US women shut out the noise in quest for 5th gold medal

Jul 19, 2021, 2:43 PM | Updated: Jul 20, 2021, 2:48 am

TOKYO (AP) — The U.S. women’s national soccer team is in a bubble of its own making for the Tokyo Olympics, and it’s not just because of coronavirus restrictions.

The World Cup champions have become adept at shutting out all the outside noise — the seemingly endless social media debates, the TV punditry and even the trash talk that comes with being the best in the world.

“I think, especially the players that have been through these major tournaments, you figure out how to stay in the best mental headspace and sometimes that’s compartmentalizing, that’s focusing on one thing at a time and trying not to let the noise get into what we like to call the bubble,” defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. “So like, secure the bubble, protect the bubble.”

The women’s Olympic soccer tournament starts on Wednesday. The United States, the top-ranked team in the world and the favorite to win, opens against Sweden at Tokyo Stadium.

The Americans are vying for their fifth gold medal, more than any other national team. They can also become the first women to win an Olympic gold following a World Cup title.

There’s reason to believe they’ll do just that. The group is undefeated in 44 straight games, the second-longest unbeaten streak in team history. It’s a deep squad with a formidable attack: Seventeen of the players were on the World Cup squad.

Christen Press has been directly involved in 37 goals in her last 37 matches, with 16 goals and 18 assists. Megan Rapinoe, the unabashedly outspoken winger with purple hair, leads the team with seven goals this year.

Quietly holding down the defense is goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who has six shutouts in nine starts this year.

Naeher is perhaps the leader on the team when it comes to shutting out the noise. She eschewed all social media during the team’s run in France two years ago, and often worked on crossword puzzles before matches to chill out before games.

“Everything’s all about compartmentalizing,” the softspoken Naeher said.

Of course, it will likely be a bit easier to stay focused at this tournament. Japan is in a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus cases. As a result, the athletes participating will be in their own team or individual bubbles with strict COVID-19 protocols. And no fans will be allowed.

“It’s not the best setup in terms of being able to go for a walk or just get outside, go grab a coffee that sort of thing. That’s not available to us,” defender Kelley O’Hara said. “But at the end of the day we’ve all been doing it for a month now with national team, so it’s the reality of the tournament, of the situation, of the Olympics this year. You just kind of take it in stride and make do with what you can.”

The United States had a pre-tournament camp in Miyazaki before arriving in Tokyo on Friday in preparation for Sweden, the team that knocked the Americans out of the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals.

Australia plays New Zealand in the second match of the night at Tokyo Stadium. Twelve women’s teams are divided into three groups for the tournament, which is being played at six stadiums across the country.

There are a pair of Wednesday matches at the Sapporo Dome: Britain plays Chile and host Japan play Canada. Additionally, China plays Brazil and Zambia plays the Netherlands at Miyagi Stadium.

As captain of the United States, Sauerbrunn is tasked with keeping her side focused.

“It’s a skill that I think everyone needs to learn, especially in these major tournaments, because they’re not easy,” Sauerbrunn said about compartmentalizing. “There’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of noise and so learning to knock that out, block that out, is really important.”


More AP Olympics: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou grabs the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between ...
Associated Press

Where’d he go? Morocco goalie disappears at World Cup game

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou mysteriously disappeared before kickoff of his team’s World Cup game against Belgium on Sunday. Bounou was named in the starting lineup, came out with his team and sang the national anthem before kickoff as usual. But, when the game started, reserve keeper Monir El Kajoui was in […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar, left, his fouled by Serbia's Nemanja Gudelj during the World Cup group G soccer ma...
Associated Press

Neymar working ’24 hours a day’ to return at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Neymar is working “24 hours a day” to try to recover from his ankle injury and play again at the World Cup, Brazil teammate Marquinhos said Sunday. Neymar damaged ligaments in his right ankle in the team’s 2-0 opening win over Serbia on Thursday and will miss the match against Switzerland […]
1 day ago
A plane flies over the Crescent Tower Lusail during sunrise in Lusail, Qatar, Thursday, Nov. 24, 20...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Qatar bustles with traditional and tourist stops

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The winding cobbled alleys of Souq Waqif create a labyrinthine bazaar stuffed with dozens of small stores hawking spices and perfumes, scented oils, silk scarves, shimmering crystal chandeliers and glittering jewelry. The Qatari capital’s oldest souq also features shisha lounges, antique stores, art galleries, restaurants and a stop where shoppers can […]
1 day ago
Iran's head coach Carlos Queiroz reacts during the World Cup group B soccer match between Wales and...
Associated Press

Queiroz slams Klinsmann’s criticism of Iran’s World Cup team

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Iranian soccer federation and national team coach Carlos Queiroz have angrily hit back at former Germany great Jürgen Klinsmann for saying that Iran’s World Cup players use dirty tactics because its in their “culture.” Both the federation and Queiroz on Sunday called for Klinsmann to resign from FIFA’s technical study […]
1 day ago
France's Raphael Varane, second right, goes for a header during the World Cup group D soccer match ...
Associated Press

Varane’s return lifts French mood even higher at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Kylian Mbappe’s goals took defending champion France into the knockout round of the World Cup. Raphael Varane’s return gave the French camp an added reason to celebrate. The pre-tournament injury blues are fading, Les Bleus are feeling upbeat again and looking like one of the tournament favorites. Mbappe’s two goals in […]
1 day ago
Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium is seen after owners the Glazer family announced they are ...
Associated Press

Why are Man United and Liverpool suddenly on the market?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — English soccer’s two most storied teams are suddenly in play. Manchester United has joined great rival Liverpool in opening its doors to a potential buyout that could be the biggest in sporting history. Following the sale of Chelsea in May, it sets up the prospect of three of the biggest Premier […]
1 day ago
US women shut out the noise in quest for 5th gold medal