Soccer Down Here
USWNT Olympic Roster Confirmed: Vlatko Is Gambling that Class, Experience Will Shine Through
by Bart Keeler
Only 18 layers make a roster for an Olympic soccer tournament. Vlatko Andonovski has chosen his 18 (plus four alternates) for the 2020 Tokyo Games and it’s clear he’s valuing experience over form.
To put it negatively, this team is old. The average age of the roster is 32.2 years. More concerning, the average age of the forwards is 34.4. Alex Morgan is the youngest player on the front line and she’ll turn 32 before the tournament begins. Carli Lloyd will pass 39 before the matches in Tokyo kick off.
The positive spin is that this team is experienced. Only one player on this roster was not on the team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Six players won gold at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Nine won the 2015 Women’s World Cup. In fact, Lloyd and Tobin Heath have won two gold medals and two Women’s World Cups! That winning mentality can’t be replaced.
Whichever way you choose to look at this squad — old or experienced — the fact remains that Andonovski failed to incorporate and new blood into this roster. Sure, the youngest player (Tierna Davidson) is 22, but she has been a part of the WNT since before the 2019 World Cup. The only new inclusion is Kristie Mewis who, though deserving, is already 30.
Instead of choosing to bring in new talent who could use this Olympic experience to learn the winning ways of the USWNT from veterans, Andonovski chose only aging players. This is a potential problem as he has just two years to put together a squad for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
More than just passing on the chance to bring in younger players, the undefeated head coach seemingly held roster spots for two women who have yet to play competitive soccer since returning from injury.
Heath was shining with Manchester United in the FA Women’s Super League but suffered an ankle injury in January. Her last competitive game was in December 2020. Andonovski assured us that Heath is fully recovered and should play in the tune-up friendlies against Mexico. Still, it’s concerning he believes she can play six matches in a three-week tournament.
She is the most technically gifted player on the roster — perhaps the most technically gifted U.S. soccer player ever — but her age, recent injury, and the wear of a 13-year international career could be a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, her recovery is complete.
Andonovski could have given Heath’s spot to an in-form Lynn Williams. Though she hasn’t looked great in a USA shirt, Williams has five goals in six matches in this NWSL season. Her pace, pressing abilities and league performance did earn her an alternate role. She’s also played eight matches for the USWNT in 2021.
Another spot that Andonovski kept was for Julie Ertz. She plays the vital holding midfield position and has been a dynamic defensive and offensive threat for the USWNT. However, she suffered a sprained MCL back in May and has not played since. Andonovski is convinced she’ll be ready for the games in Tokyo but might not play in the tune-up friendlies.
Lindsey Horan deputized for Ertz in the June friendlies quite fine against subpar foes — the team conceded zero goals — but she hasn’t been tested at the top level. Had Andonovski left a recovering Ertz off the roster, he could have called in Andi Sullivan but she only played 17 minutes over three matches. Another option could have been to put attacking midfielder Catarina Macario on the roster who can play striker as well. Horan and utility defender Emily Sonnet could play the defensive midfield role and Macario would give Andonovski options in attack.
Andonovski did not make any wrong choices for this roster. It’s hard to argue with calling in (essentially) the same crew that just won a world championship. The USWNT player pool is stocked with talented players, so there isn’t a weak spot on this roster.
That said, his choices can be criticized for being short-sighted and clouded by past performance. Luckily for those concerned, the IOC may allow 22 players to be on the tournament roster. This would allow for alternates Williams, Macario, Casey Krueger, and Jane Campbell to make the matchday 18, and possibly give rest to more players.
2020 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (6): Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City/ENG), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage)
FORWARDS (5): Tobin Heath (Unattached), Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Unattached), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
ALTERNATES: Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyonnais), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
U.S. Schedule at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games Tokyo
Wednesday, July 21, 4:30 a.m., vs. Sweden
Saturday, July 24, 7:30 a.m. vs. New Zealand
Tuesday, July 27, 4 a.m. vs. Australia