By Ryan Bailey
The Charlotte FC midfielder will represent his country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, on the back of his senior debut for the Australia National Team
CHARLOTTE—It’s been quite a summer for Riley McGree. In June, the Charlotte FC midfielder made his full senior debut for the Australian National team in a series of 2022 World Cup Qualifiers. A few weeks later, he was selected to represent his country in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Hence, in the buildup to his debut in Charlotte FC’s inaugural season, the 22-year-old has become a Socceroo and an Olyroo.
“It’s a huge honor to be representing my country at the Olympics, it’s really a dream come true,” McGree told CharlotteFootballClub.com. “I can’t wait to get into camp and enjoy every minute of it.”
McGree made the cut for the 18-man Olympic roster on the back of his impressive World Cup qualifier performances, a season on loan in the English Championship with Birmingham City, and a history with the national team that included a stint as captain of the Socceroos’ U23 side.
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The Socceroos’ men’s soccer team are returning to the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008, and they will face a stern test in Group C alongside Argentina, Spain and Egypt.
“It’s very exciting, the countries in the group have some of the best players in the world,” said McGree in an interview with the Socceroos official website. “The better the players who come, the better it is for us to really test ourselves.”
The Socceroos will begin their campaign on July 22 when they face Argentina. The South Americans have twice won the competition, notably in 2008, with a squad that featured future stars including Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria.
“The Olympics is a big celebration of sport, and the best athletes coming together as one,” McGree told the Socceroos official website. “I’ve spoken to my family and they’re proud of me. It’s another big milestone in my career.”
Shortly before getting the call-up to become an Olympian, McGree became the 609th player to represent the Socceroos at senior level. The former Puskas Award nominee played in three of Australia’s four World Cup Qualifiers in June, including a stand-out performance against Chinese Tapei, in which he provided two assists in a 5-1 victory.
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“That was another huge honor and a moment I’ll never forget,” McGree told CharlotteFootballClub.com while reflecting on the summer World Cup Qualification campaign. “The games went exactly how we’d hoped: four out of four wins and onto the next stage of qualifying.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Australia’s summer World Cup Qualifiers all took place in Kuwait—which represents different climate challenges to those McGree had encountered this season in the preceding months in England.
“The training camp and preparation were spot on,” said McGree. “We trained in extreme weather to acclimatize for the games and conditions in Kuwait. We played several warm-up games leading into competition.”
McGree’s performances helped the Socceroos qualify top of their group in the AFC Second Round of World Cup Qualification. The Third Round, in which a place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is up for grabs, will commence this September.
Charlotte FC’s second-ever signing is expected to be a part of Australia’s squad should they qualify for next year’s showpiece tournament in Qatar. But for now, McGree is putting all his attention on the quest for an Olympic medal:
“My sole focus at the moment is the Olympics. I’ll take it day by day, and will see what happens from there.”