USWNT's competition for Olympic berths heats up

The numbers add up quickly.

In the USA's first two games at the SheBelieves Cup, the 1-0 victory over Canada and 2-0 victory over Brazil, Coach Vlatko Andonovski started 15 different players -- 14 field players plus goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

When you add three starters on the 2019 Women's World Cup championship team who are injured -- Tobin Heath and Sam Mewis, who are back in England with their clubs, and Kelley O'Hara, who is in Orlando but has not played -- that makes 17 field players, all competing for starting jobs.

But just 16 field players will go to the Olympics along with two goalkeepers on the USA's 18-player roster, so that means one of those 17 players won't even make the roster. And we are not even considering other players like Kristie Mewis, Sophia Smith and Casey Krueger, who have come on as subs in the tournament, or double world champions like Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, who didn't make the 23-player roster for the SheBelieves Cup.

For Sunday's match against Brazil, Andonovski made changes across each of the three lines: Emily Sonnett for Midge Purce at right back, where O'Hara usually patrols, Rose Lavelle for rising star Catarina Macario in midfield, and Alex Morgan and Christen Press for Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe.

In the case of the changes up front, we are talking two players who entered the game with a combined 155 goals for two others with 177 goals between them. And sure enough -- one starter (Press) and one sub (Rapinoe) scored to make it 156 goals and 178 goals.

Here's the breakout of the 17 field players competing for the 16 spots:

Defenders (6): O'Hara, Sonnett, Purce at right back; captain Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper in the center back; Crystal Dunn at left back.

Andonovski will likely take six defenders, though it's unlikely he will take three right backs. Sonnett can play elsewhere on the backline. Midfielder Julie Ertz can drop back from midfield and play at center back, where she started at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, lessening the pressure to take another center back, like Tierna Davidson, who has yet to play in Orlando.

Midfielders (5): Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis in the No. 6 and No. 8 roles; Lavelle and Macario as the No. 10.

All five will likely go to Japan. Just how deep is the U.S. midfield? Horan didn't even get on the field in the 2019 Women's World Cup final, but she was arguably the best U.S. player in the first two games. She has been involved in eight of the 13 U.S. goals so far in 2021.

Forwards (6): Lynn Williams and Heath on the right wing; Morgan and Lloyd at center forward; Rapinoe and Press on the left wing.

The assumption is that only five will go to Japan, but whom does Andonovski leave out? Williams began the year as the long shot, but she and Ertz are the only players who have started all four games. Andonovski likes Williams' ability to press opponents and provide width in the attack.

Right now, Heath is behind the others due to the ankle injury that will likely keep her out of action through the April window of international matches. The injury was a huge blow since she was the most impactful of the six Americans who have played in the WSL this season, lifting Manchester United into the title race.

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

10 comments about "USWNT's competition for Olympic berths heats up".
  1. Kevin Sims, February 22, 2021 at 10:37 a.m.

    Nice problem to have ... but tricky as well to find the right balance of skills, decision-making, athletic prowess, mindset, and experience. IMHO

  2. Nick Gabris, February 22, 2021 at 11:15 a.m.

    Why is LLoyd and Rapino even on the field? Way past their prime. These two cannot keep up with the younger players. Game with Brazil, as soon as LL. and R. came on the field as subs, the game slowed down and became a HOHUM play. R. had a tap in goal, big deal, look at the rest of her play? LL. spent more of her time on the turf, flopping or knocked down. Give younger players a chance.

  3. Jim Scully replied, February 22, 2021 at 12:51 p.m.

    I agree that perhaps the best role for Rapinoe is to come off the bench.  Press is 32 and she should be starting.  Based on her comments, I am not sure if Lloyd would be cancer on team chemistry coming off the bench.  I would leave her off.  Glad I am not the coach:-)

  4. E Velazquez replied, February 22, 2021 at 4:35 p.m.

    Rapinoe and Lloyd  are too old for the olympics . S.Smith is faster than the 2 of them. Williams misses goals more than anyone else in the attack, Yesterday early in the match  she shot the ball to  the keeper's hands when  all she had to do is to shoot low and to the right post (pole) angle. She is fast but with very poor skills and little soccer wisdom. Morgan  is a  lower level than Press; doubtful she will recover her old speed because of  age and  recent maternity.  All  soccer fans wew  need to express our points with no fear of the coach or the press , shouldn't we ?

  5. Erin Wade, February 22, 2021 at 12:57 p.m.

    So harsh! Rapinoe is not my favorite, but that goal was definitely not a "tap in".  She got some inches on her defender and got to the ball first.  It was a great run and goal, actually.   Lloyd brings hustle to the game.  She works hard 100% of the time and defends.  She also puts herself in good positions for opportunities.  I'd keep her.   Williams is the one that loses in this set of forwards.

  6. Seth Vieux replied, February 22, 2021 at 1:57 p.m.

    Agreed, I'm far from Rapinoe's biggest fan, but credit where it's due, that's one of the better goals I've seen her score and appreciated her willingness to get in there and figth for the space and put solid leather on the ball to finish. While I don't think the team necessarily needs her to bring home another trophy, she does provide some unique qualities to the squad and I think is still just spry enough to be useful as a frequent substitute. Won't be a bit heartbroken if she's left off, but also wouldn't blame Andovski if she's included. I can see the value of Williams physicality, but also think she stands out as having significantly less technical ability than the rest of the front line. Best comparison I can make (and it's not perfect) is Zardes? 

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, February 22, 2021 at 4:52 p.m.

    I agree Erin. It is close, but Lloyd has utility and her fitness is not an issue. Williams does not have utility. Sonnett is much improved, but I would take Davidson over Sonnett.

    But really, a case could be made for taking any of them. The US depth has always been its strength. The quality is little different between the first 10 and the second 10 field players. The age of the players is a concern for the future. Attention is needed on the 3rd and 4th lines of field players who will need to replace some of the best players in the world when they retire.

    In the past we have converted forwards to fullbacks, but now we need to look at converting some CMs to CBs. That is a good way to insure the back line is up to playing a more technical style.

  8. R2 Dad, February 23, 2021 at 2:27 a.m.

    I thought Olympic team sports required mostly U23s with a couple of senior squad members thrown in? That's not a requirement anymore? Can't say the Olympics are as compelling as the days of the "Miracle on Ice " 41 years ago today.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 23, 2021 at 8:59 a.m.

    You are conflating the competition rules for men with the rules for women. Since clubs don't have to release players for Olympic qualifiers, the U23 restriction on men's teams has little practical impact for many nations.

  10. frank schoon replied, February 24, 2021 at 9:21 a.m.

    Personally I don't really care about Olympic soccer or Olympic baseball or softball. Olympic soccer is so meaningless...After a  world cup there is lot of tactical and technical discussions going on about direction of soccer, which is interesting for it does effect the future coaching and training but with Olympic soccer, it doesn't really do anything for the game itself; it has less meaning to me then my trashmen coming by 2x a week.

    I much rather would see our girls all under 23 ONLY playing Olympic soccer to watch the new talent but not these Old farts....Let the youth have a chance.....

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