- The USWNT roster is stacked.
- Heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, newly-minted head coach Vlatko Andonovski will have to cut two players from the current roster.
- Stellar performances from players who have long served as USWNT reserves and 2019 World Cup stars like Alex Morgan, Mal Pugh, and Tierna Davidson who hope to return to the roster have only made the decision more difficult.
- Regardless of which players Andonovski chooses for his final 18-person roster, the USWNT will almost certainly be favourites to take home the gold.
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The US Women’s National Team is locked and loaded heading into the 2020 Olympic games.
And, believe it or not, that might be its biggest problem.
Newly-minted head coach Vlatko Andonovski has an embarrassment of riches on his hands – there are so many talented players on his radar that a star player will almost certainly be ommitted from the team’s 18-person Olympic roster.
In fact, some rising stars already have.
Some big names have dropped off the USWNT roster since Andonovski took over the helm
Andonovski invited 28 players to January training camp but had to narrow the field to 20 in advance of the 2020 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament kicking off at the end of that month. In trimming the fat, the Macedonian-American coach axed some noteworthy up-and-comers, including four players who made the trip to France for the 2019 World Cup: Mal Pugh, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Brian, and Allie Long.
The cuts only get more challenging from there. The USWNT has absolutely cruised through Olympic qualifying thus far – Andonovski has employed nearly his entire roster to secure three consecutive shutouts. But his broad-based approach has left fans with more questions than answers, as some unlikely suspects have proven their worth in a major way since the team resumed play in 2020.
Former USWNT head coach Jill Ellis was well-versed in the art of juggling talent – and the egos that come with it – on the offensive third of the field, but Andonovski’s situation is arguably even trickier to navigate. Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath both return to the front line after starting throughout their World Cup run in France, but the team’s third starting striker – Alex Morgan – has famously stepped away from the pitch after announcing her pregnancy in October.
Alex Morgan’s tentative return for the Tokyo games will undoubtedly impact Andonovski’s decisions
Morgan insists that she’ll be ready to return in time for the 2020 Olympics, which begin just three months after her April due date. If she’s truly back in old form by the time the Tokyo games kick off, Andonovski certainly will not have an easy time denying her a roster spot. The 30-year-old ranks sixth on the list of all-time leading goal scorers for the USWNT, and her six goals at the 2019 World Cup tied golden boot winner Megan Rapinoe’s tally for most in the tournament.
Still, Morgan’s absence from the qualifying tournament and the upcoming SheBelieves Cup has allowed Andonovski a unique opportunity to try on some other players for size. And, so far, the results have only complicated his impending decision.
Christen Press – who has been named to the national team for the 2015 and 2019 World Cups as well as the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – has never consistently started up front for the USWNT. But through three appearances – and two starts – in qualifying play, Press has impressed with four goals and an assist. A two-goal showing against Costa Rica Monday night – which featured a screamer that was too good for even Andonovski to believe – all but cemented her spot on the final roster and may have helped make the case to add her to the starting XI for the Olympics.
Lynn Williams has also shined in qualifiers despite rejoining the USWNT for the first time since getting called up for 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship prior to the World Cup. The North Carolina Courage standout recorded two goals and three assists through the national team’s games against Haiti and Panama before sitting out the Costa Rica match. Her club teammate – Jessica McDonald – has earned two starting nods in both games she’s appeared in and notched two goals and an assist in the tournament thus far.
And, of course, there’s Carli Lloyd.
The 37-year-old, who famously complained about her playing time during last year’s World Cup run, has repeatedly claimed to be playing the best soccer of her career despite her age – and her stats back that up. In Andonovski’s first game at the helm back in November, Lloyd donned the captain’s band and notched two goals and an assist. Olympic qualifying has brought her more success in the attacking third, as she’s registered a goal and two assists through the three CONCACAF games.
Andonovski’s abundance of prolific forwards lends him no assistance in further slimming the roster for the Olympic games. And with Morgan hoping to return and Pugh continuing to train with the national teams in the hopes of earning a nod in the future, there are no easy answers regarding which strikers to bring to Tokyo.
Despite all the prolific strikers on the roster, a little-known midfielder has led the USWNT in scoring through qualifiers
Believe it or not, the team’s leading scorer through the first three qualifying matches doesn’t even reside on the front line. Lindsey Horan – who played for the USWNT at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 World Cup – has netted a whopping five goals, including her first career hat trick, and tacked on two assists from the midfield. The 25-year-old only got four starting nods through seven games in France, and her 357 minutes on the pitch ranked 12th among her 24 World Cup teammates.
The rest of the midfield proves difficult to part ways with as well. Rose Lavelle became America’s sweetheart after putting the nail in the coffin against the Netherlands in the World Cup final and is undoubtedly a weapon for the US in the attacking third. Sam Mewis led the entire team with four assists during the World Cup and, at six-feet tall, she’s an invaluable contributor on set pieces. Julie Ertz, US Soccer’s player of the year in 2019, is also lethal on corners and free kicks. Plus, the 27-year-old bruiser is key to the USWNT’s lock-down defence. Andi Sullivan – a 24-year-old NWSL standout – is the only new addition to the midfield, but she’s had a number of solid showings since getting called up for friendlies in the fall.
Even the final decisions on the back line will be far from straightforward
The back line – which sees the least amount of substitutions in a typical game – is also far from from set. All four World Cup starters return, but in his bid to determine a roster of his own, Andonovski has experimented with playing – and starting – Emily Sonnett and Ali Krieger. Both defenders have been solid in qualifying, and with Kelley O’Hara coming off of an injury, having solid reinforcements ahead of the keeper is crucial.
Speaking of keepers – Alyssa Naeher will almost certainly start between the pipes for the USWNT. She started and played every single minute of all seven World Cup matches last year, and Andonovski appears to concur with Ellis on that front. Ashlynn Harris will likely serve as primary backup, as she did in France. And even though Portland Thorns netminder Adrianna Franch made the overseas trip last summer, it’s possible Andonovski will choose to make his one of his final two cuts here. Ellis only brought two keepers to the 2016 Olympics. Then-head coach Pia Sundhage also brought two goalies to London in 2012.
Andonovski knew that he’d have some difficult decisions to make along the route to Tokyo, but stellar performances from players who have long served as national team reserves has only exacerbated his predicament. Rest assured, its improbable that the former Seattle Reign head coach will make a “wrong” decision; while the USWNT starting XI is almost universally considered the best on the planet, its backups come in a close second. The team is the heavy favourite to earn gold this summer, and regardless of which players Andonovski chooses for his final 18-person roster, that will remain unchanged.
- Read more:
- USWNT forward Christen Press scored on a gorgeous long-range goal in Olympic qualifying – and the goal even stunned head coach Vlatko Andonovski
- Carli Lloyd kicks a field goal in Super Bowl commercial, and the message goes beyond just her NFL dreams
- The USWNT has released its roster for 2020 Olympic qualifiers, and some of the team’s brightest young stars didn’t make the cut
- Megan Rapinoe is so much more than the Sportsperson of the Year
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