than its leader, during the World Cup's first round this summer.
The outlook for matches against the WNT's other two first-round opponents is sunnier. In 2013, Team USA dominated Australia 4-0 in an international friendly. Nigeria was ranked well below the WNT at number 32.
But will Rapinoe be able to assist her team on the field? The midfielder suffered a strain in her right knee in January, an injury that kept her out of training camp and sidelined her during several planned exhibition games. No decision had been made about whether Rapinoe would be recovered in time to play in the World Cup. But Rapinoe is as supportive off the field as she is on it, where her teammates depend on her precise passes and powerful defense to let them shine. With her energy and confidence bolstering the WNT talent, there's a good chance they can take it all.
Facts are as of press time. For more up to date information, visit ussoccer.com