Dallas • The soccer players who will play their Olympic send-off game at Rio Tinto Stadium next month needed plenty of time to recover from losing the dramatic final of the Women’s World Cup last summer to Japan on penalty kicks.
But now, they’re back, and ready to go for gold at the London Olympics this summer.
“It did take a few months for us to sort of emotionally recover from that tournament,” veteran midfielder Heather O’Reilly said at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit on Tuesday. “But we geared up for our Olympic qualifiers and obviously took care of business there, and since the new year, I think it’s been full steam ahead, looking forward to the Olympics, looking forward to winning gold.”
The Americans are the two-time defending Olympic champions, and have won three of the four gold medals awarded since women’s soccer was added to the Olympics in 1996. They will play their last tuneup game before London against Canada at Rio Tinto Stadium at noon on June 30.
“The preparation has been good,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “We want nothing [less] than a gold medal. And we’re going to do anything we possibly can to get on that podium at the end and receive that gold medal around our necks. I think the team’s looking great.”
The women will be the only American soccer team at the Olympics, since the men failed to qualify for only the second time since 1980. They have been drawn into a preliminary-round group with France, Colombia and North Korea — three teams they defeated at the World Cup last year.
Players seemed mixed on whether they crave a rematch with Japan, and whether Japan is their top challenger.
Forward Lauren Cheney said teams such as Brazil and Sweden are equally big rivals, but fellow forward Alex Morgan said the Americans would love another shot at Japan — even after the teams meet in an Olympic tuneup June 18 in Sweden.
“We definitely hope to see Japan again,” Morgan said. “We haven’t had the best record against them in the past year, so it’s always great to play a team that challenges us in every way, and Japan has definitely done that in the past year. … We’re looking for them, whether it’s semifinals, finals. They’re definitely someone we’re looking forward to.”
The Americans are winless in their last three meetings with Japan — they lost 1-0 in Portugal in March and tied 1-1 in Japan in April, following the World Cup loss — yet still ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, the international governing body for soccer.
“I think the United States will always be favorites,” Cheney said. “I look at Team USA — not just soccer — I look at Team USA from track, from gymnastics, anything. When you see the American flag, I feel like you’re labeled as a favorite in anything you do. We’re OK with that. I think a target is always going to be on our backs, and we do embrace that, we do want to play in that environment. But by any means, are we unbeatable? Do people think we’re unbeatable? I don’t think so. … But we’ll always be a target.”
The U.S. women will play three group-stage opponents at the London Olympics:
July 25 • France
July 28 • Colombia
July 31 • North Korea
Rio Tinto friendly
Team USA will play Canada on June 30 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the Americans’ final tuneup before the London Games. Kickoff is at noon.