Portland, Seattle Players Picked For 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team
Six players from the women's pro soccer teams in Seattle and Portland were named Tuesday to the U.S. Olympic Team for the Summer Games in Brazil. Seattle Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe got the nod, along with Portland Thorns defender Meghan Klingenberg and midfielders Lindsey Horan, Allie Long and Tobin Heath.
Rapinoe is perhaps the most interesting selection because she was sidelined all winter and spring recovering from a torn knee ligament. U.S. Women's National Team head coach Jill Ellis said she was reassured when she saw the star player could slide tackle again.
"She showed me that physically her fitness level is good,” Ellis said. “She is strong. You can ask her, she is stronger than she has ever been. And she played. That was what was important.”
Rapinoe returned to full play for the first time at the national team's training camp outside of Chicago last week. Ellis and her coaching staff finalized the 18-player roster based on what they saw at the training camp and during a series of exhibition games against foreign teams.
"Is she going to be able to play 90 minutes in six games? No, of course not," Ellis said Tuesday regarding Rapinoe. "But I think her special qualities, also what she brings in terms of her personality, her leadership off the field... once I saw her in contact, it wasn't a hard decision."
Rapinoe expressed relief at her selection in a statement released by U.S. Soccer.
"Going to the Olympics and representing your country is incredible, but this one is that much better,” Rapinoe said. “After everything I went through and the uncertainty, this one is very special.”
Ellis was also asked during a teleconference with reporters about her selection of Long, an Olympics first-timer at age 28. Long was previously on the national team but dropped before last year's Women's World Cup.
"Like many players, they come in and it's not immediate success. And they go and recommit themselves,” Ellis said. “I think Allie did that. She worked very hard.”
Long shared her joy in seeing perseverance pay off in an Instagram post.
I can't really explain the feeling of making this team, I've never took my eye off the goal and to see it come to fruition is the best feeling in the world. I thank God for the faith to see this through, for the opportunity to play and represent my country. I thank my parents, friends, family, family in-law. I thank my fiancé for step by step helping me develop my game and being there for me through it all. I thank the Thorns organization for believing in me and always having my back. My team for challenging me everyday in training and making me better. Most of all, everyone that doubted me, THANK YOU. With out you those days I didn't feel like putting in an extra rep, oh I did. To perservere and to prove everyone wrong... I hope I inspire everyone to just keep working, no matter what -believe in your self, do not listen to anyone who says you can't because YOU CAN. #roadtorio A photo posted by Allie Long (@allie_long_) on Jul 12, 2016 at 9:40am PDT
"I can't really explain the feeling of making this team, I've never took my eye off the goal and to see it come to fruition is the best feeling in the world," Long wrote. "I hope I inspire everyone to just keep working, no matter what - believe in yourself, do not listen to anyone who says you can't because YOU CAN."
Team USA will open tournament play on August 3 -- two days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony -- against New Zealand in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The U.S. squad will stay in Belo Horizonte, 270 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, to face France on August 6 and finish the initial group play round against Colombia on August 9 in the Amazonian city of Manaus.
"I think it is three great challenges for us, three world class teams that have played in World Cups and Olympics," Ellis said assessing the group round. "It is going to be really competitive."
Team USA is aiming for its fourth straight gold in women's soccer at the Rio Olympics.
Midfielder Heath and goalkeeper Solo will be playing in their third Olympic Games. For Rapinoe, it is her second trip to the Olympics. Horan and Klingenberg are first-timers.
Portland defender Emily Sonnett and three other pro players from back East will join the national team's trip to Brazil as alternates in case injury replacements are needed.
The Seattle Reign team announced it will hold an "Olympic Sendoff" ceremony for Solo and Rapinoe before its match against Western New York this coming Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.