USA TODAY US Edition
Few easy choices for US women’s soccer Tokyo roster
Vlatko Andonovski has a headache other coaches would give anything to have.
The U.S. women can take just 18 soccer players to the Tokyo Olympics this summer, five fewer than they had at the World Cup.
Add in the youngsters who’ve elbowed their way into the conversation and the players who’ve gotten a second chance with the new coaching staff, and there are at least 27 women who can make a legitimate case for one of those Olympic spots.
“There are so many things and boxes they need to check in order to be on the roster,” Andonovski said Wednesday night, after the USA beat Argentina 6-0 to win the SheBelieves Cup. “It’s an ongoing process. As we go forward, I’m sure I’ll have more clear answers. But right now, I’m still evaluating everyone, and the list is still pretty big, I guess, compared to 18.”
There were 23 players on the roster for the SheBelieves Cup, 14 of whom were members of the team that won the World Cup in 2019. That doesn’t include Sam Mewis or Tobin Heath, who are nursing injuries but are considered locks if they’re healthy.
Nor does it include Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger, who have been the primary backups at goalkeeper and right back, respectively. Andonovski cautioned against reading anything into their absence from the SheBelieves Cup, saying he already knows what they have to offer.
Plus, Harris and Krieger, married since 2019, announced Feb. 14 that they’d adopted a baby girl.
And those are just the obvious candidates.
“He has an incredibly difficult job coming up,” forward Alex Morgan said.
Go ahead and take a stab at it. I’ve tried – multiple times – and the best I can do is a 20-woman roster, which is still two too many. Short of throwing darts at a wall or pulling names out of a hat, I have no idea how Andonovski makes those last two cuts.
It’s never easy to make a USWNT roster. The sheer size of the country provides a wealth of talent, and the NWSL has made it possible for the top players to stay in the game longer. But a variety of factors have made the pool even deeper for Tokyo, where the Americans will try to become the first reigning World Cup champions to win the Olympic title.
The most obvious is the delay of the Olympics, which were postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Had the Tokyo Games gone ahead as scheduled, there are players who simply wouldn’t have been available.
Morgan had daughter Charlie in early May and says it would have been “an incredible challenge” to be ready for an Olympics 2 1⁄2 months later. Carli Lloyd missed the entire NWSL season last year with a knee injury that required surgery. Catarina Macario only became a U.S. citizen in October.
Add to that up-and-comers like Sophia Smith and Jaelin Howell, who made their senior national team debuts in November.
“It’s always extremely difficult to go from a World Cup roster of 23 to an Olympic roster of 18,” Morgan said. “Now we’ve had an extra year, so there’s been even more players that have been added to mix.”
The switch in coaches broadened the pool, too. For whatever reason, players like Kristie Mewis and Lynn Williams could never break through when Jill Ellis was coach. But Ellis stepped down after the 2019 World Cup, and Andonovski brought a fresh set of eyes.
Kristie Mewis has played in all six U.S. games since November, and her goal Wednesday was her third during that stretch. Williams started Sunday against Brazil, and Andonovski has raved about her play.
While games are a key part of Andonovski’s evaluation – goalkeeper Casey Murphy was the only player who didn’t get on the field during the SheBelieves Cup – he said he’ll also take into account what he sees at training camps. How players do with their individual clubs.
He’ll also consider factors like physical fitness. Versatility. How a player fits in different rotations.
There are two more international windows, in April and June, before Olympic rosters have to be finalized, and Andonovski will no doubt use all the time he can to make his selections.
“Right now, 18,” he said with a laugh when asked earlier this week how many roster spots were still up for grabs. “But we’re getting closer.”
All coaches should have such problems.