The U.S. women's national team begins Concacaf Olympic women's qualifying Tuesday against Haiti in Houston with the expectation that it be in Japan this summer.
After all, the USA has
played in four regional Olympic qualifiers and never lost a game. The goal difference in 19 games: 98-4.
Group A play against Haiti, Panama and Costa Rica should be a breeze. The deciding
semifinal game on Feb. 7 in Carson, California, should be no problem, even if the opponent is likely to be one of the other two Concacaf women's teams with both World Cup and Olympic experience:
Canada or Mexico.
New head coach Vlatko Andonovski
's message announcing his 20-player squad -- three less than Jill Ellis
had at the 2019 Women's World Cup and two
more than he'll be able to take to the Olympics -- was how competitive it is to make the national team and how he looking for versatility, both to work with a small roster but to expand on the
tactical options he has to throw out.
“Making this roster was highly competitive,” he said in a conference call with the media. “The players came in ready physically
[and] mentally to compete for every roster spot, and at the end, the ones that I believe will give us a chance to be successful and will give us the best chance to qualify for the Olympics are the
ones that made the roster.” Goalkeepers (3): Adrianna Franch
(Portland Thorns; 3/-), Ashlyn Harris
Pride; 24/-), Alyssa Naeher
(Chicago Red Stars; 57/-).
No change from the Women's World Cup goalkeeping corps. Naeher, who justified her selection as the No. 1 choice in France
with a confident tournament, should be the starter. If the USA goes to the Olympics, Andonovski will only be able to take two keepers so Franch and Harris will have to make the most of the rare
chances they get in goal over the next six months. Defenders (6): Abby Dahlkemper
(NC Courage; 53/0), Crystal
(NC Courage; 96/24), Ali Krieger
(Orlando Pride; 104/1), Kelley O'Hara
(Utah Royals; 125/2), Becky Sauerbrunn
(Utah Royals; 171/0), Emily Sonnett
Andonovski is taking six defenders for qualifying and will likely take six to the Olympics if the USA qualifies. Tierna Davidson
was the lone defender from the Women's World
Cup team not picked. She was at the camp in Tampa but is still recuperating from an ankle injury. Julie Ertz can -- and will also likely -- move back into the middle of the backline.
Midfielders (5): Julie Ertz
(Chicago Red Stars; 95/19), Lindsey Horan
(Portland Thorns; 78/12), Rose Lavelle
(Washington Spirit; 38/10), Samantha Mewis
(NC Courage; 60/14), Andi Sullivan
(Washington Spirit; 15/0).
Breaking into the U.S. midfield will be difficult this year and into
the next World Cup cycle. Ertz (the oldest at 27), Mewis (27) and Lavelle (24) started and dominated in midfield in the 2019 World Cup final. Horan (25) is the greatest player not to get off the bench
in a Women's World Cup final. Sullivan got the nod over Allie Long
and Morgan Brian
, both backups in France, giving the USA another defensive midfielder in case Ertz is needed in the
Andonovski likes both Long and Brian a lot -- he coached Long during two seasons at Reign FC -- but it came down to a numbers game. “We have six defenders, five midfielders and
six forwards,” he said. “So the opportunities for the midfielders was a little bit less than forwards and defenders. Forwards
(6): Tobin Heath
(Portland Thorns; 162/32), Carli Lloyd
(Sky Blue FC; 288/121), Jessica McDonald
(NC Courage; 14/2), Christen Press
(Utah Royals; 130/51),
(Reign FC; 160/50), Lynn Williams
(Western Sydney Wanderers/AUS; 21/6). Photo: Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire