Carli Lloyd celebrates a goal she scored at the Olympics. (Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports)
The U.S. women’s national team returns to the field for its first action following the Tokyo Olympics, hosting Paraguay at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium Thursday at 7:38 p.m. ET (ESPN2).
The first match in a two-game series with Paraguay, the game will be the first official competition for the USA since winning bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The USWNT defeated Australia, 4-3, Aug. 5 to win bronze and claim the USA’s sixth medal in seven Olympic appearances. The U.S. has medaled in 14 of its 15 all-time appearances at world championship events – winning eight times (four World Cups and four Olympics), finishing runner-up twice (2011 World Cup and 2000 Olympics) and taking bronze on four occasions (three at the World Cup and once at the Olympics.
Thursday’s match against Paraguay also marks the USA’s first home contest since beating Mexico 4-0 July 5 in the final game of the Send-Off Series, which extended the USWNT’s home win streak to 20 matches in a row.
All 22 players from the Olympic Team were invited for the two matches against Paraguay, but due to injuries, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski called up three players who were not on the Olympic Team — Washington Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan, Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith and Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, midfielders Julie Ertz and Samantha Mewis and forward Megan Rapinoe will not play in these two matches due to injuries. Naeher and Mewis will join the team during this international window for evaluation and rehabilitation. Forward Christen Press will not be on the roster as she opted out of the matches.
With COVID-19 delaying the Olympics, there is now less than a year until the start of qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be co-hosted in Australia and New Zealand beginning in July of 2023. The Concacaf qualifying tournament is scheduled to take place in July of 2022, with the top four teams guaranteeing their spot in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Two more Concacaf representatives will advance to a 10-team intercontinental play-off to determine the final teams in the expand 32-team field for 2023.
Also new this cycle is the qualifying format for Concacaf itself. On August 19, the confederation announced the qualifying path to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which is now also the path to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris and, for a few teams, the newly instituted 2024 W Gold Cup. The newly dubbed 2021 Concacaf W Qualifiers will begin for all teams – except the USA and Canada – during the Women’s Match Windows in November 2021 and April 2022 and will serve as the preliminary round of the 2022 Concacaf W Championship.
The -team Concacaf W Championship will be held in July 2022 and will consist of group play, followed by semifinal and championship rounds. Along with qualifying for the World Cup, at conclusion of the Concacaf W Championship, the winning nation also will guarantee its place in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games Women’s Football Tournament and the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. The runner-up and the third-place nations will progress to a Concacaf Olympic play-in to be played in September 2023. The winner of the play-in will also guarantee their place in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games and the 2024 W Gold Cup.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash; 5), Adrianna Franch (Kansas City NWSL; 8)
DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (Houston Dash; 74/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 39/1), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC; 122/24), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars; 35/0), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit; 145/2), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 193/0), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit; 58/0)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 104/23), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 62/15), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 8/1), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash; 28/4), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 17/0)
FORWARDS (6): Tobin Heath (Arsenal, ENG; 177/35), Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 312/128), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 186/111), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars; 63/18), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC; 6/0), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage; 40/12)