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Red (white and blue) Stars! A Chicago-centric Olympic Preview

The U.S. Women’s National team starts their Olympic campaign on Wednesday at 5 p.m. against New Zealand. Three Chicago Red Stars will be along for the ride.

Japan v United States
Julie Johnston headlines a trio of Red Stars headed to Rio as the U.S. searches for its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Do not let the official Olympic marketing campaign fool you! The Olympics start tomorrow!

That’s right. Even though the people who actually run the Olympics are telling the entire world that the Olympics start on Friday with a Gisele Bundchen sex party or something, the actual competitions start Wednesday. And since this is a soccer blog, you may be interested to know that the U.S. Women’s National Team is the one competing Wednesday.

The Red, White and Blue have won four of five Olympic tournaments since the competition started in 1996 including the last three. The only time they did not win the competition was in 2000 when they finished as runner-up to Norway. Well you can go pound sand Norway because you didn’t even qualify this time!

[handed printout of the men’s tournament]

Oh, I see … well that may have been mean spirited Norway. I’m sure we’ll see you in 2020.

But enough about the teams that did not make this tournament. The U.S. has a four-peat to complete in the Olympics and they will do it with the help of three Chicago Red Stars! Let’s take a closer look at the tournament and the Red Stars involved.

There are three groups of 12 teams, with the top-two of each group and the two best third-place teams comprising the eight nations that will make up the Knockout Round. This setup guarantees the U.S. is moving on. Not virtually guarantees. Guarantees.

There is no way on the planet Earth that I know and live on that the U.S. does any worse than one of the two best third-place teams in the group stage. The U.S. group includes France, New Zealand and Colombia. France could find a way to win the group but that’s as far as I see that going.

So the real concern will start in the Knockout Round where every game is do-or-die and the competition gets tougher. But you should still watch these group games because the U.S. team is awesome and deserving of our love and affection. And because the tournament is played out so rapidly, there is guaranteed to be squad rotation, which means more fun for everyone.

Here are the Red Stars who will help bring home the gold.

Julie Johnston (defender of the galaxy and all things in it)

The 2014 NWSL Rookie of the Year has been one of the best defenders for the U.S. (and therefore one of the best in the world) since she debuted with the senior team in 2013. She already has 39 appearances and eight goals and was nominated for the Golden Ball award at the 2015 World Cup.

What I am trying to say is she is one of the best players on the planet and one of the most successful active athletes for any professional Chicago sports franchise. She is a guaranteed starter and will very likely add an Olympic gold medal to her ever-growing trophy case.

She also likes to score headers against Colombia and gets play Colombia in the group stage. Should be great times!

AND SHE’S ONLY 24!

Christen Press (forward)

She is a scoring machine. With 34 goals in 70 appearances at the international level, Press is one of the most important offensive players for the U.S. She often is the forgotten name among Alex Morgan and wunderkind Mallory Pugh, but Press scores at a rate similar to Morgan and still carries important experience Pugh lacks.

She has plenty in common with Johnston as both are Stanford greats, joined the Red Stars in 2014 and were named to the NWSL Best XI in 2015. I do not expect her to log as many minutes as Johnston in this tournament and she might be coming off the bench in a number of contests, but Press will score. And she just might score multiple times.

This also has to be an exciting opportunity for Press who made the 2012 Olympic championship squad as an alternate but did not make her first national team appearance until 2013.

Alyssa Naeher (goalkeeper)

She’s more Boston than Chicago, growing up in nearby Connecticut and then appearing in a whopping 81 games for the Boston Breakers compared to only five appearances in her still-early Chicago Red Stars career. But she’s in Chicago now so we can claim her!

When the Olympic team only brings two goalkeepers and you are one of them, you know you are damn good. Unfortunately, Naeher lives in the shadow of Hope Solo, who remains a brick wall for the U.S. Solo is a two-time Olympic champion and a World Cup champion as well as the first human being to ever register 100 shutouts in international competition.

Naeher had to back up Solo in the 2015 World Cup and I expect the same here. Still, it is a great accomplishment and still a crucial role. Naeher has youth on her side and her time at the international level will come.

So everyone tune in to NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. to see the U.S. Women’s National Team take on New Zealand.

Important Note: The Red Stars are hosting a watch party at AJ Hudson’s for the game, so check that out if you can.