The U.S. Women’s National Team heads into the SheBelieves Cup – which will bring four of the world’s top five ranked women’s national teams to the USA – riding the momentum gained from a dominating run at 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.
The USA is fresh off a 2-0 victory against Canada in the Championship Final that capped off a perfect 5-0-0 record in the tournament which included 450 consecutive minutes of shutout soccer while scoring 23 goals. Even more importantly, the USA secured its berth to the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil with the 5-0 semifinal victory against Trinidad & Tobago.
In addition to winning the tournament title, the USA also swept the individual awards. Hope Solo earned the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper, Crystal Dunn won the Golden Boot as the top scorer after notching six goals and Morgan Brian was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player.
Solo’s recognition was the third consecutive top goalkeeper award she’s received in a major tournament after previously winning the Golden Glove at the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in 2014 and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Solo earned four shutouts in the tournament – with Alyssa Naeher getting the other – and now has a total of 95, far and away a U.S. record.
Dunn made her Olympic qualifying debut on Feb. 10 against Costa Rica in the USA’s first group stage match and also scored her first Olympic Qualifying goal. Five days later she had a record-tying night against Puerto Rico, doing what only six other women in the history of the WNT program had done before, scoring five goals in one match to tie a record first established in 1991 by Brandi Chastain during a Women’s World Cup qualifying match.
The reigning NWSL Most Valuable Player etched her name in the record book alongside Chastain, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux. Her six goals in the tournament tied her with Costa Rica forward and 2015 Hermann Trophy winner Raquel Rodriguez, but Dunn played less minutes in the tournament, giving her the edge in the tiebreaker.
Brian, one of seven players that saw action in all five matches of the tournament, was a dynamic presence in the central midfield, creating chances, pulling the strings in the U.S. attack while setting the rhythm along with midfield mate Lindsey Horan. Brian and 17-year-old Mallory Pugh each had a team-leading three assists in the tournament. Brian played the fourth-most minutes on the team with 377 over the course of the five matches.
Brian’s classy performance was recognized by the CONCACAF Technical Study Group who bestowed upon her a first individual award at a major international tournament. The 2014 Young Female Athlete of the Year and a 2012 FIFA Under-20 World Cup and 2015 Women’s World Cup Champion, is celebrating her 23rd birthday today.
She has grown steadily as a player since her WNT debut on June 15, 2013, when she came into the game for Lauren Holiday in the 77th minute against Korea Republic. She had a breakout tournament at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, easing into the tournament before getting the start in the center against China PR in the Round of 16 after Holiday was suspended for yellow cards, and never left the field for the rest of the tournament. Now, she has taken on many of the responsibilities of the retried Holiday and only seems to be getting more comfortable in her role.
As the U.S. WNT continues its journey to Brazil, Brian and her teammates will attempt to do what no other team has ever done before, win a Women’s World Cup and the Olympic Games in back-to-back years.
Next up, the Road to Rio goes through Tampa, Fla. as the USA gets set to kick off the inaugural 2016 SheBelieves Cup against England on March 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.