FC Kansas City’s Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly are both going to the Olympics in August as members of the U.S. women’s national team. Sauerbrunn is on the main 18-player roster, while O’Reilly is one of four alternates who will still travel to Brazil and train with the team.
Sauerbrunn, a defender, and O’Reilly, a midfielder, have been at national-team training camp since the beginning of July. As a tune-up to the Olympics, head coach Jill Ellis named 24 to the team’s training-camp roster. That group competed against South Africa in an exhibition game last week, and will play against Costa Rica at Children’s Mercy Park on July 22 in an Olympic send-off match.
Those 24 players were whittled down on Tuesday to the final 18, plus alternates, who will compete for an Olympic medal next month in Rio de Janeiro.
Sauerbrunn was largely considered one of the best players in last year’s World Cup, and even more broadly, one of the best defenders in the world. A St. Louis native, Sauerbrunn was a co-captain of last summer’s World Cup-winning squad, and contributed to the team’s 539-minute shutout streak as the director of the back line.
Sauerbrunn got her first national team call-up in 2008 and has since become a rock-steady presence and organizer of the back line.
“I think she is one of the best center backs in the world,” women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis said in a conference call. “The World Cup proved that. She was one of our big-time performers and one of the big reasons we didn’t give up too many chances.”
O’Reilly, 31, has won three gold medals and a World Cup in her long international career. She’s been a member of the senior national team since she was 17. Ellis caused a stir in January when she left O’Reilly off the 20-person roster for Olympic qualifiers. A midfielder, O’Reilly has 46 goals in international competition.
“Because of our fondness for HAO (O’Reilly) and the relationship I have with her, it was a tough call to make in terms of sharing the information,” Ellis said, noting that midfielder was the toughest position to make on this team. “She was the utmost professional. … I said, ‘Are you prepared for this role?’ And she said, ‘For sure, of course.’ It was a phenomenal response.”
The women’s national team will begin Olympic group play on Aug. 3 against New Zealand (5 p.m. Central Time). Next will be France (Aug. 6) and Colombia (Aug. 9) to round out group play. The top two teams from each group make it to the quarterfinals, along with the top two third-place finishers.
Since women’s soccer has been included in the Olympics (1996), the U.S. women’s national team has won a medal in every competition. They were runners-up in 2000, but have been gold medalists in every other Olympics played.
Meanwhile, as the Olympics are played in August, the National Women’s Soccer League will be on hiatus. Sauerbrunn and O’Reilly will miss FCKC’s next three matches through the end of July. But after the July 30 game against Chicago, the Blues won’t play again until Aug. 28, minimizing the team’s time without its Olympians.