soccer

U.S. women’s soccer: The fight for 18 in 2016

You would think the shrinking of the national team roster from the Women’s World Cup (23 players) to the Olympics (18) means some veterans get left home and less experienced players have trouble breaking through.

But a rash of retirements has changed all that. Jill Ellis is looking at new players among the 26 called into camp in January. She didn’t have much choice.

That’s actually not unusual. Let’s look at the past first, then size up the competition for 2016:

1999-2000: The WWC roster was only 20 in those days. That opened the competition a bit, as did the change in coach, with April Heinrichs replacing Tony DiCicco.

  • Carryovers (14): Scurry, Fair, Pearce (Rampone), Overbeck, Chastain, Whalen, MacMillan, Hamm, Foudy, Parlow, Lilly, Fawcett, Milbrett, Sobrero.
  • Dropped (6): Akers (was named but withdrew), Roberts, Venturini, Fotopoulos, Webber, Ducar
  • Added (4): Serlenga, French, Slaton, Mullinix

2003-04: Still only 20 for the WWC. Heinrichs was the coach for both tournaments but still tinkered a bit. (LA Times story)

  • Carryovers (14): Scurry, Pearce/Rampone, Reddick (Whitehill), Chastain, Boxx, Hamm, Wagner, Foudy, Parlow, Lilly, Fawcett, Sobrero/Markgraf, Hucles, Wambach
  • Dropped (6): Bivens, Roberts, MacMillan, Milbrett, Slaton, Mullinix
  • Added (4): Mitts, Tarpley, O’Reilly, Luckenbill

2007-08: The WWC roster was up to 21. Pia Sundhage replaced Greg Ryan after the 2007 debacle, and a rash of injuries forced many changes.

  • Carryovers (13): Solo, Rampone, Tarpley, Kai, Boxx, O’Reilly, Wagner, Lloyd, Lopez/Cox, Markgraf, Hucles, Chalupny, Barnhart
  • Dropped (8): Scurry, Dalmy, Whitehill (injured), Ellertson, Osborne (injured), Lilly (pregnant), Jobson, Wambach (injured)
  • Added (5): Mitts, Buehler, Rodriguez, Cheney, Heath

2011-12: Rosters still at 21, and Sundhage stuck with her favorites.

  • Carryovers (17): Solo, Mitts, Rampone, Sauerbrunn, O’Hara, LePeilbet, Boxx, Rodriguez, O’Reilly, Lloyd, Cheney, Morgan, Wambach, Rapinoe, Buehler, Heath, Barnhart
  • Dropped (4): Krieger (injured), Cox, Lindsey, Loyden
  • Added (1): Leroux

So as the team heads from Vancouver to Rio, they’ll have the same coach (as in 2004 and 2012) but a lot of people who won’t be available (as in 2008).

The training camp has 26 players, but just 16 of them played in the World Cup. Four (Wambach, Boxx, Chalupny, Holiday) have retired. Rodriguez is pregnant and probably a safe bet not to play. Even if Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe can come back from injuries and no one else is hurt, bringing the number of available WWC 2015 players up to 18, we’d still see at least one new player on the roster unless Ellis makes the unusual decision to take three goalkeepers.

Position-by-position:

Goalkeepers: Hope Solo is still the starter for the foreseeable future, pending court appearances this year. The assault charges against her were reinstated in October. The most recent action in the case is an “order for change of judge.”

Ashlyn Harris played 270 minutes in 2015. Alyssa Naeher played 90. Adrianna Franch, getting her first call since 2013, is the other goalkeeper in camp. They’re competing for one spot, two if Solo can’t go.

Defenders: Six WWC carryovers are in camp, and with each of the last two Olympic rosters carrying six defenders, they’ll be tough to dislodge. Especially the starters: the fearsome center-back duo of Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston, left back Meghan Klingenberg, and right back Ali Krieger.

Kelley O’Hara’s versatility is a plus on a small roster. Whitney Engen will face a challenge, but the team will need a reserve center back unless Rampone returns.

The newcomers are Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York) and Emily Sonnett (UVA). Sonnett could challenge Engen and Rampone at center back. Hinkle is primarily a left back, normally a tough position to fill but one in which the USWNT is unusually deep with Klingenberg and O’Hara.

Center midfielders: This was a sore spot early in the World Cup, with Lauren Holiday miscast as a defensive-ish midfielder. Ellis adjusted by adding Morgan Brian along with Holiday and Carli Lloyd, at the expense of a second forward. It worked. Holiday and backup Shannon Boxx are gone, but Lloyd and Brian are sure to make the roster.

That leaves a couple of open spots. Danielle Colaprico (Chicago) is in camp with a chance to be a holding midfielder to free up or back up Brian and Lloyd. Or Ellis could opt for a midfield playmaker, something the USA rarely has, which would keep Lloyd in a box-to-box role and Brian behind them. The options there include Samantha Mewis (Western New York), Rose Lavelle (Wisconsin), and Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado/Mountain View HS).

But the leader for one of these slots might be Lindsey Horan (PSG), usually a forward but slotted into center mid on the Victory Tour.

Wing midfielders: The wings are where WoSo fans start to argue. The training camp roster only lists two — WWC holdovers Tobin Heath and Heather O’Reilly — but a lot of WoSo fans don’t want to write them onto the Oly roster with a Sharpie just yet.

Rapinoe goes here if she’s healthy. Then Ellis could use one of the players listed at forward — Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston) looked sharp on the Victory Tour, and Crystal Dunn (Washington) was the best player in the NWSL last season. Dunn can literally play anywhere on the field from defender to striker.

Forwards: The roster lists six, and the USA hasn’t taken more than four to either of the previous two Olympics. But that list includes Pugh, McCaffrey, and Dunn. (But not Horan.)

That leaves three holdovers. Alex Morgan wasn’t quite herself in 2015 but is still one of the world’s best. Christen Press frequently makes a good case for more time. Sydney Leroux has alternately thrilled and frustrated fans over the past couple of years.

THE WILD GUESS (in decreasing order of confidence per position)

Goalkeepers (2, both holdovers): Solo, Harris

Defenders (6, all holdovers): Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Klingenberg, Krieger, O’Hara, Engen

Midfielders (6, four holdovers): Lloyd, Brian, Heath, O’Reilly, Horan, Mewis

Forwards (4, three holdovers): Morgan, Press, Dunn, Leroux

If Rapinoe is healthy, any midfielder other than Lloyd or Brian could be bumped. I see Dunn as a starter on the wing, so either Heath or O’Reilly could be bumped.

So that’s all of the possible holdovers — 15 from the 16 in camp, with the only one missing out being the No. 3 goalkeeper. If Rapinoe bumps a midfield newcomer, that makes it 16. (Rampone would bump one of the holdover defenders.)

Dunn and Horan have to be considered the leaders to gain the open spots. The 18th spot, which I’ve given to Mewis, could be wide open, especially if Rapinoe can’t go.

But all of the players in camp have a chance. Unfortunately, there’s a big chance that someone will be injured between now and August. And we’ve seen the occasional surprise before.

 

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