When USA and Canada embark on their adventure to Rio 2016 at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, they will both be doing so with confidence. The two sides’ London 2012 semi-final was unforgettable. Both nations ended up on the podium—USA finished with gold and Canada with bronze. Abby Wambach and Christine Sinclair helped their respective teams to glory in London, but there’s a clear theme existing in both sides now and that is the exuberance of youth.
There’s a new generation in USA and Canada coming through that football fans should be excited to watch develop. FIFA.com looks at two players from each team that shone brightly at the CONCACAF Olympic Women’s Qualifying Tournament, which ended on Sunday with USA defeating Canada 2-0 in the final. These players may not have stepped fully into the world football spotlight yet, but are sure to play vital roles on their teams for many years to come.
She may only be 21-years-old, but Lindsey Horan has already shown characteristics of a seasoned professional. Her boldness can be found in her decision-making on the pitch, but also in her decision to move overseas to play for Paris Saint-Germain at the age of 18. The decision clearly paid off as she scored 46 goals in 58 appearances for PSG. At the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014, Horan led the line for USA in a forward role, scoring three goals in four appearances. During the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Horan showed her versatility as she played a more deep-lying midfield role for the senior side. Her technical ability showed throughout the tournament and she worked effectively with Morgan Brian, who’s just one year Horan’s senior. This, it seems, is a midfield duo the football world should start getting used to. Horan capped off her strong tournament performance with a goal in the final against Canada, running on to a lobbed pass from Becky Sauerbrunn and leaping to head in the opening goal of the match.
Horan has the ability to play long-range passes, but also appears to possess the football IQ to know when to pick her moments. Her cushioned-headed assist for Alex Morgan against Trinidad and Tobago in the semi-finals is just one example of many. Horan has returned stateside and recently signed with Portland Thorns, so coach Jill Ellis, along with the rest of us, will be watching her transition to the National Women’s Soccer League with keen interest. The 2016 NWSL season starts on 16 April.
The US Soccer community has already been talking about Mallory Pugh for months, and she’s just 17-years-old, though will be 18 by the time Rio comes around. Before the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament even started, the media were heavily interested in Pugh’s next career choice coming out of high school—would she choose college or go straight to the pros? Pugh opted to join the University of California, Los Angeles programme. If anyone had any doubt as to her potential and was reluctant to give in to the hype, those views were surely dispelled after she scored in her senior first match, in a recent friendly against Republic of Ireland, and after her displays during the Olympic qualifiers. Pugh started in all but one match during the tournament.
Throughout qualifiers, Pugh glided past defenders, showing a quick turn of pace and the ability to beat defenders one-on-one. In many instances, Pugh’s eye for the game was evident, playing effective passes in the final third for her team-mates.
Kadeisha Buchanan is considered one of the best defenders in women’s football, and she’s just 20-years-old. Let that sink in. Winner of the Hyundai Young Player Award at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ on home soil last year, and more recently named to the inaugural FIFPro Women’s World XI, Buchanan has the positional sense of a veteran coupled with acceleration and strong tackling ability, which combine to make her one of the toughest defenders for any forward to play against. Coach John Herdman clearly has faith in Buchanan as he started her in every game during the tournament.
At the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament, she even showed her ability to score—in the group stage match against Trinidad and Tobago when she struck from close range after a Deanne Rose backheel pass. Impressively, her first senior goal for the national team came against the Stars and Stripes in an international friendly when she was just 18. It was evident then, and it’s even more evident now, ‘Keisha’ will be striking fear in attackers for many years to come.
The world was introduced to Ashley Lawrence last year when she scored a crucial goal for Canada against the Netherlands to help the hosts secure a Women's World Cup last-16 berth. She has shown consistently that she’s a top performer, playing in two U-17 World Cups and captaining her country on home soil at the U-20 World Cup in 2014.
At the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers this week, she started the tournament with a bang, scoring a hat-trick against Guyana in Canada’s opener in the tournament. Herdman’s trust in youth is exemplified when Lawrence is busy in the midfield stringing passes together from defence to attack. Now that the No10 is adding goals to her game in important matches, she is quickly making her case to being an irreplaceable force for Canada’s midfield.