After a month-long break, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) will once again take the field on Thursday night in its first match since being eliminated from the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinal round.
The team was defeated in a penalty shootout with Sweden, who would go on to win the silver medal. The result was the worst finish in an Olympic tournament for the USWNT, who had never finished below second prior to Rio. Despite the poor showing in the Olympics, the USWNT remains no. 1 in the latest FIFA team rankings.
Their opponent on Thursday is Thailand, the 32nd-ranked team in the world. Thursday marks the first time the two nations will face off in competition. Thailand qualified for the Women’s World Cup in 2015 for the first time but failed to advance past the group stage after suffering 0-4 losses to both Norway and Germany. The team did receive their first FIFA tournament win against the Ivory Coast during the competition though, defeating the African nation 3-2.
Following Thursday’s match, the Thailand WNT will travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to take on the NWSL’s Western New York on Saturday, September 17.
Most notably, Thursday’s friendly between the USWNT and Thailand will double as the retirement ceremony for Heather O’Reilly, better known by fans as HAO. O’Reilly announced her retirement from the USWNT on Thursday, September 1. Although she is retiring from international play, she has said she will continue playing with her NWSL club team, FC Kansas City.
O’Reilly was first capped with the USWNT back in 2002 when she was only 17 years old. Since then, she has recorded 230 caps, 46 goals and 54 assists. She has competed in three Olympic tournaments, winning three gold medals, and in three World Cups, winning one World Cup title.
Despite her success with the national team, O’Reilly saw her playing time with the team reduced dramatically during last year’s World Cup, seeing only nine minutes of playing time throughout the entire tournament. Although O’Reilly initially saw significant time during the post-World Cup Victory Tour, she began seeing less playing time as Head Coach Jill Ellis began calling up new, younger players to national team camp. O’Reilly was left off the Olympic Qualifying tournament roster altogether and was named as an alternate for the 2016 Olympic Games.
A lot of people will also be watching to see if Megan Rapinoe takes a knee during the national anthem or not. Rapinoe first made headlines for kneeling during the national anthem on September 4 before the match between her club team, Seattle Reign FC, and the Chicago Red Stars. Rapinoe said in post-game interviews that the action was a "nod to [Colin] Kaepernick" and that she planned to continue kneeling during the anthem to continue bringing racial injustice into American conversation.
Thursday will be the first time Rapinoe will be in a U.S. uniform since kneeling on September 4, and she has said that she plans to again take a knee on Thursday evening. Rapinoe has both been praised and criticized for her actions, and many fans have said they support her actions when she is with the Reign, but not when she’s wearing the red, white and blue of the USWNT.
In addition to O’Reilly and Rapinoe, Ellis is taking the remainder of the U.S. Olympic roster minus a few players, although only 18 will dress for Thursday’s match.
One of the players who will not be in Columbus is teen phenom Mallory Pugh, who is currently training with the U.S. Under-20 women’s national team in preparation for the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup later this year. Morgan Brian will also be sitting out for Thursday’s match after an elbow-to-head collision during Sunday’s Houston Dash match. Brian has been showing concussion-like symptoms and has been ruled out as a precautionary measure.
Hope Solo, who just recently earned her 100th shutout and 200th cap with the USWNT, will also not be with team after being suspended following remarks about Sweden’s national team that the United State Soccer Federation (USSF) deemed inappropriate. The remarks, in which Solo called the team "cowards," came shortly after the USWNT’s quarterfinal loss to Sweden during the Olympic tournament. According to USSF, the remarks were the final straw after a list of off-field incidents, hence the severity of Solo’s punishment.
The USWNT plays Thailand at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, September 15, and kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. EST. The game will be aired on ESPN 2 and will be streamed live on WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app.
United States Women’s National Team Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (7): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FCKC) Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (3): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars)
HEAD COACH: Jill Ellis