The U.S. Women’s National Team will look to qualify for a sixth consecutive Olympic Games starting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, when it kicks off the 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship against Costa Rica (7:30 p.m. CT on NBC Live Extra) in the second match of Group A at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, home of MLS’ FC Dallas. Fans can also follow all the action from #USAvCRC on Twitter @ussoccer_wnt and @ussoccer_esp, and follow the team along its journey on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (ussoccer_wnt).
The top two teams of each group will then advance to the semifinals in Houston, Texas, and the winners will book their tickets to Rio 2016. The USA is also attempting to win its fourth consecutive CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.
Here are some additional storylines to follow on Wednesday:
USA vs. COSTA RICA
The WNT is 12-0-0 all-time vs. Costa Rica, having most recently played Las Ticas in two matches at the beginning of the 2015 Victory Tour, winning 8-0 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and 7-2 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Costa Rica played without several of its top players during those matches. The USA also met Costa Rica in the championship game of the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament after both nations booked their tickets to the Women’s World Cup in Canada. The U.S. won the final 6-0 and Costa Rica will surely be looking for some redemption.
ROSTER BREAKDOWN: All 20 players who made the roster for Olympic Qualifying were a part of the USA’s 26-player January training camp, but the roster that will attempt to earn a spot in Rio 2016 has a bit of a different look than the squad that won the Women’s World Cup. The roster features three goalkeepers (a requirement by tournament regulations) and 17 field players, which includes seven defenders, five midfielders and five forwards, although many players on the roster can play more than one position. 13 players were on the USA’s 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team and seven were a part of the USA’s roster for 2012 Olympic Qualifying. Goalkeeper Hope Solo, and midfielders Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd are the only players on the roster who participated in qualifying for the 2008 Olympics.
LLOYD AND SAUERBRUNN NAMED WNT CAPTAINS: Lloyd and defender Becky Sauerbrunn, two of the top performers at the 2015 Women's World Cup, were named as the new captains of the U.S. Women's National Team in January by U.S. head coach Jill Ellis. The duo became the 13th and 14th players officially named captain of the U.S. WNT over the 31 years of the program, although many others have worn the captain's band during a match. When Lloyd and Sauerbrunn are on the field at the same time, Lloyd will wear the armband.
PUGH MAKES JUMP TO SENIOR SIDE: Forward Mallory Pugh, who will turn 18 in April of 2016, was called up for January Camp, making her one of the youngest field players called into the full U.S. WNT in the past 15 years. She does have extensive experience with the USA’s Youth National Teams, having been a starter at the age of 16 in the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada and she recently captained the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team to a 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup berth and the CONCACAF title at the qualifying tournament in Honduras. Pugh made her full WNT debut on Jan. 23 vs. Ireland, coming on for Alex Morgan in the 58th minute and then scored, making her the 19th U.S. female player to score in their debut. She signed a letter of intent on Feb. 3 to play at UCLA starting fall 2016.
VICTORY TOUR OPENS DOORS: The latter part of the Victory Tour gave increased opportunities to numerous young players who were not on the WWC Team including midfielder Lindsey Horan. Horan, who was the first American female player to skip college and head overseas to play professionally, left for Europe in July of 2012 after she graduated from high school and spent more than three years in France with Paris Saint-Germain. Midfielder Samantha Mewis, a NWSL Rookie of the Year finalist with the Western NY Flash who started 20 games while scoring four goals with four assists, played in one match last year and has four caps. Three players made their WNT debuts during the Victory Tour in 22-year-old left back Jaelene Hinkle, who played every minute of all 20 matches last season with the Western NY Flash and 22-year-old defender Emily Sonnett, who was the first pick taken in the 2016 NWSL Draft by the Portland Thorns out the University of Virginia. Twenty-two-year-old forward Stephanie McCaffrey, who started 17 of the 19 matches she played this past season with the Boston Breakers while scoring three goals with three assists, previously trained with the U.S. team during January Camp in 2015, but made her first game roster for the USA’s Oct. 25 match against Brazil. She had an excellent debut, coming on at halftime and creating danger down the right flank. She then became the 18th U.S. player to score in their first cap, volleying home a perfect far post cross from Megan Rapinoe in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time.
SEVEN IN; FIVE TO GO: Seven nations have already qualified for the 12-team Olympic Football Tournament: Brazil and Colombia from South America, South Africa and Zimbabwe from Africa, New Zealand from Oceania and France and Germany from Europe by virtue of their finish at the 2015 Women's World Cup. Two teams will qualify from CONCACAF and Asia and one more will qualify from Europe after a mini-tournament in March featuring Sweden, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. Long-time African power Nigeria, which gave the USA a strong match in the Women’s World Cup, fell in the third round of African qualifying to Equatorial Guinea, which in turn fell to South Africa, which earned its second straight Olympic berth.
HISTORY IN FRISCO: The USA has played at this stadium (formerly Pizza Hut Park and FC Dallas Stadium) three times, in 2007 (6-2 W) and 2014 (1-0 W) vs. Canada and in 2012 vs. New Zealand (2-1 W). The USA won all three games, the most recent two played in freezing temperatures. Against New Zealand, the USA needed two late goals from Alex Morgan to come from behind and win. In 2014, the USA scored late against as a 79th minute goal from Sydney Leroux off a brilliant assist from Becky Sauerbrunn provided the margin of victory.
COSTA RICA RUNDOWN: After participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time in 2015, Costa Rica will be looking to continue its progress by making its first appearance in the Olympic Games. At the World Cup, the Ticas distinguished themselves, tying two games in group play (1-1 with Spain and 2-2 with South Korea) while losing one (0-1 to Brazil). Melissa Herrera and Karla Villalobos, as well as Raquel Rodriguez netted once each at the World Cup. Costa Rica’s star performer is midfielder Shirley Cruz, who plays with Paris Saint-Germain in France, and was a teammate of Horan and Heath. She has scored eight goals in 50 UEFA Women’s Champions League games. Cruz finished as runner-up to the USA’s Abby Wambach voting for the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Player of the Year award.
U.S. WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM OLYMPIC QUALIFYING ROSTER BY POSITION:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 18-Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), 20-Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), 1-Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (7): 19-Jaelene Hinkle (Western NY Flash), 8-Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), 7-Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), 11-Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), 5-Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), 6-Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (5): 14-Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), 17-Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), 9-Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), 10-Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), 3-Samantha Mewis (Western NY Flash)
FORWARDS (5): 16-Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), 15-Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), 13-Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), 12-Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars); 2-Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)
COSTA RICA WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER BY POSITION:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Dinnia Diaz (Moravia), 18-Yolian Salas (Moravia), 13-Yalitza Sánchez (UCEM)
DEFENDERS (7): 2-Gabriela Guillén (Saprissa), 5-Diana Saénz (South Florida, USA), 4-María Benavides (Moravia), 6-Carol Cruz (Moravia), 8-Daniela Cruz (Red Star, Serbia), 12-Lixy Rodríguez (Santa Teresa CD, Spain), 19-Fabiola Sánchez (Martin Methodist, USA)
MIDFIELDERS (5): 3-Gloriana Villalobos (Saprissa), 10-Shirley Cruz (Paris Saint-Germain, France), 20-Wendy Acosta (U.D. Granadilla, Spain), 16-Katherine Alvarado (Saprissa), 15-Cristin Granados (Moravia)
FORWARDS (4): 7-Melissa Herrera (Moravia), 9-Carolina Venegas (Madrid FF, Spain), 11-Raquel Rodríguez (Sky Blue FC, USA), 14-María Barrantes (Moravia)