Paris 2024: Alex Morgan left off USWNT Olympics roster

U.S. Soccer released the 18-woman roster, selected by national team coach Emma Hayes, on Wednesday with Morgan as a notable omission

SAINT PAUL, MN - JUNE 04: US Women's National Team forward Alex Morgan (13) looks on during the women's friendly match between the U.S. National team and Korea Republic on June 4th, 2024, at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, MN. (Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Alex Morgan won't be making the trip to the Paris Olympics this summer after being left off the U.S. women's national team roster. (Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

U.S. women's national team coach Emma Hayes has omitted Alex Morgan from the USWNT's roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

U.S. Soccer released the 18-woman roster Wednesday. There were no stunning inclusions. But Morgan was a somewhat surprising exclusion.

Hayes, who formally took charge of the USWNT last month, essentially chose both Casey Krueger, a defender, and Crystal Dunn, a do-everything utility player, over Morgan, who would have served as a change-of-pace backup striker.

Goalkeepers (2): Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (6): Tierna Davidson (Gotham FC), Emily Fox (Arsenal), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Casey Krueger (Washington Spirit), Jenna Nighswonger (Gotham FC), Emily Sonnett (Gotham FC)

Midfielders (5): Korbin Albert (PSG), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Lyon), Rose Lavelle (Gotham FC), Catarina Macario (Chelsea)

Forwards (5): Crystal Dunn (Gotham FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars)

Alternates: Jane Campbell (GK), Hal Hershfelt (M), Croix Bethune (M), Lynn Williams (F)

As that change of pace, Morgan still offered value. As a target forward who links with teammates, and as a defender from the front, she has no parallel in the U.S. player pool. She was also the only player with an Olympic gold medal seriously considered for this roster; the rest of the USWNT's 2012 team has either retired or been phased out.

But her goalscoring — a striker's most valuable trait — has dried up. She was left off a 23-player roster this past winter for a reason. She was eventually called up to that roster for the W Gold Cup as a replacement for the injured Mia Fishel; but for the Olympics, the 18-player limit proved too restrictive.

Including the 34-year-old Morgan would have left this USWNT roster unbalanced, with seven players who could only fill the four highest positions on the field, at the expense of depth in defensive positions. And the other six attackers, at this stage of their respective careers, are simply better. Mallory Swanson was a lock to make the roster, and start in France this summer. Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Jaedyn Shaw were obvious inclusions.

Catarina Macario is also included — as a midfielder who can also play as a center forward. Hayes clearly likes Macario, whom she signed while still the coach at Chelsea in England.

Hayes also included Dunn, who has spent most of her USWNT career playing fullback, but can play anywhere in midfield or as a winger.

Versatility is especially valuable at the Olympics. The 18 players can only be replaced by alternates permanently in case of injury. Dunn, although listed as a forward, essentially gives the USWNT depth at seven different positions. Emily Sonnett, similarly, will serve as a backup center back, backup fullback and backup defensive midfielder. Krueger can play in either fullback spot, or even as a side-center back in a line of three.

Morgan, on the other hand, can only play in one position — a position that Smith, Swanson and Macario can usually play better.

And so, for the first time since 2008, the USWNT will go to a major tournament without her.

"I’m disappointed about not having the opportunity to represent our country on the Olympic stage," Morgan said in a statement on social media. "This will always be a tournament that is close to my heart and I take immense pride any time I put on the crest. In less than a month, I look forward to supporting this team and cheering them on alongside the rest of our country."

In media availability Wednesday, Hayes said that it was a "tough decision" but confirmed that she prioritized versatility when making the choice. Hayes also pointed to longevity as a factor: If all goes according to plan, the USWNT will play six games in a two-week period, meaning that players on the roster will need to bounce back quickly after each game.

"Having a roster that could adapt is essential," Hayes said, pointing out the "tight turnaround" between games — about three days, on average.

Although Hayes did not explicitly call Morgan "old," the implication is there: The 34-year-old forward's speed is not the same as it once was, and if there was any doubt about her ability to bounce back, Hayes felt she needed to give the spot to someone else.

With a notable lack of veterans like Morgan, Hayes has set up another relatively inexperienced roster, but said during media availability that the gap between the most-capped players and the rest was something she was hoping to change.

"One of the biggest things for me ever since I got the job was I want to provide opportunities for less experienced players," Hayes said. "The volume of players that haven't played more than 30 caps was really, really noticeable for me. So the last eight months has been about giving experiences to bridge that gap, because there is a correlation between caps and caps played and success at international tournaments."

11 of the 18 players on this Olympic roster have less than 50 caps; only four (Alyssa Naeher, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn) have more than 100, with Emily Sonnett and Mallory Swanson right behind at 91 and 92, respectively.

Perhaps the most notable exclusion beyond Morgan was Lily Yohannes, the 17-year-old midfielder who made waves with her passing and a goal in her debut earlier this month.

But Yohannes was always a long shot. She has only ever played 20 minutes for the USWNT. Hayes likely felt comfortable with the depth offered by Dunn and Sonnett. She also apparently felt comfortable with Korbin Albert — despite the transphobic social media activity that continues to trail Albert, and will continue to trail her until she further publicly addresses it.

Hayes spoke at length about Albert during media availability, noting that the 20-year-old made the roster "on merit" as a midfielder, but that there have been conversations about her off the field behavior with a bent towards self-improvement.

"I think she's had a really, really tough time," Hayes said. "She's a young person having to deal with a lot of criticism, rightfully so, and a lot of, how to put it...she can hear the noise in the stadium. That's, that's affected her. But I can say firsthand that, having spent limited time with Korbin, that she really is a lovely person and someone who really values the most important things, and that she's spending time working on herself, as we all do, and I look forward to building on that with her.

"I want everybody to know that my job is to make sure I keep doing that. And I want the fans to really embrace Korbin, because I think she's a tremendous human being," Hayes added.

Hayes also confirmed that Yohannes isn't an alternate because she has not fully committed to representing the U.S. internationally. She could also be eligible to represent the Netherlands, and has not yet made a decision between the two.

"She's a young player that really, really enjoyed her time with us at the last camp. But it's an important decision, and one that I support," Hayes said. "One thing I want is that for every player that's part of this roster, they're conscious of all the commitments and opportunities that come with that. But that moment isn't now with Lily."

More broadly, the roster's biggest question mark is at center back. Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson are the starters. There is only one other player among the 18 and the alternates — Sonnett — who has any experience playing the position. It's unclear what Hayes' backup plan would be in case of injuries or yellow-card suspensions.