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UNC Soccer: Four Tar Heels help USWNT qualify for Olympics

Former UNC players were again a big part of a successful USWNT campaign.

Soccer: CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying-USA at Costa Rica Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Several things have changed in the months since the World Cup for the US women’s national soccer team. However one thing that has not changed much in that time is the amount of Tar Heels involved.

New coach Vlatko Andonovski took over in October, but his first major test began a little more than a week ago when the USWNT opened their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament campaign. The US needed to finish in the top two to make it to Tokyo this summer. To do so, Andonovski called upon four former UNC players as part of the 20-person squad.

The four Tar Heels were Crystal Dunn, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath, and Jessica McDonald, all of whom were also part of the World Cup-winning squad last summer.

The format of the tournament consisted of two four-team groups, with the top two in each group advancing to the semifinals. Considering their status as reigning world champions, the US was expected to not have much trouble qualifying. Thanks to a 4-0 win over Mexico on Friday night, they did indeed book a place in Japan.

They opened things up by playing one Heel in a 4-0 win over Haiti. Dunn was the only Heel to get minutes in this game as the US looked a bit rusty and got off to a slow start.

Their second saw all four UNC alumns get minutes, and lo and behold the USWNT played a tad bit better. The US played Panama in the second game and won 8-0. Dunn remained in the starting lineup, while Harris came in at goalkeeper with McDonald playing out on the wins. Heath would come in midway through the second half with the score 5-0.

McDonald and Heath scored a goal each, while McDonald provided an assist to help Lindsay Horan complete a hat trick. Meanwhile, Panama did not muster a single shot, so Harris didn’t have the busiest day in the net.

Their final group stage game came against Costa Rica. While Harris returned to the bench, McDonald stayed with Dunn in the starting lineup for game three. McDonald scored another goal in another fairly easy 6-0 win.

That set up a semifinal against Mexico. Heath was in the starting eleven, as was Dunn who was making her 100th career appearance for the national team. Neither registered a goal or assist, although Dunn came awfully close to marking her milestone appearance with a goal. Despite that, it was a fairly straight-forward win as the US officially booked their place in the Olympics

Despite already being assured of qualification, this tournament will have a championship game, which will be played on Sunday. You can watch the USWNT and the Tar Heels in the team take on Canada this Sunday at 6 PM ET on Fox Sports 2.

As for the Olympics, play for that will start July 22nd, but the draw to decided the groups is not until April.