United States Women’s National Team: When the United States lost to Sweden in the quarterfinal of the Rio women’s soccer tournament, it might not have been fully understood at the time how unlikely that result truly was. Since the establishment of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991 and the Olympic women’s soccer tournament in 1996, it was the first time ever that the USWNT failed to win a medal at a major competition.
Three years later, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and the rest of the U.S. stars set things right, winning the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. They will again be the heavy favorites to win a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, while they also continue their trailblazing work off the field to fight for equal pay for women in sports and beyond.
Brazil’s men: The best moment of the Rio Olympics for the host nation surely came in the men’s soccer final, when national icon Neymar slotted the deciding penalty past Germany to give Brazil its first Olympic men’s soccer gold medal. The iconic yellow jerseys will again compete for gold in Tokyo, but it is unlikely that they will be worn by any of the same players from the Rio Games, since the Olympic men’s soccer tournament is an age-capped affair. However, it’s safe to expect the new squad of young Brazilian talent will be just as difficult to beat in Japan.
Mexico’s men: “El Tri” returns to the Olympics for the third straight Games, looking to find the form they unlocked in 2012 when they won the gold medal in the U.K. Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Cordova led the way for Mexico in qualifying, scoring three and four goals, respectively, in four games.
Jill Ellis: After five years as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, Jill Ellis stepped down following her second World Cup victory in 2019. While Ellis did not have success at her only Olympics as head coach, she is widely recognized as one of the best coaches in women’s soccer history and has earned special praise for the freedom she granted her players to speak up on several issues away from the game. She was replaced by Vlatko Andonovski, who was hired to lead the USWNT after a successful coaching tenure in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Germany women: The reigning Olympic champions will not get the opportunity to defend their title in Japan. Germany exited in the quarterfinal stage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which Europe (UEFA) uses to determine Olympic qualifying. Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain (as England) all advanced to the semifinals of the World Cup and accordingly earned tickets to the Tokyo Olympics.
(Still gone) U.S. Men’s National Team: Despite a bevy of exciting young talent taking Europe’s top leagues by storm over the past five years, the USMNT again failed to qualify for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament for the third straight cycle. Due to pandemic-related travel complications among other reasons, the U.S. fielded a team of mostly North American-based players in the decisive game against Honduras in March. An error-filled performance resulted in a 2-1 defeat to Los Catrachos, who will represent North America alongside Mexico in Japan.
New Faces to Watch
Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis: Neither of these Manchester City teammates were selected to the U.S. roster for Rio, but in the time since, they have emerged as two of the world’s best players. Lavelle and Mewis were instrumental to the USWNT’s victory at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, both providing goals and creating chances for others in the midfield. With the Big Three of Rapinoe, Morgan and Lloyd all in or approaching the later years of their careers, Lavelle and Mewis are expected to have even larger roles to play in Japan.