USA, Canadian women busy in June as Olympic football bosses face hard choices

SOLNA, SWEDEN - APRIL 10: Megan Rapinoe of USA interacts with  Vlatko Andonovski, manager of USA after the Women's International Friendly between Sweden and USA at Friends Arena on April 10, 2021 in Solna, Sweden. Sporting stadiums around the Sweden remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)
SOLNA, SWEDEN - APRIL 10: Megan Rapinoe of USA interacts with Vlatko Andonovski, manager of USA after the Women's International Friendly between Sweden and USA at Friends Arena on April 10, 2021 in Solna, Sweden. Sporting stadiums around the Sweden remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)

Eight of the 12 teams slated to take part in the Tokyo Women’s Olympic Football Tournament – including Megan Rapinoe’s Team USA and Christine Sinclair’s Canadians – will be in friendly action over the next week as international coaches try to cut their squads down to size and finalise plans.

Time is running low for squad shuffling and eleventh-hour sprung surprises as the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament of the 2020 (in 2021) Olympic Games – the seventh of its kind since debuting at Atlanta 1996 – draws ever nearer.

SCHEDULE | Women’s Olympic Football Tournament (Tokyo 2020)

With six weeks to go before the competition opens in Sapporo on 21 July, eight of the 12 participating teams for the Japan Games this July and August will take advantage of the June international friendly window that opens for the next seven days.

USA’s embarrassment of riches

One of Team USA’s biggest problems is its absolute surplus of Olympic-level talent. With coach Vlatko Andonovski (and all the rest) required to trim his squad to 18 (five fewer than the FIFA World Cup limit), the Stars and Stripes’ three contests this month will be crucial for the Macedonia-born boss – leading the USA into major competition for the first time since taking over from Jill Ellis.

The Americans – with veteran superstars like Megan Rapinoe and 300-time capped Carli Lloyd in the side – take on Portugal on 10 June and Jamaica two days later. They’ll close out what the US Soccer Federation has dubbed the ‘Summer Series’ with a contest against traditional African powers Nigeria on 16 June.

All three of USA’s June friendlies will take place in the state of Texas, with soaring temperatures likely to create a comparable atmosphere to what the team, four-time gold medallists hoping to become the first to win back-to-back World Cup and Olympic golds, can expect in and around Tokyo this summer.

“These games… are just more tests, more challenges and more learning opportunities, for the players and coaches,” said the USA boss, who’s selected 19 players from the NWSL – the country’s premier women’s club competition, currently in its ninth season. “The three matches will certainly be important in the selection of the Olympic Team, but we are also focused on the big picture.”

In the nine games the Americans have played against Portugal, they have never lost and, in fact, they’ve never even conceded a goal (scoring 38). Against Nigeria and Jamaica, the four-time World Cup-winning Americans have a similar dominance, coming out victorious in all previous encounters.

Tobin Heath, still a question mark for the Olympics – is working herself back to fitness after a serious knee injury. The Mewis sisters (Sam and Kristie), Lindsey Horan and Man City’s dominant defender Abby Dahlkemper are all in the 23-player squad for the June friendles.

READ MORE | American Horan’s Messi Lessons

Team USA’s Summer Series schedule, with two rest days between games, is designed to mimic the rhythm of Olympic group play. The Americans will round off their Olympic preparations with a so-called Send-Off Series, playing Mexico twice in Hartford, Connecticut on 1 and 5 July before departing for Japan where they open their Olympic account in Tokyo on 21 July against Sweden – the team that knocked them out of Rio 2016 at the quarterfinal stage.

READ MORE | USA’s Dahlkemper wants Swede Revenge

Sinclair, Huitema return for Canada

The Canadians – USA’s neighbours to the north – are also in action with two June friendlies. With the team having picked up bronze in the last two editions of the Olympic Games, Bev Priestman is hoping for more this time out in her debut as a head coach in major international competition.

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Jordyn Huitema #9 of Canada celebrates her goal with Christine Sinclair #12 and Deanne Rose #6 against Costa Rica during the second half of the Semifinals - 2020 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Dignity Health Sports Park on February 7, 2020 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Jordyn Huitema #9 of Canada celebrates her goal with Christine Sinclair #12 and Deanne Rose #6 against Costa Rica during the second half of the Semifinals - 2020 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Dignity Health Sports Park on February 7, 2020 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

“I think the next step for Team Canada is to be brave and to demand more,” England-born Priestman, among the world’s youngest international coaches at only 35-years of age, told Tokyo 2020. “On the pitch, we want to be a horrible team to play against.

“Facing the Czechs and Brazil will provide us with similar conditions to what we will face at the Tokyo Olympic Games,” Priestman added. “It’s two very different opponents within a three-day window.”

The Canadians have both 37-year-old scoring legend Christine Sinclair (186 career goals) and 20-year-old phenom Jordyn Huitema back in the side after the pair missed out on the SheBelieves Cup in the United States in February.

Brazil, who are led by former USA and Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, will play twice in June. The South Americans (two-time silver medallists) follow up their contest against Canada with a date against the Russians.

On 10 June, Australia open their first of two games by travelling to Horsens to take on hosts Denmark with Sam Kerr in the side, but no room for veteran Lisa De Vanna. On that same day, the Guldfageln Arena will see an all-Scandinavian affair against Rio 2016 silver medal winners Sweden and old rivals Norway (2000 gold winners in Sydney).

The earliest game on Thursday will have Japan – hosts of the Tokyo Games and London 2021 silver medallists – taking on Ukraine in Hiroshima. The contest will allow coach TAKAKURA Asako a chance to run the rule over a squad that will be looking for a first gold medal when the Games kicks off next month.

“The players are working towards the Olympics, and you can tell that they are in great form right now.” the Japan coach said of her squad – chosen from those playing abroad and some lining up in the domestic WE League, currently ramping up pre-season preparations for its inaugural year. “No one is guaranteed with a spot. There were many players who aren’t in this list that could have made the team. If they can make a case for themselves, I will not hesitate to name them into the squad (for the Olympics).”

Great Britain and African debutants Zambia have both decided to forego the June window. The pair will meet, instead, in their lone preparatory game for the Olympics on 1 July in Stoke. “I’m delighted that we have secured a match on home soil which allows fans to watch us play before we depart for Tokyo,” said Team GB’s manager, the former Norway playing legend Hege Riise.

New Zealand and China PR will not play in the June window.

Olympic Teams in action during the June 2020 Women’s friendly window

10 June
Japan – Ukraine
Slovakia – Chile
Italy – Netherlands
Denmark – Australia
Sweden
– Norway
United States – Portugal

11 June
Canada – Czech Republic
Brazil – Russia

13 June
Japan – Mexico
United States – Jamaica

14 June
BrazilCanada

15 June
Germany – Chile
Netherlands
– Norway
SwedenAustralia

16 June
United States – Nigeria