US women’s soccer is in transition heading into Olympics. Spain hopes to build off World Cup win

The signs that the U.S. national team’s dominance was slipping started to emerge back at the Tokyo Olympics.

The United States was vying to become the first team to win an Olympic gold medal after winning a Women’s World Cup. But the team stumbled along the way.

The U.S. lost to nemesis Sweden in the opening game, then fell to Canada in the semifinals. A victory over Australia for the bronze got the Americans a spot on the podium — just not at the top as they’d hoped.

There was still time to correct the failings ahead of the 2023 World Cup, but the U.S. ultimately stumbled again, finishing second in its group at the tournament before getting eliminated — again by Sweden — on penalties in the round of 16.

It was the earliest exit ever for the United States. Following the tournament, coach Vlatko Andonovski announced he was leaving the team.

Enter Emma Hayes, head coach at Chelsea, who was hired to turn things around. Hayes was appointed last November but only recently joined the team after the conclusion of the Women’s Super League season.

She didn’t have much in-person time with the team, just two friendlies, before she had to select a tight Olympic roster with only 18 players.

When she announced it, she dropped a bombshell: Veteran forward Alex Morgan was left off the squad going to France.

Hayes made it clear this is the new generation for the United States.

“I think for me, I’ve been clear that everything we’re doing is a step-by-step approach to get us as close as we possibly can to our best level, to our best version of ourselves,” Hayes said. “This is a team that’s making really good progress in doing that. And my interest and investment is getting our performances right.”

The United States is the winningest team in the Olympics, with four gold medals, but the most recent came in 2012. Heading into the Paris Games, the Americans fell to No. 5 in FIFA’s global rankings, their lowest ever.

The Americans open with Zambia on July 25 in Group B, which also includes 2016 Olympic gold medalist Germany and Australia.

Australia is still looking for a first medal after losing the bronze to the Americans in Japan, but the Matildas will be without captain Sam Kerr, who tore her ACL in January.

Can Spain build on World Cup success?

Spain can become the first team to win an Olympics after a World Cup title, but the team is coming off a series of scandals.

Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales resigned in disgrace in the fallout for forcibly kissing Jenni Hermoso during Spain’s World Cup victory celebration. The team also fired controversial World Cup-winning coach Jorge Vilda, who was replaced by former national team player Montse Tomé.

Despite the tumult, La Roja is immensely talented, with FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati, Alexia Putellas and dynamic 20-year-old winger Salma Paralluelo. The team earned a spot in the Olympics by winning the UEFA Women’s Nations League.

“We are working to be a team that people admire in football on the pitch and also from what we portray from the outside,” Tomé said in announcing her provisional Olympic squad.

Spain is making its Olympic debut. The team opens with Japan in Group C, which also includes Nigeria and Brazil.

Brazilian great Marta likely is playing in her last major tournament. The 38-year-old plans to retire from the national team at the end of the year.

Canada in transition after Olympic gold

Canada won the gold medal in Tokyo on a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw with Sweden. So it was something of a surprise when the team was eliminated in the group stage at the World Cup.

Since then, Canada has been adjusting without longtime captain Christine Sinclair, the all-time leading international scorer among both men and women, who retired from the national team late last year.

“Teams are always in transition, and we’ve had a lot of transition in recent years. But since the World Cup I’ve felt like we’ve had a lot of really good performances as a team, and you’re seeing some of our younger players step up, which is cool,” new captain Jessie Fleming said.

Canada opens with New Zealand in Group A. Colombia and host France round out the group.

The Olympic women’s soccer tournament begins July 25. It will be played at stadiums in cities across France, including Nice, Marseille, Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux, Saint-Etienne and Paris.

The semifinals will take place in Lyon and Marseille on Aug. 6. The gold-medal match is set for Aug. 10 at Parc des Princes in Paris, while Lyon will host the bronze-medal game the day before.


AP Summer Olympics:

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