USWNT Olympic Qualifying preview: Avoiding a historic hiccup

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The United States women’s national team is a World Cup monster, but it’s would like to put its Olympic standing back on a perch.

The U.S. didn’t find the podium in 2016, finishing in fifth place at the Games in Rio. The USWNT has four gold medals and a silver in the previous five tournaments.

The path to putting another bullet point on the Yanks’ incredible run begins Tuesday with what should be a comfortable if not audacious defeat of Haiti.

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Vlatko Andonovski’s first serious fixtures as USWNT boss include group stage dates against Haiti, Panama, and Costa Rica. All matches take place in Houston and it would be stunning if the Yanks lost any of them.

The USWNT hasn’t lost in over a year, their last set back coming in a 3-1 loss to France in Le Havre on Jan. 19, 2019.

Andonovski oversaw a 6-0 defeat of Costa Rica in November. The other opponents are far off the pace of Costa Rica, the No. 34 team in the FIFA Rankings. Haiti is No. 63, Panama No. 69.

The top two teams in each group make the knockout rounds. Should the U.S. follow the script, it’ll meet Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, or Saint Kitts and Nevis in the semifinal. The winner of each semifinal qualifies for the summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

Ego aside, the challenge of following this tournament is that it’s about how the U.S. looks more than any mystery of result. Are the players bought into Andonovski’s style and tactics? How effective is his plan to keep the U.S. on top of the women’s game?

Andonovski left five World Cup winners off his roster for qualifying: Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh, Allie Long, Morgan Brian and Tierna Davidson. Morgan is pregnant while Davidson is carrying an injury.

The USWNT will have one more meaningful tournament before the Olympics, March’s SheBelieves Cup.