For retooled U.S. women’s soccer team, trek to the Olympics starts this week in Frisco

Alex Morgan. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Alex Morgan. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

On Wednesday (Feb. 10), the U.S. women’s soccer team officially begins its quest for another Olympic gold medal.

That’s when the Americans join seven other national teams for a tournament that starts in  Frisco,  Texas, and wraps up the following week in Houston. At stake are two spots in this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Texas tournament is the Olympic qualifier for members of CONCACAF, the international soccer federation representing North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

uscostaTeam USA’s opening game is against Costa Rica at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Stadium, the home of FC Dallas.

The other teams grouped with the United States are Puerto Rico and Mexico. A second group consists of Canada, Guatemala, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.

After the group stage is completed in Frisco, the tournament moves to Houston, where the semifinal and final matches will take place at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Fans will see a U.S. team that’s markedly different from the one that brought home the Women’s World Cup just seven months ago. Veteran mainstays Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday have retired, along with Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny.

Multi-talented midfielder Megan Rapinoe and longtime team captain Christie Rampone are out with injuries. Forwards Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez are pregnant and will miss the Rio games. Midfielder Heather O’Reilly and defender Whitney Engen didn’t make the cut when U.S. coach Jill Ellis put together her 20-member roster for the qualifying tournament.

World champions. (Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated)

World champions in July. Much has changed since.  (Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated)

Ellis has packed the roster with young, largely unknown players. Not all of them will make the American team that goes to Rio this summer, and the lucky ones who do might not see much playing time in the Olympics.

But everyone has a shot. The competition for places on the U.S. women’s team hasn’t been this open and freewheeling in years.

jill media day nyc 2015

U.S. coach Jill Ellis

“This was an exceptionally challenging roster to select,” Ellis said when the team was announced on Jan. 26.

Versatility was a key consideration, she said, “with only 17 field players allowed on the roster, and minimal time in between matches.” She added: “Most of the field players are capable of playing at least two positions.”

Carli Lloyd, the new team captain, told CBS New York that the newcomers “are bringing a different dynamic to our team, and it’s fun. They’re out there and they just want to compete. They ask questions – they want to be helped.

“Obviously, we are sad to see some of the older players go, but this is a new chapter and a new era, and it’s been really great so far.”

 

soccerball

 

Team USA’s road to the Olympics: By the numbers

23

Roster size for last summer’s World Cup

 

18

Roster size in the Olympics

 

24

Teams in the World Cup

 

12

Teams in the Olympics

 

29.2

Average age of the U.S. World Cup team. (Oldest in the tournament.)

 

25.7

Average age of the current team

 

7

U.S. players competing in their first major tournament for the national team. The new kids: Crystal Dunn (23 years old), Jaelene Hinkle (22), Lindsey Horan (21), Stephanie McCaffrey (22), Samantha Mewis (23), Mallory Pugh (17), and Emily Sonnett (22).

Lindsey Horan (31) scored her first goal for the U.S. women's team in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Dec 10, 2015. (Soobum Im/USA Today Sports)

Lindsey Horan (31) scored her first goal for the national  team against Trinidad and Tobago at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Dec 10, 2015. (Soobum Im/USA Today Sports)

55

Percentage of the current team that comes from these four schools: University of North Carolina (4 players), University of Virginia (3), Penn State (2, and Stanford (2)

 

0

Texans on the team. (Hinkle went to Texas Tech, but she was born and raised in the Denver area.)

 

10

Players from last summer’s World Cup who are gone from the current roster

 

100

Combined years of  national team experience among those 10 players

 

9

Starters from the World Cup championship game who are still on the team. (Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Carli Lloyd,  Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo.)

XIfpi

 

 

5

Olympics with women’s soccer as a sport. (The first was the 1996 Atlanta Games.)

 

4

U.S. gold medals in women’s soccer. (In 2000, the Americans lost to Norway in the championship game and had to settle for silver.)

 

1

Team USA’s world ranking

 

56

Average world ranking of the other seven teams in the qualifying tournament

 

0

Games the Americans have lost in previous Olympic qualifying tournaments

 

0

Teams that have won a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal in back-to-back years.

 

Collage

 

 

Olympic qualifying: How it works

The 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship runs from Wednesday through Feb. 21 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco and BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Eight nations are taking part. They’re divided into two groups of four. Every team plays the other three teams in its group.

The U.S. team’s group matches, all in Frisco, are:

• 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Costa Rica
• 3 p.m. Saturday against Mexico
• 7:30 p.m. next Monday against Puerto Rico

There’s a complete schedule here.

Standings within each group are based on points. Teams get three points for a win, one point for a draw. If teams are tied on points,  the tiebreakers, in order, are goal differential, total goals scored, and head-to-head results.

The two top finishers in each group advance to the semifinals on Feb. 19 in Houston. The winners of those two semifinal matches qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

There’s a championship game in Houston on Feb 21, but it’s largely ceremonial. The two teams that make it to that title game are both in the Olympics.

Tickets can be purchased online through U.S. Soccer, or at the website of FC Dallas.

Ticket prices, driving directions, parking information, stadium maps and other details are here.

All tournament matches will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra, with four also airing on NBC Sports Network  (NBCSN). U.S. Soccer has programming details here.

 

Carli Lloyd vs, Ireland, Jan. 23, 2016. (Gregory Bull/AP)

Carli Lloyd. (Gregory Bull/AP)

 

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