WASHINGTON (AFP) — Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd were among 18 players from last year’s United States Women’s World Cup championship squad named Friday to the American squad trying to qualify for this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The eight-nation Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Football Association regional qualifier for the Olympics will be played 28 January to 9 February in Texas and California.
The US women kick off their bid for a seventh consecutive Olympic appearance on 28 January against Haiti at Houston and also meet Panama and Costa Rica in group stage matches.
The two top finishers in the event will earn berths in Japan, to be decided in the semifinals on 7 February in Los Angeles.
US women have never lost a match in Olympic qualifying, but they settled for a disappointing fifth-place result at Rio in 2016 after winning gold in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 and silver in 2000.
This will be the first major tournament for the US women under new coach Vlatko Andonovski, who was named last October after Jill Ellis stepped down following her second consecutive World Cup triumph.
“We have a balanced roster with versatile players and of course they have a lot of experience in important games,” Andonovski said.
“This is a team that understands that you have to be aggressive and unpredictable in how you create scoring chances but also knows how to be smart on defense at the same time. They are mature and savvy players who can adjust on the fly if needed.”
The US women’s fight for equal pay and benefits compared to the much less successful US men’s squad drew great attention during the World Cup, fans chanting “Equal Pay” after the Americans beat the Netherlands 2-0 in the final.
Rapinoe, who has 50 goals in 160 appearances for the US national team, won the Golden Boot as the top scorer at last year’s Women’s World Cup as well as the Golden Ball as the best overall player.
There are 13 players returning from 2016 Olympic qualifying with Rapinoe, Lloyd, Tobin Heath, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara back from the 2012 US Olympic team. Heath and Lloyd were also on the 2008 Olympic team.
The only players in the 20-player US lineup who were not on the Women’s World Cup squad are forward Lynn Williams, now on loan in Australia after scoring 12 goals last year to help the North Carolina Courage win the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League crown, and midfielder Andi Sullivan of the NWSL Washington Spirit.