Believe it or not, it looks like we might finally be headed to the Olympics! There are a lot of big decisions to be made before our US athletes head off to Japan. Some of the biggest of those decisions are in the hands, and the pages, of new USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski. And his little black book. He’s made his lists and he’s likely to check them (more than) twice before he officially names the 2021 Olympic roster.
In what will be his first major international tournament at the helm of the most successful women’s team in USA team sport history, Vlatko is looking to make a name for himself on one of the worlds biggest stages. No team in women’s international soccer has won a World Cup and the Olympics back-to-back. If that wasn’t a hard enough feat to accomplish, he has to narrow down one of the worlds most talented player pools to only 18 players.
In both a lyric from Avenue Q and the last line of the U.S. Constitution, Benjamin Franklin states that the only things that are certain in life are “death and paying taxes”. I would argue that inside Vlatko’s little black notebook, there’s about 10-12 players that are for certain to make the flight to Tokyo. If I had to take a guess that list would look like this:
Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara, Sam Mewis, Lindsay Horan, Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz (pending injury setbacks), Christen Press, and Alex Morgan are no doubters at this point. Not far behind them on my list would be Emily Sonnett to cover on the wings of the back line. Tierna Davidson has proven that she can hold up the center if either the Captain or Dahlkemper go down. Behind Naeher, you will most likely see Jane Campbell as a backup, although no one would be shocked if reigning Challenge Cup champion AD Franch gets named as the second keeper.
The Swing Set
The backups for the backline are likely the easiest decisions Vlatko will have to make. The tougher decisions come in the middle and up front. If everyone I’ve already listed makes the roster, that leaves 4 open spots that could easily be filled by up to 7 or 8 players. Versatility will be key in these spots. So on that note, it looks like Midge Purce would fill that role very easily. Much like Dunn, she normally plays up front with Gotham FC but has been also pushed into outside back duties on the national level, so she could feasibly fill multiple roles.
It would be hard to deny the other half of the Mew-Crew a bench role, given the year she had on a club level. It’s not like it’s her first time being called up to the big stage either, and Kristie has proven that she can cover almost all of the midfield positions when called upon.
Now comes the hardest decisions. With only 2 spots left there’s a Sophie’s Choice between aging veterans Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Tobin Heath. Heath’s loan to Manchester United ended early due to injury, and she appears to be on track to be ready to go by the time the team takes off for Tokyo. There’s been few other players in recent USWNT history that can dance on the ball like Tobin, but with so much time off the pitch and such a limited roster, it could be considered a risk to potentially carry her.
Outside of Alex Morgan, there are no two faces as recognizable as Lloyd and Rapinoe, and it’s likely that these Olympics could be the last major international tournament that these two legends play in. If both make the roster, they will likely rotate as the 3rd forward in the 4-3-3 shape that Vlatko has been utilizing. Not to mention that they are both former midfielders, which helps their versatility factors if they are absolutely needed.
Such a tight roster means that players such as Lynn Williams and Sophia Smith likely don’t make the cut. Even Purce could be forced out depending on the health of Heath and the heartstring pulls of Pinoe and Lloyd. It also means the likes of Alana Cook and Andi Sullivan will have to wait until the next World Cup to have a shot at making names for themselves.
I don’t envy Vlatko for the tough choices that loom, but if he is able to do what’s never been done before and bring a gold medal home after a World Cup win, he will likely win the hearts of all of the die-hard USWNT fans around the country and the world. We wait to see with baited breath what that final list inside of his little black book will look like.
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