National Sports

The vibes around U.S. soccer? Not great. But here come the Olympics.

NEW YORK - Lindsey Horan gets giddy just thinking about it: “The Star-Spangled Banner” echoing in Marseille as American athletes take the field and Olympic soccer unfolds before a packed Stade Vélodrome.

When the U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team opens the Paris Games against France on July 24, the women’s captain plans to be among its most ardent supporters.

“It’s going to be insane,” said Horan, whose U.S. women kick off the following day in Nice. “That’s going to be sold out — like, 70,000. The stadium’s crazy. So I cannot wait to root them on.”

For Horan, soon to be a three-time Olympian, the experience is a newfound novelty. Although the U.S. women have participated in every tournament since the International Olympic Committee added women’s soccer in 1996, the men are headed to the Summer Games for the first time since 2008. Considering the U.S. women’s and men’s programs typically operate on unaligned calendars and jet off to disparate corners of the world, Monday afternoon’s news conference in Midtown Manhattan represented the rare occasion in which players and coaches from both squads spoke side by side.

The synergy, however, isn’t all about mutual admiration for two programs also engaged in synchronized soul-searching. The women’s reassessment began last summer, when a stunning round of 16 exit from the World Cup prompted coach Vlatko Andonovski’s ouster. For the men, the wounds are fresher: The Olympics largely function as an under-23 tournament on the men’s side, but those players are feeling the reverberations of the senior national team crashing out of the Copa América group stage last week — casting doubt on Coach Gregg Berhalter’s future less than two years before a World Cup on home soil.

So even if Olympic soccer pales in comparison to the World Cup, this summer’s Games still offer an opportunity for both programs to start digging out of their respective doldrums.

“While it didn’t go as planned with Copa, I think it is an opportunity for fans to unite behind this team and root for us to represent the United States well, as well as the women and the rest of Team USA,” said men’s defender Walker Zimmerman, one of the team’s three overage selections. “Olympics are special in that way.”


The scrutiny will be sharper for a four-time gold medal-winning women’s team with a high bar it has failed to clear of late. After settling for bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and failing to make the World Cup semifinals for the first time in nine appearances, the United States has dropped to fifth in the FIFA rankings. While a run to the inaugural women’s CONCACAF Gold Cup title this year solidified the Americans’ regional supremacy, a group-stage loss to Mexico — its first since 2010 — sounded alarm bells anew.

New coach Emma Hayes’s belated introduction also raises questions about the team’s preparedness after the London native decided to see through Chelsea’s 2023-24 campaign and take the U.S. reins less than two months before the Summer Games. But Hayes, whose hiring was announced in November, emphasized that the team’s roster evaluation and tactical evolution began under interim coach Twila Kilgore well before the new boss oversaw her first matches last month.

“I feel we’re very prepared to go into this tournament, regardless of the short leading time,” Hayes said. “A lot of that work has been done over the last year, reflecting from the World Cup and then putting the roster together bit by bit.”

That turnover meant phasing out World Cup-winning veterans such as Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara to make room for a gifted but unproven crop of new talent. Just 10 of the 18 players Hayes picked for the Olympic squad made last summer’s World Cup team, with left back Jenna Nighswonger, defensive midfielder Sam Coffey and 19-year-old forward Jaedyn Shaw among the major-tournament debutantes poised to play key roles.

“It’s a chance for a lot of young players to get that opportunity and to really feel like they can make an impact,” defender Tierna Davidson said. “But it’s always going to be a challenge.”

Veteran Crystal Dunn added: “Obviously, we stepped out of the World Cup not feeling too amazing about our performance. But I think at the end of the day, we knew that we have an incredible opportunity to regroup and get back to it.”

A youth squad by design, the men’s team features even more fresh faces, but there’s some continuity: 15 of the 18 players selected by Coach Marko Mitrovic have seen the field for the senior national team. The overage players — Zimmerman, Miles Robinson and Djordje Mihailovic — have all played in multiple CONCACAF Gold Cups, and Zimmerman started three matches at the 2022 World Cup.

So even if Robinson is the only holdover from the team that flamed out of Copa América, the players recognize the Olympics as an opportunity to help right the U.S. ship and make their cases for 2026 World Cup consideration.

“We have a chance to kind of give more life,” midfielder Gianluca Busio said. “When anybody goes out in a group stage, it’s tough for the country. We all support them. We all want them to do the best. We’ve all played with him. … But this is our team, this is our group now.

With a knowing chuckle, he added: “And the Olympics is a pretty big event, also.”