The U.S. women's soccer team barely eked out a bid to last summer's World Cup after they lost a crucial qualifying game to Mexico. And the Americans are facing crunch time — and Mexico — again this week, in the CONCACAF Olympic Women's Qualifying Tournament in Canada.
"That's obviously the game that's been marked on our calendars this entire tournament," forward Abby Wambach tells the AP.
So far, the U.S. team is on a tear. In its first two matches of the tournament, it defeated the Dominican Republic, 14-0, Friday, and then beat Guatemala, 13-0, Saturday. Those results mean that a win or a draw with Mexico will be enough for the Americans to advance to the next round in a strong position.
A victory against Mexico would mean more than revenge against the team that nearly kept them from the World Cup — it would also let the U.S. avoid playing Canada, currently ranked No. 7 in the world, until a potential matchup in the final on Sunday.
And because the top two teams from this tourney advance to the Olympics, neither team would be under extreme pressure that day.
Here's a very reductive way of looking at it: The Americans are currently the world's No. 1 team. They need to beat Mexico (No. 21 in the world) tonight, so they can face Costa Rica (No. 41) on Friday — in the hopes that they'll then meet Canada in the final.
Of course, all of that assumes that Mexico doesn't pull an upset tonight, or potentially against host Canada, which is unbeaten in this year's tournament.
On today's Morning Edition, sports writer Christine Brennan of USA Today tells NPR's David Greene that the U.S. women's team has done very well in previous Olympics.
"Women's soccer has been in the last four summer Olympic Games," Brennan says. "The U.S. has won three of those four gold medals. The one time that they did not win in 2000, they won the silver. So they're very happy that it's an Olympic year."
But first they have to face Mexico — and win their next game, as well. Prior to their Nov. 5, 2010 matchup, Mexico had never beaten the American women.
Tonight's game begins at 10:30 p.m., ET. It is being televised on Universal Sports. CONCACAF is also streaming the match on its website, as is Universal.
The Olympic qualifying tournament games are being played indoors, on the turf of Vancouver's BC Place Stadium. When playing indoors, the U.S. women are 8-0, with two ties.
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