Commentary

U.S. Women's World Cup roster: Breaking down the surprise calls

U.S women's national team coach Jill Ellis named her roster for the 2019 Women's World Cup, which begins in France on June 7.

Ellis used more than 60 different players since the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, but her final team is loaded with experience -- 12 holdovers from the 2015 Women's World Cup championship team and 15 of 18 players who went the Olympics, where the USA fell to Sweden in a shootout in the quarterfinals.

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
FORWARDS (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals FC), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC)

Ellis' final selections included three close calls. In all cases, veterans from the Olympic team beat out players seeking to go their first world championship.

DEFENDERS: Ali Krieger over Casey Short.

Krieger started when the USA won the Women's World Cup four years, but she had not played for the USA in almost two years when she was recalled for matches against Australia and Belgium in April. She had dropped behind Kelley O'Hara and Emily Sonnett at right back, but with O'Hara battling an ankle injury and in what Ellis said was a "return-to-play mode," Krieger won out for the seventh and final spot on the backline.

"One of the things about Ali Krieger is no moment is ever going to be too big for her," said Ellis. "As a coach, when you get down to this point, there's a psychological piece is also part of the consideration when you look at players."

Short, who overcame knee surgeries in 2011, 2013 and 2014 to become a star for her hometown Chicago Red Stars and the USA's starting right back for most of 2017, finishing fourth on the team in minutes with 1,116 but her playing time dropped in 2018 when she injured her ankle in March. Only two of her nine appearances were starts, but she did get in at the end of the 2018 Concacaf Championship final.

Short was called in to all four sets of matches since then -- two trips to Europe, the SheBelieves Cup and April home friendlies -- but she didn't play a minute. Her exclusion leaves Crystal Dunn as the lone left back, though Ellis said she has other options at the position.

"We’ve played Tierna [Davidson] as a left back," she said. "Kelley has played left back probably over time more than Crystal as part of the program as well as with her club team. I think we have depth there."

MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian and Allie Long over McCall Zerboni and Andi Sullivan.

Brian's selection is the shocker. Her move into midfield was one of the key decisions Ellis made to put together the winning lineup that captured the 2015 World Cup, but she has struggled in recent years.

She hardly played when she went to French club Lyon in 2018 and ended her stay less than six months into her two-and-a-half year contract, returning to play for the Red Stars. By then, she lost her starting spot in the U.S. midfield, where Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle nailed down the three spots. Ellis took Brian to Europe in January but she was not called in for the SheBelieves Cup or the April matches against Australia and Belgium.

Ellis said she didn't decide to take Brian until going through what she described as a "pretty thorough process" to determine from Brian and the Red Stars what was her fitness and form, Brian's experience was clearly a key factor, though.

"As much as you want to focus on the here and now," Ellis said, "you also know what someone is like -- some players don’t know ever until they're in that moment of the pressure cooker of a quarterfinal or semifinal."

Long's selection for her first World Cup at the age of 31 is somewhat of a surprise. She built on her NWSL success in Portland to make the 2016 Olympic team but in the last year her playing time has been reduced. In 2019, she has played just 39 minutes, the fewest of any player going to France. But that's still more minutes that Zerboni (38) or Sullivan (0) have in 2019 even though they were called up for every set of games.

Long gives Ellis cover in central midfield though none of Ellis' options has anywhere near the presence of Ertz and Horan, arguably the two most indispensable players on the team.

"They were very, very hard decisions to make for the last few decisions," Ellis said. "A lot of things came into play. They did everything they possibly could to make it hard."

Photo: Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire

11 comments about "U.S. Women's World Cup roster: Breaking down the surprise calls".
  1. Bob Ashpole, May 2, 2019 at 9:35 p.m.

    Tough choices are expected. I don't see any surprises.

  2. Richard T. Lynch, May 2, 2019 at 11:19 p.m.

    Typical conservative USW approach.  It's been done before.  Go with the older, more "experienced" players despite the clear lack of current form (and minutes).  Don't take a chance on the next gen youngsters.  It's the "safe" approach for which the coaches can never be criticized.  But, from the outside looking in, we clearly don't have all the data that Ellis has so who are we to judge.  Hope it works out.

  3. R2 Dad replied, May 3, 2019 at 12:04 a.m.

    Yeah, maybe, except when Ellis says: "We’ve played Tierna [Davidson] as a left back," it kind of hurts her credibility. The only way TD plays outside back is if you play a flat back 4 with four centerbacks who set up as a low block. Ellis has not been able to recruit additional outside backs (that can double as centerbacks)--that is her problem this cycle. And keeper--none of the current GKs can hold a candle to Hope. I  believe this team is less balanced than the 2015 version.

  4. Bob Ashpole, May 3, 2019 at 1:24 a.m.

    R2 Dad, IMO you are greatly underestimating Davidson's utility.

    Richard, This is the first time selected for the world cup roster for 11 of the 23. 5 others were included once. The "older" experienced players are Lloyd, Heath, Krieger, Morgan, O'Hara, Sauerbrunn, and Rapinoe. Every country would be happy to include those 7 in their rosters. For those 7 and the other 16 too, the key question is are they playing at 100%. If there was doubt as to their readiness, they wouldn't be on the roster.


  5. R2 Dad replied, May 4, 2019 at 2:10 a.m.

    Bob, I cued up the USWNT match vs Spain earlier this year to take a look at how effective she was as left back. My observations:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sPtmcvuY6c


     


    TD comes on at second half:


     


    51:58 into match, bad judgement, not agile enough


     


    56:40, centerback sauerbrunn drives forward into the left wing position to volley into the box  instead of the left back--isn't that the job of the left back and not the centerback? 


     


     

  6. R2 Dad replied, May 4, 2019 at 2:11 a.m.

    58:30, left back has left sideline open for a dribbling run, passes out of pressure instead (makes a good pass, though)


     58:47, after dropping back to provide pressure relief for the first 13 minutes, TD chooses this moment to overlap. Ball is turned over.


     59:47, TD relieved she wasn’t the one that was megged


     61:33, TD only providing an outlet on the left instead of a threat. Centerback sees left back not interested in attacking, plays pass down the center


     67:20, passed the ball, only to return a negative ball—unable to turn and run at defender. This is what makes her a poor outside back

  7. Michael Saunders, May 3, 2019 at 9:30 a.m.

    Bob:


    No doubt that NT coaches have tough decisions to make in terms of personnel.  Sure we may not have the data that Ellis has access to, but to rationalize her personnel decisions on the basis of "faith" that they would not be on the roster if they were not ready fails the litmus test of the evidence that is known regarding some players.    O'Hara's ankle, Brian's recurring injuries for at least two years,  even Lavelle is known to be physically fragile.    We have seen her do this before:  Rostering Rapinoe for the Rio Olympics when Pinoe was not anywhere near ready, and then throwing players in different unfamiliar positions because of her roster choices!


    Ellis' penchant to have versatile players is not a solution.  Sure Dunn works as a wing-back; but you have to agree that is not her ideal role.  There are more examples.   And yes any country would be pleased to have the "experienced" players you mention on their respective rosters.  Yet both both are a stop gap risk averse approach which underscores the problem.   


    Nearly three years since Rio and despite the pool of players she had at her disposal, she was unable to find players or unwilling to use those that would have resolved the issues we all identified.  That is why we are having this discussion and it is resonating throughout the WoSo soccer community.  Sad!


    I'll just hope for the best. 


     


       

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, May 3, 2019 at 10:12 a.m.

    I actually don't agree with you. Great players play great anywhere except on the bench. A coaches job is not to assign best players to their "ideal" positions, rather the coach fields the strongest team. Assignments are made in the practical context of who is avaiable rather than abstract "ideals".

  9. Michael Saunders, May 3, 2019 at 7:03 p.m.

    Please spare me the platitudes Bob.  Bottom line: Ms. Ellis did not follow the very principle you tout so brazenly since she was impracticle in her choice of what was available by picking Brian.  Indeed, most knowledgable pundits have scatched their head about  that decision for a whole slew of solid reasons.   


    To quote Aly Wagner:  "...taking Brian just doesn't make sense to me.  She hasn't been fit, she hasn't been in form, and this is a fantastic player that I have a lot of respect for, but it's just not the right time".    ...... 


    And that Bob is far from any abstract "ideal". 




  10. Bob Ashpole replied, May 3, 2019 at 10:05 p.m.

    Actually I was responding to your comment about Dunn and assigning positions.

  11. John Soares, May 4, 2019 at 4:45 a.m.

    Ellis did the right thing. This is the WC, not some friendly tournament. 
    You take the best 11 and the ones you are confortable can/will step in if necessary. 
    With all the arguing, nobody really offered a better option.
    The (Hope) at goalie argument is a bit rediculous. Solo is gone are these the best 3 available? If yes what is the point.
    Wouldn't it be great to have Hamm back:)

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