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The U.S. women's national soccer team will set out to do something unprecedented this summer with a roster that is, well, full of precedent.
The USWNT on Wednesday revealed its squad for the 2021 Olympics, and of the 18 players selected, 17 are world champions.
Carli Lloyd is back for a fourth Olympics. So is Tobin Heath as she recovers from a knee injury. Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O'Hara will head to the Games for a third time. Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, Christen Press, Lindsey Horan and Alyssa Naeher are all back for a second go-around.
It's been two years since they all roared to the 2019 World Cup title, and five years since their previous Olympic adventure, which, in international soccer, can feel like a lifetime. Even 24 months are enough to introduce a new generation, to transition from veterans to youngsters, to integrate new blood. Injuries and life circumstances often accelerate the process.
And yet, two years on from their last major tournament, this USWNT is extraordinarily unchanged.
The coach is new. But Vlatko Andonovski's first-choice starting 11 and rotation in Japan will be almost identical to those that beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final on July 7, 2019.
And thus, on paper, this USWNT looks better equipped than any prior iteration to become the first to claim World Cup and Olympic titles back-to-back.
Here is the full 18-woman roster, with some notes and analysis below.
USWNT 2021 Olympics roster
GOALKEEPERS (2): Adrianna Franch, Alyssa Naeher
DEFENDERS (6): Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett
MIDFIELDERS (5): Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis
FORWARDS (5): Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe
Major decisions and roster snubs
Andonovski made difficult — though maybe not significant — decisions at all four levels of the field.
At goalkeeper, Naeher is the undisputed starter; the backup position was disputed, and Franch made the team over Jane Campbell, who was named as one of four alternates.
The starting back four is also set, but Andonovski had three very capable and versatile reserves for two spots. He chose Davidson, who can play left or center back, and Sonnett, who can play right or center back, over Midge Purce, who has primarily played as a right back for the national team but has starred at forward elsewhere.
The roster, though, is already stacked higher up the field. There was little need for Purce's attacking threat. In fact, the 25-year-old isn't even one of the USWNT's four alternates. The attacking alternate is Lynn Williams. Andonovski also left her out, opting to take just two strikers and three wingers.
Perhaps the most controversial exclusion, though, was that of Catarina Macario, the Brazilian-born midfielder who many consider one of the brightest 21-and-under talents in the world. Kristie Mewis — sister of Sam — claimed the fifth and final roster spot in midfield over Macario, who is the third alternate.
"Catarina is a player with exceptional potential," Andonovski told reporters Wednesday hours after the roster announcement. "She's not quite ready, I think, at least right now, at this moment. [Or] other players were more ready than her, that's why she didn't make it."
The fourth alternate — after Campbell, Macario and Williams — is defender Casey Krueger (née Short).
Projected starting lineup, depth chart
With Heath and Ertz both coming off injuries, their inclusion in group stage matches could be in question. Andonovski said Wednesday that they were "progressing very well," but that Heath was "slightly ahead of" Ertz.
Rose Lavelle also picked up a minor injury in a recent friendly. Andonovski could, and likely will, use his depth early in the tournament.
Come crunch time, though, the shape of the team is more or less set — and familiar. This is the likely depth chart, with starters listed first, backups second:
A roster full of stars and experience
Tactically, the USWNT is different now than it was two years ago under former head coach Jill Ellis. But the names are, in many cases, the ones you've grown to know and love over a remarkable decade of women's soccer in the United States.
Andonovski has opted for experience over freshness. The roster's average age is over 30, the oldest USWNT Olympic roster ever. The 18 players own a combined 2,004 national team appearances.
They'll head to Japan next month after two send-off friendlies against Mexico in East Hartford, Conn. Their Olympics slate begins in Tokyo, two days before the opening ceremony, on July 21 against Sweden, a team with which the Americans are very familiar. The two seem to be magnetically attracted to each other at major tournaments. The Swedes infamously bounced the U.S. from the Olympics five years ago. More recently, they snapped a 16-game USWNT winning streak. They'll present a stern test in the opener.
Group G also features Australia and New Zealand. The top two teams, and perhaps a third, progress to the knockout stages, which begin with quarterfinals on July 30. The final is August 6, and back in Tokyo, after the middle part of the tournament will take teams to other Japanese cities.
The group is tough. The U.S., however, will be favored to win the tournament, no matter who stands in its path from the quarterfinals onward. Andonovski is widely considered a brighter tactical mind than Ellis. And the roster reveal is yet another reminder of how preposterously deep and talented the player pool is.
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