The Olympic women’s soccer tournament kicks off on July 21, and features some of the very best teams in the world. This guide is meant to provide a quick overview of all 12 teams, offering some key things to know, players to watch, and unresolved questions.
I’ve also outlined an achievable goal for each team as well as a stretch goal. The latter of those is meant to still be within the realm of realistic possibility. Obviously every team wants to win gold and in a short tournament where 2/3 of the pool make the quarterfinals, nothing is truly outside the realm of possibility. But the stretch goal is meant to be a normal solid result, not something that requires defying the odds in any serious way.
Finally, I’ve offered a quick rooting recommendation for each team, with some thoughts about why you might want to support a given team, or why you might want to back someone else. These are not meant to be taken too seriously; all twelve teams are full of interesting and exciting players who deserve support.
Team overview: The US are the defending World Champions and have lost one game since August 2017—a stretch that runs over 70 games. They have exceptional talent on every line. Take away their 11 best players, and they’d still probably be the favorites. They are very very good.
Players to watch: Every single player on the roster is a potential game-changer, but the core of this team is the midfield. Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and Lindsey Horan will likely start, with Julie Ertz probably coming back mid-tournament. When it comes to goals, their most in-form attacker is probably Christen Press (but good luck trying to pick just one key forward).
Major question marks: The only real areas of concern are injuries and age. The average age on the US roster is over 30. They’ve got multiple players working their way back from various injuries. There’s plenty of depth, so they’ll probably be fine. But if something goes wrong, it may be due to one of those areas.
Realistic goal: Gold medal.
Stretch goal: Win every game by multiple goals.
Why you should root for them: They are incredible at soccer, and it’s fun to root for a team that has the best chance to win, especially when they play with such style and energy. They also have plenty of underdog energy in spite of being the best in the world, because they remain in conflict with their own federation about equal pay and equal treatment.
Why you should root for someone else: It’s boring to root for the best team. If they win, there’s hardly any surprise. Support someone else and you will really have something at stake.
Team overview: World Cup semifinalists in 2019, runners up at the Olympics in 2016, and quarterfinalists at the 2017 Euros, they have one of the strongest track records of anyone at the tournament. The starting XI is very good, with a lot more creativity than you might expect. But it’s not the deepest roster, especially in central midfield and defense.
Players to watch: Kosovare Asllani was (in my opinion) the best player at the 2019 World Cup, and is coming off a strong season for Real Madrid. She’s also a key linking player to stitch together the midfield with the wealth of attacking talent. You’ll also never go wrong betting on Magda Eriksson—one of the best center backs in the world.
Major question marks: How will they set up? They’ve had some success with a back three, with a lot of the creativity coming from wingbacks like Hanna Glas and Jonna Andersson. That accentuates their strengths in central defense and out wide, while shielding some of their weakness in the central midfield. But it’s also a pretty limited approach.
Realistic goal: Bronze medal.
Stretch goal: Gold. There’s only one team in the tournament that’s clearly better than Sweden. What’s more, Sweden are one of the only teams with any recent history of results against the United States—including knocking them out in 2016—so there’s no reason they couldn’t succeed again.
Why you should root for them: Sweden has been very good for a long time, but have never really been treated as an elite squad. They deserve some bandwagoners. Plus, I’m moving to Sweden this fall, so I absolutely have to root for them.
Why you should root for someone else: If you’re American, you probably harbor a lot of bad feelings for Sweden. Anyone else... I don’t really have anything for you.
Team overview: New Zealand are virtually guaranteed to attend every major tournament, by virtue of their placement in Oceania, but they rarely advance beyond the group stages. With a tough group here, they are once again favorites to go out in the first round. But there’s enough talent here, especially in the defense, to give them a fighting chance.
Players to watch: Abby Erceg is one of the world’s top center backs, and Erin Nayler is a great goalkeeper. Along with Ali Riley, they make up the core of a backline that should be relatively stingy.
Major question marks: Can this team provide enough attacking threat to keep the opposition honest? If not, New Zealand will spend basically the whole game defending and will need to get very lucky to spring a result.
Realistic goal: More than one point in the group stage.
Stretch goal: Quarterfinals. It’s not going to be easy, but they could conceivably beat Australia or Sweden, and sneak past them into the knockout rounds.
Why you should root for them: This is a feisty team that very rarely gets to play together. It would be a thrilling achievement to get something from this tournament.
Why you should root for someone else: You’ll probably find more joy supporting a team that isn’t limited to ten or fifteen attacking touches per game.
Team overview: Four years ago, Australia looked like they might be climbing to a new level on the backs of a golden generation. Since then, most of that golden generation has faded, leaving the Matildas with a world-class core and a lot of flaws everywhere else. Results post-COVID have been awful, but there were some signs of progress in their most recent performances (if not necessarily in the final scorelines). Ultimately, there’s enough talent here to compete with anyone if they can all come together, but there’s not much evidence it’s all coming together.
Players to watch: Australia’s hopes start and end with Sam Kerr—quite possibly the best player in the world. She can create goals almost single-handedly, but probably not enough to overcome Australia’s frail defense. So they’ll also need to lean heavily on Caitlin Foord to open up defenses and keep the heat off Kerr (at least a little bit).
Major question marks: Can the defense limit the damage? They’re not going to keep their opponents completely off the board, but if they can keep it to just one or two goals, they might be able to score enough to overcome it.
Realistic goal: Quarterfinals. Getting out of a group with the US and Sweden is by no means guaranteed. And they could end up with a very tough quarterfinals matchup. They probably won’t be happy if they go out at this stage, but given recent results, it would be just about fair.
Stretch goal: Semifinals.
Why you should root for them: Sam Kerr deserves to win something at the international level.
Why you should root for someone else: The Matildas have disappointed a lot of fans in recent years. Why join the club now only to suffer along with them?