Beginning on August 3, seven Thorns FC players will represent three different countries at the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
While the U.S. Women, currently ranked number one in the world, are the prohibitive favorites in this 17-day tournament, Amandine Henry's France and Christine Sinclair's Canada could also surprise many this August and will both look to at least end up on the medal podium.
All 12 participating nations in this summer's tournament will kick off their opening group stage matches on August 3, a full two days before the Olympics formally begin with the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.
Each of the 12 competing nations – Brazil, the United States, Germany, France, Australia, Sweden, Canada, China, New Zealand, Colombia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe – have been split into three groups of four. The top two teams from each group and the two best third-place finishers will advance to the quarterfinals.
For their part, the U.S. Women will be hundreds of miles away from Rio in Belo Horizonte, where they will open Group G play against New Zealand at Estádio Governador Magalhães Pinto. Canada, meanwhile, will open against Australia in São Paulo and France against Colombia in Belo Horizonte.
After the group stage, the tournament will operate under FIFA rules, with matches played to 90 or 120 minutes and the winners advancing first to the semifinals and then to the gold and bronze medal games.
The gold medal match will be held at the famed Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 19.
Seven Thorns FC players have been called up to play for their respective nations at this Olympic Games. Allie Long (USA), Meghan Klingenberg (USA), Tobin Heath (USA), Lindsey Horan (USA), Emily Sonnett (alternate for USA), Christine Sinclair (Canada), and Amandine Henry (France) all could see considerable time for their respective national teams in a tournament where each team's depth will be sorely tested; roster sizes are small and the medalists will play six matches in only 17 days.
For Henry and France, this tournament will provide a chance to remove the bitter taste of their penalty kick defeat to Germany during last summer's World Cup. If France can advance out of Group G with the United States, it won't have to face the tournament favorites again until a potential matchup in the gold medal game. In a field without England and Japan, this French squad may have its best chance yet to win a major tournament.
Christine Sinclair's Canada, meanwhile, will have to advance out of a tough group with Germany and Australia. Undaunted, the veteran Sinclair will be out to avenge her nation's gut-wrenching extra-time loss to the U.S. in the 2012 semifinal, a match in which the highly competitive Sinclair scored all three of her nation's goals.
Going into this summer's tournament, there's no question that the USWNT are the favorites to win their fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal and become the first nation to win the World Cup and the Olympic gold in back-to-back years.
It's no wonder why.
The U.S. roster is absolutely stacked with a who's-who of the best players in women's soccer. Names like Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, and the host of Thorns U.S. players provide just a few of head coach Jill Ellis' options. Questions remain about the squad's health, but Ellis will no doubt be able to put out a formidable starting XI for each of her team's matches.
Despite all of the pressure on the U.S., there is perhaps an equal amount of pressure on both hosts Brazil and on perennial underachievers France. After falling to Germany on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of last summer's World Cup, the latter is out to prove that it can win on the world's biggest stage. Brazil, likewise, is under pressure to medal at home after a disappointing performance at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Germany, despite having won two Women's World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007, has never finished higher than third in the Olympics. In 2012, the Germans were unable to even qualify for the London games. This year, the perennial contenders will try to break through for gold.
Aside from this quartet of challengers, nations like Sweden, Australia, and Canada should also contend for a medal. Four years ago in London, Canada came tantalizingly close to a first-ever appearance in the gold medal game, falling 4-3 to the U.S. in extra time. This year, the Canadians will look to at least duplicate that performance and perhaps even go further.