The Victory Tour is over and the roster is set. It's all business from here.
The United States Women's National Team begins the road to Rio Feb. 10, when it kicks off Olympic qualifying. While the U.S. is expected to cruise through the tournament, games in the group against World Cup participants Mexico and Costa Rica are not to be overlooked. That said, if the Americans are to be beat, their opponent will probably have to score at least two goals. The U.S. scored a staggering 38 goals in the five-game tournament in 2012, 27 of which came in the opening two games of qualifying in the group stage.
Here's a look at each victim -- I mean team -- the U.S. will face in the group stage.
Costa Rica (Feb. 10):
The bright side for Costa Rica is that they're the last CONCACAF team to score a goal against the Stars and Stripes, and they did it twice. The down side for the team is that, in the pair of games back in August against the U.S., it allowed 13 goals and dropped both contests, losing 8-0 and 5-2. For Costa Rica to have a shot, its defense will have to be stellar. The team is coming off two clean sheets against Nicaragua and El Salvador, but this is a clear step up in competition. On the offensive side of things, Costa Rica has what it takes to get the job done. Against quality competition at the 2015 World Cup, the team managed to score three goals in three games. A goal per game may not see them past the U.S. for top spot in the group, but it could very well get them into that coveted second spot in front of Mexico and into the knockout rounds.
Mexico (Feb. 13):
Mexico is in the same position as Costa Rica. It has the tools to stay compact at the back while at the same time having the ability to get forward and put a goal or two in the back of the net against many teams. But the U.S. is not one of those teams. The Mexicans are 0-6 against the U.S. since 2012, and lost 5-1 in the most recent match-up last May. However, Mexico has already stunned the Yanks once before. A 2-1 victory during qualifying for the 2011 World Cup sent Mexico to the tournament, while forcing the U.S. to play in a playoff against Italy. Can Mexico pull off the upset again? In this writer's opinion, no, but this team knows how to compete in CONCACAF play and its match-up vs. Costa Rica will be the most tightly contested game of the group stages -- and it will likely determine who gets through to the knockout stage.
Puerto Rico (Feb. 16):
Puerto Rico is without a doubt the underdog in this group. The team did beat Haiti already in Olympic qualifying this year and narrowly lost to Trinidad and Tobago. That said, these games against Costa Rica, Mexico, and the U.S. will be the three biggest games the program has played since its first-ever game against Canada in 1998, according to soccerway.com. It's great to see a team like Puerto Rico make it this far, and making it to this stage is nothing to sneeze at. This will be a learning experience for a program that can have a bright future. Hopefully they will not fall victim to the U.S. the same way the Dominican Republic and Guatemala did four years ago, losing 14-0 and 13-0 respectively.
Can anyone in the group challenge the U.S.? We'll find out soon as qualifying begins in just a few days.