By: Andy Lohman
The Olympics are one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world. The mix of world-class talent across so many diverse disciplines is unlike anything else, and the Washington Spirit will be well represented by its own in Brazil this month.
Forward Crystal Dunn and defender Ali Krieger will make their Olympic debuts for the United States, while midfielder Diana Matheson, defender Shelina Zadorsky, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé will play for Canada. All five may be North American, but their stories and experiences are diverse.
Perhaps the most intriguing player of the group is Dunn. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has been on successful youth teams, including winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2012. She was on the fringes of the senior national team since 2013 before breaking into the national conversation after a stellar 2015. While the United States was claiming their third World Cup title, the speedy forward was setting the National Women’s Soccer League ablaze. Her 15 goals won her the NWSL Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot awards, and now with an Olympic roster spot secured, she has the opportunity to perform on the global stage.
On the surface, there may not be a lot of similarities between a striker and a center back, but Zadorsky’s experience might have the most in common with Dunn’s on the personal level. These Olympics will also be the first major tournament for Zadorsky, who only recently entered the national team picture. She played an integral role with the Canadian team at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, qualifying Canada for the Olympics.
The defender has played every minute for the Spirit that she has been available during the 2016 NWSL season and was a huge part of six of the shutouts the team recorded prior for her departure for camp.
Another key to the Spirit defense is the woman between the posts, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. She has been in top form this season, with a 0.88 goals against average. The presumed Team Canada starter is also making her Olympic debut. Labbé was a member of the Canadian 2011 and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup teams and has made 32 appearances for Canada.
While the Spirit has a trio of newer faces to the international scene, it also has a pair of seasoned veterans. Matheson has over a decade of experience for her country and will be playing in her third Olympics.
Canada has been making strides on the international stage, and Matheson has played a big part. At the London games in 2012, she scored the game-winning, stoppage-time goal against France to secure the bronze medal. It was the first-ever medal for the Canada women’s soccer team, and after missing out on the first two Olympics, the Canadians have qualified for the past three tournaments. They will look to follow Matheson’s leadership to keep up the momentum.
While Team Canada is growing into a power, the United States has always been one. In the five Olympics that have featured women’s soccer, the U.S. has won four gold medals and one silver. Ali Krieger is a veteran USWNT player, winning the World Cup in 2015 and finishing as a runner-up in 2011. Even though she’s earned 91 caps, she will be making her Olympic debut in Rio. After being named an alternate to the Beijing 2008 team, the Dumfries, Va., native was on track to go to London in 2012, but a serious knee injury kept her off the roster. Now that she’s healthy, the Spirit captain will try to maintain the American dominance.
From youth to experience, from tough defenders to exciting playmakers, from a country on the rise to a global power, the Olympics are filled with diverse storylines and people, and the Washington Spirit is a full part of the Olympic experience.
The United States will play in Group G with Colombia, France, and New Zealand. Canada will play in Group F with Australia, Germany and Zimbabwe. The opening ceremonies take place this Friday August 5, but the first day of group play for both the United States and Canada is this Wednesday August 3. Follow our twitter account (@WashSpirit) for information on all our Olympians and how to watch their matches.
Group stage schedule for both teams
- Aug 3: CANWNT (Diana Matheson / Shelina Zadorsky / Stephanie Labbé) v Australia; Olympic Group Stage Match; Sao Paulo, Brazil; 2pm ET; NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com
- Aug 3: USWNT (Ali Krieger / Crystal Dunn) v New Zealand; Olympic Group Stage Match; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; 6pm ET; NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com
- Aug 6: CANWNT (Shelina Zadorsky / Stephanie Labbé / Diana Matheson) v Zimbabwe; Olympic Group Stage Match; Sao Paulo, Brazil; 2pm ET; NBCOlympics.com
- Aug 6: USWNT (Crystal Dunn / Ali Krieger) v France; Olympic Group Stage Match; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; 4pm ET; NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com
- Aug 9: CANWNT (Stephanie Labbé / Diana Matheson / Shelina Zadorsky) v Germany; Olympic Group Stage Match; Brasilia, Brazil; 3pm ET; NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com
- Aug 9: USWNT (Ali Krieger / Crystal Dunn) v Colombia; Olympic Group Stage Match; Manaus, Brazil; 6pm ET; NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com