USWNT: Now comes the hard part

The USWNT marches on.

It beat Nigeria, 2-0, on Wednesday night in the first match played at Austin's new Q2 Stadium. The victory completed a three-game sweep in the WNT Summer Series and extended the USA's unbeaten run to 10 games (9-0-1) in 2021, 21 games (20-0-1) under head coach Vlatko Andonovski and 42 games (38-0-4) overall.

World domination?

The Summer Series -- intended to replicate the USA's group stage at the Olympics with three games over seven days in the same heat and humidity in Texas that it will find in Japan -- was a slog.

The USA misfired on its chances and struggled to put together crisp combinations. It did not play particularly well, but it didn't have to. Its opponents were so poor they managed to get off only two weak shots in three games.

But just seven goals -- including goals in second-half stoppage time against Jamaica and Nigeria -- is not what you would expect, given the huge edge in possession. Except for Christen Press, none of the attackers looked sharp.

Still, the goals were met:

1. Get the veterans through the three games without injury. (Rose Lavelle rolled her ankle in the first half of the Jamaica game and sat out the Nigeria match but her injury is not considered serious.)

2. Get one last look at the players on the bubble (Lavelle's injury actually helped in that regard.)

Andonovski must cut his roster down to 18 players -- plus four alternates -- before the USA plays Mexico in early July in East Hartford, Connecticut, and then heads to Japan. This is his first championship with the team.

“I feel pretty good,” he said after the Nigeria game about the selection process. “I feel like we have very good knowledge of the players. I have accumulated a lot of knowledge and lots and lots of data for all the players in the last year and a half. When the decision time comes, I believe that we are going to make the right decision for this team.”

Complicating Andonovski's selection process is the status of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz. Both are two-time world champions and both are recovering from knee injuries. The assumption, though, is both players will be in the Olympic 18.

If Heath and Ertz are in, that puts the number of locks (as close to locks as there are) up to 14 (ages on the opening day of the Olympics are in parentheses):

Goalkeeper (1): Alyssa Naeher (33);
Defenders (4): Kelley O'Hara (32), Becky Sauerbrunn (36), Abby Dahlkemper (28) and Crystal Dunn (29);
Midfielders (4): Lindsey Horan (27), Sam Mewis (28), Lavelle (26) and Ertz (29);
Forwards (5): Megan Rapinoe (36), Alex Morgan (32), Carli Lloyd (39), Press (32) and Heath (33).

(All are holdovers from the 2019 World Cup championship team and all but Horan played in the final against the Netherlands.)

That leaves four spots up for grabs (stats are from games played in 2021).

Goalkeeper, 1 from...
Jane Campbell (26), 180 minutes, 2 shutouts
Adrianna Franch (30), 90 minutes, 1 shutout

Field Players, 3 from...

Lynn Williams (28), 418 minutes, 2 goals
Tierna Davidson (22), 373 minutes
Emily Sonnett (27), 301 minutes, 1 assist
Kristie Mewis (30), 266 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist
Catarina Macario (21), 246 minutes, 1 goal
Midge Purce (25), 232 minutes, 2 goals
Sophia Smith (20), 110 minutes
Alana Cook (24), 90 minutes
Andi Sullivan (25), 16 minutes

Also played in 2021...
Ali Krieger (36), 79 minutes (1 assist)
Casey Krueger (30), 54 minutes (1 assist)
Jaelin Howell (20), 28 minutes
Emily Fox (23), 11 minutes

The choices will be difficult.

There is little to separate Campbell and Franch in goal -- though Franch's comeback from a knee injury probably gives her the edge -- like the choice among field players competing for particular backup spots.

The assumption is Andonovski will pick two defenders and one midfielder, though many of the candidates can play multiple positions.

The player in the best position is Davidson, the primary backup for Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn at center back.

After that it is probably between Sonnett (who played at right back, left back and holding midfield in the last two games) and Purce (who started at right wing and then moved to right back against Jamaica) and Kristie Mewis (who started in place on Lavelle against Nigeria) and Macario (who is nine years younger than Mewis with a higher up side but has been less consistent than Mewis since joining the national team).

The wild card is Williams. She started early in the year, then faded from the picture, but came off the bench against Nigeria and contributed an excellent goal in stoppage time. Andonovski has valued Williams for her ability to counter-press, but her stock dropped because of a scoring drought that extended almost five months before Wednesday's goal.

The average age of the frontline will be more than 34 years old by the time the USA gets to Japan, and to take along a younger attacker like Williams or Purce or Macario as cover will be tempting.

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

15 comments about "USWNT: Now comes the hard part".
  1. Wooden Ships, June 17, 2021 at 8:52 a.m.

    It's a strange game when you see our National team players, a few in particular, have such a poor passing night. On another note, will there come a day where, like the men, you will only take 3 over the age of 23. If that was now, what a different look and which 3 make it? 

  2. Ben Lukas, June 17, 2021 at 10:18 a.m.

    Well, it wouldn't be popular to drop aging stars who are having mediocre to poor games. But clearly Rapinone and Lloyd have not been sharp with their touches or finishing, and Rapinone in particular has not been as mobile as she once was.
    Most teams leave their aging stars around for one too many cycles before injecting youth and giving them the chance to learn and grow. The difficulty is either knowing when the time has come, or the coach having the courage (or political power) to see it and take action.

  3. Nick Gabris replied, June 17, 2021 at 11:19 a.m.

    DITTO !!!!!

  4. Matt Cardillo replied, June 17, 2021 at 12:36 p.m.

    Until they make the Olympics a U23 tourney, like the men, we'll continue to see this type of "older roster." Heck, check all the ages here. The youngest player of the "locks" is Lavelle at 26. The only players under 23 are Davidson, Marcario and Smith. And Purce is trying to break into this team at 25 years old.

    Change the age for the Olympics and we'll nurture some young stars.

  5. Mylene Moreno, June 17, 2021 at 12:39 p.m.

    Rapinoe was poor last night. Not only did she fail to complete most passes, she is unable to challenge one on one. Can't dribble, can't pass.  Still good on the dead ball, but Press' corner service is better.  

  6. Matt Cardillo replied, June 17, 2021 at 12:57 p.m.

    Agree, it's not a popular opinion but she's living on her reputation. And it's not her fault. It's the coach's job to make these decisions. It's not up to the player. To be clear, i'm not saying she sucks or is even average. She's clearly above average, but based on what i've seen recently, she's not a starter.  Then again, i'm not the coach and i don't see the players day-in and day-out.

  7. Jack Carter, June 17, 2021 at 12:48 p.m.

    I know this sounds silly, but does this team know how to recover from a loss? Winning all the time is great, but coming back from a loss is something every team needs to learn if they are going to win a big tournament. Unless of course they win every game in the tournament which should be getting harder to do.

  8. Radwan Muscat, June 17, 2021 at 4:53 p.m.

    Keep the big sponsors out of influencing who gets on the final roster. We all know they want their special gal included.

  9. Wooden Ships replied, June 17, 2021 at 5:38 p.m.

    Probably true Wayne. 

  10. James Madison, June 17, 2021 at 6:36 p.m.

    Although it would make tactical sense to leave Rapinoe, Morgan and OHara home, that is not feasible politically.  Lloyd is still good for 20 minutes or so.  Bottom line:  may the Olympics be their farewell, and probably also that of Sauerbrunn

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, June 17, 2021 at 7:16 p.m.

    While Rapinoe has slowed, she still compares favorably to wingers on most other teams. Morgan and Ohara are still as good as they ever were. 

  12. Bob Ashpole, June 17, 2021 at 6:54 p.m.

    I have no clue as to what the coaches selections will be. I don't agree with Paul's 14 "locks", but to make it simpler I will assume they are selected.

    For keeper, I would consider which one was better at shootouts.

    For the field players I would go with Davidson, Purce, and Macario. K. Mewis and Sonnet would be alternates. Davidson imo is a lock as the 3rd CB. I think we will need attacking players who can break down defenses more than backs. That is why I picked Purce over Sonnet. Sonnet certainly is deserving, but I think Purce makes for a stronger team overall.

    If team morale wasn't a concern, I would consider making Rapinoe an alternate. But this team is very tightly knit, and mentality is extremely important.

    People have noted that the team was not sharp. Well, of course not. They played 3 games in 7 days. 

  13. Mark Landefeld, June 17, 2021 at 8:43 p.m.

    Well, if Heath can't go, Williams seems to be the obvious replacement there and if Ertz can't go, Sonnett makes sense.

    Davidson looks smart and versatile.

    The only other player who looks like a potential difference-maker to me is Mercario.  The upside looks very intriguing.

  14. E Velazquez, June 18, 2021 at 7:44 a.m.

    If Macario is not selected, we need a new coach

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, June 18, 2021 at 2:26 p.m.

    If the task was to pick the best players or Heath can't go, I would agree with you. The coach is under immense pressure to win gold and has to pick the strongest team. His job is at stake whether he picks Macario or not. 

    In making the selections, the crucial factor is not who will start the first match, but rather who will start the second match. That is why I would select Macario and Purce if they are healthy.

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