Women's Olympic soccer preview
Morgan has been on fire in 2012, leading the U.S. with 17 goals in 15 games, and teammates say her tactical awareness is growing by leaps and bounds. She also has a knack for timely goals in the dying minutes of games.
The only member of the U.S. team who wasn't on the 2011 World Cup squad is Sydney Leroux, an electric 22-year-old forward who scored five goals in a single game at the Olympic qualifying tournament earlier this year. New starters of late include Megan Rapinoe, who has won back a spot in the lineup after losing it just before the World Cup, Tobin Heath, who has been patrolling the left flank, and Kelley O'Hara, who has been switched from forward to left back. The U.S. will still be relying on its two stars, Wambach and goalkeeper Hope Solo, as well as defender and captain Christie Rampone (now 37) and central midfielder Lauren Cheney.
Likely U.S. lineup: Hope Solo; Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler, Kelley O'Hara; Megan Rapinoe, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach.
The first event of the Games involving U.S. athletes (it takes place two days before the opening ceremony) provides the Americans with their biggest test of the group stage. France is the most improved team in women's world soccer, and it gave the U.S. trouble at times in the semifinals of last year's World Cup.
The final game in a hotly contested Group F (which also includes Japan) will likely have a big impact on how the knockout bracket will look.
If the U.S. wins its group, the knockout stage foes could be Canada, Brazil and Japan, a tough trio by any measure. Canada is a physical rival that has been tough to play against, while Brazil would love the chance to avenge last year's epic World Cup quarterfinal loss to the Yanks. The same would go for the U.S. if it got another crack at Japan in the gold-medal game after falling to the Japanese in the World Cup final.
• The U.S. has won three of the last four Olympic gold medals in women's soccer (1996, 2004, '08) despite not winning a Women's World Cup since 1999.
• Two-time World Cup champion Germany failed to qualify for the Olympic tournament, which is a shame for the level of the competition. Instead of using a qualifying tournament, UEFA simply relied on results from the World Cup. Germany (an upset loser in the quarterfinals) did not do as well as Sweden and France (which reached the semis). There really is no good reason why the women's Olympic soccer tournament has 12 teams and the men's has 16, but that's FIFA and the IOC for you.
• North Korea is a group with the U.S. for the fifth time at an Olympics or World Cup going back to 1999, but there are questions over whether the North Koreans should even be involved. After several North Korean players tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs at last year's World Cup, FIFA banned North Korea from the 2015 World Cup. But that ban does not apply to the Olympics, so the team will be involved. You might also recall that the North Korean coach blamed his team's loss to the U.S. last year on a pre-tournament lightning strike that hit some of his players.
The gold-medal game will be played at Wembley Stadium on Aug. 9 at 2:45 p.m. ET.