Carson, Calif. — The United States isn’t really motivated by what happened four years ago in the Rio Games as the team heads into an all-important Olympic qualifying match Friday night.
Coming off a World Cup championship in France last summer, the United States just wants to guard against any letdown.
Christen Press said it’s difficult after all the attention that comes in the wake of winning soccer’s premier tournament to transition so quickly to preparation for the Olympics.
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“I think that the mentality the group that was a part of 2015 and 2016 is bringing into this transition is that we have to have a short memory,” she said. “We have to let go of the World Cup and we have to go into this like this is our big tournament for the next three years. And so I think that that’s a good lesson to have learned.”
The United States had also won the World Cup in 2015 and went into the Rio Games brimming with confidence – only to be ousted in the quarterfinals by Sweden. It was the U.S. team’s earliest ever exit from the Olympics.
On Friday, the top-ranked United States will play Mexico in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament with one of the region’s two berths in the Tokyo Games on the line. Canada faces Costa Rica for the other spot.
The U.S. and Canada won the Olympic berths four years ago. The Canadians went on to win their second consecutive bronze medal in Brazil.
Canada is led by captain Christine Sinclair, who surpassed retired U.S. star Abby Wambach’s international goals record in the group stage. Sinclair, who has been on the national team since 2000, has 186 career goals heading into the semifinals. That’s the most among men or women.
Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said it was important that his team avoids complacency during qualifying. And indeed, the team swept group stage play without conceding a goal.
“No matter who we play, we need to play to Canadian standard. It has to be our level of performance that we play to. It’s so easy to play a team that you’re better than, and then drop to their level,” he said.
By winning its group handily, eighth-ranked Canada avoided facing the United States in the semis. Costa Rica, ranked No. 37 in the world, has never made the 12-team field for the Olympics, although Las Ticas did play in the 2015 World Cup.
The Canadians are undefeated in 13 previous meetings with Costa Rica. In the 2016 qualifying tournament, Canada defeated Las Ticas 3-1 in the semifinals.
“It was a close match. It was a match where we made many mistakes, but it is in the past,” Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde said. “We’re focusing on right here, right now.”
Mexico, ranked No. 26, made the field for the 2004 Olympics but has not been back since. However, Mexico is on the rise, boosted by a domestic women’s league. The team won its first two group-stage matches before falling 2-0 to Canada.
Like Canada, the United States swept its group stage matches without allowing a goal. Lindsey Horan led the way with five goals and Press added four.
U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle emphasized that the team can’t get ahead of itself.
“I think that we know that what we did in France is kind of meaningless now. It doesn’t dictate how the rest of the year goes or dictate right now what our future is,” she said. “So while last year was so fun, we know that we have to set our sights on new goals. And I think before we even talk about the Olympics, we have to talk about our game versus Mexico and qualifying there.”