Big changes on U.S. women's national team

Just 13 of the 23 members of the USA's 2015 Women's World Cup championship team were named to the roster for Olympic qualifying, signaling big changes on the national team.

Retirements (Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx), injuries (Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe) and pregnancies (Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux) account for eight of the world champions who are missing, but Coach Jill Ellis also did not select veterans Whitney Engen and Heather O'Reilly.

Ellis has made room for a talented group of young players, none older than 23, who won roster spots. Indeed, two of the new guard, Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan, could start in Olympic qualifying, which will take place Feb. 10-21 in Frisco and Houston, Texas.

Here's a look at the seven newcomers ...

CRYSTAL DUNN (23).  Dunn was the last cut on the 2015 Women's World Cup team and used that as motivation. There was no keeping her off the national team for long as she led the NWSL with 15 goals and was named in the league MVP in her second season with the Washington Spirit. She scored four goals and added three assists on the fall Victory Tour and looks to have won a starting spot on the wing in place of the injured Rapinoe. Dunn is the latest in a long line of North Carolina products to star on the national team. (She joins backup keeper Ashlyn Harris, Meghan Klingenberg and Tobin Heath -- all Tar Heels -- on the qualifying roster. Both Engen and O'Reilly, who missed out, played at Carolina.)

JAELENE HINKLE (22). What is it about Colorado girls soccer? Mallory Pugh, Horan and Hinkle all hail from Colorado -- Horan from Rush and Pugh and Hinkle from Real Colorado. Hinkle starred at Texas Tech and was taken with the No. 7 pick by the Western New York Flash in the 2015 NWSL College Draft and started all 20 games. She's probably the least heralded of the newcomers on the national team, but she impressed during the Victory Tour with her play at outside back, where she will be No. 4 on the depth chart behind Ali Krieger, Klingenberg and Kelley O'Hara.

LINDSEY HORAN (21). Horan made history when she signed with French club Paris St. Germain out of high school in Colorado, spurning a full ride from North Carolina. Injuries slowed her down in 2014-15 and she decided to leave PSG after the fall campaign for the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. A move back home to play regularly on the national team was likely going to be the only way she'd nail down a spot. Horan, only 21, mostly played up front in France but has settled in as a starter for the national team in midfield, in the role Holiday played at the 2015 Women's World Cup.

The Boston College product is a beneficiary of the under-23 national team, getting international experience she lacked during her youth days. She was born and raised in Winchester, Massachusetts, and played for the Stars of Massachusetts. A trade in the middle of the 2015 NWSL College Draft kept her close to home as she joined the Boston Breakers. Despite the Breakers' last-place season, McCaffrey earned a call-up to the national team in the fall and scored in her debut against Brazil in October. She was considered a long shot to make the qualifying roster but probably benefited from Leroux's surprise announcement that she was pregnant.

SAM MEWIS (23). Mewis got her first chance to train with the national team in January 2014. Among her teammates was older sister Kristie, who plays for the Boston Breakers. They grew up in nearby Hanson, Massachusetts, and starred for local youth club Scorpions FC. While Kristie stayed close to home, attending Boston College, Sam went to UCLA and was part of the great Bruin team that won the national title in 2013. A year before, she had played on the U.S. U-20 Women's World Cup championship team with current U.S. teammates Morgan Brian, Julie Johnston and Dunn. Mewis was the third of three UCLA players taken 2-3-4 in the 2015 NWSL College Draft behind Brian and signed with the Flash.

MALLORY PUGH (17). Pugh scored in her debut for the USA on Saturday in the 5-0 win over Ireland and showed why she has been tipped by coaches as the best player to come along since Mia Hamm. Heady stuff for a 17-year-old who is a senior at Mountain Vista High School. U.S. Soccer's 2015 Young Player of the Year was attending her first senior national team camp after leading the USA to the Concacaf U-20 women's title in December. (She's still eligible for the 2016 and 2018 U-20 Women's World Cups.) Her father recently debunked rumors that she would forego a scholarship to UCLA to turn pro with the Thorns.

EMILY SONNETT (22). Like Brian, her former Cavalier teammate, Sonnett split time in her senior season at Virginia between college and the national team. She earned her first start during the Victory Tour and started alongside Engen in place of injured Julie Johnson and Becky Sauerbrunn against Ireland. She'll be the backup to Johnston and Sauerbrunn in Olympic qualifying, then join the Thorns, who took her with No. 1 pick in the NWSL College Draft.

More cuts will follow. If the USA qualifies for Rio 2016, it will only be able to take 18 players.

The average age of the team is 25.7, down from 29.4 for the Women's World Cup.

U.S. Women's Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign).
DEFENDERS (7): Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O'Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns).
MIDFIELDERS (5): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash).
FORWARDS (5): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado).

6 comments about "Big changes on U.S. women's national team".
  1. William Wang, January 26, 2016 at 10:17 p.m.

    It will be interesting to see who makes the cut. With only 18 players, and at least two GKs, then the ability to play more than one position at a high level should be important. Compared to the 23 player roster, versatility might even reverse the selection where two players are competing head to head.

  2. Wooden Ships, January 27, 2016 at 7:34 a.m.

    Aside from the Olympics, not respected to the level of the Wirld Cup, what is the thinking/explanation for 18 on the roster and not the standard 23?

  3. John M Cote, January 27, 2016 at 11:09 a.m.

    I disagree with not calling up Heather O'Reilly. She's an excellent winger who has set up memorable goals (see, among others, Alex Morgan's header in the 122nd against Canada). She's a true team player with boatloads of experience.

    Still, GO USA!

  4. John Soares, January 27, 2016 at 2:32 p.m.

    I too think O'Reilly is a huge asset and deserves to be there. Yet, it's good to see Jill give new players the opportunity. The competition in the qualifying round is weak. Don't be surprised if she is there for the Olympics.

  5. R2 Dad, January 27, 2016 at 5:59 p.m.

    Props to Jill Ellis--she's been able to manage the egos, win the world cup, and finally refresh the USWNT. I didn't think she could manage it, but now we'll get to see the next generation come through. Very exciting times, can't wait to see what these new players bring to the Algarve this summer.

  6. Wooden Ships replied, January 27, 2016 at 9:20 p.m.

    I agree R2. I can see JJ wearing the Captains band for years to come, after Carly's dominance. I see Julie as very confident, skilled and a leader. Captains bands rotate with many players with some coaches. It's sort of refreshing to see a dominant central defender wear it though.

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