Jill Ellis named her 23-player roster for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup on Tuesday. The list contained most of the names USWNT observers would expect, with a couple notable absences.
Lindsey Horan is out with a quad injury, while Morgan Brian was omitted due to a coach’s decision. Both absences will open up chances for bubble players to make their case for the World Cup squad – and possibly for a familiar name to return to an old position.
With the SheBelieves Cup kicking off in two weeks, here are three observations from Tuesday's roster reveal.
Horan's injury is a concern – and an opportunity
There’s no indication that the quad injury that forced Horan to miss the tournament is serious, but any potential injury problem for one of the team’s most valuable players is concerning. The World Cup is drawing ever closer, and this U.S. side needs its do-everything No. 8 to be in tip-top shape by June.
That said, with Horan out there will be chances for others to step into the midfield and make their case for a World Cup roster spot. Danielle Colaprico and Andi Sullivan looked like outside bets for a spot in France near the end of 2018, but both players were on the roster for the end-of-year friendlies against Portugal and Scotland, as well as last month's games against France and Spain.
McCall Zerboni should also have more chances as she continues to work her way back from an elbow injury, but it could be Sam Mewis who becomes the biggest beneficiary of Horan's absence. Ellis has given Mewis just 20 minutes combined in the team’s past four matches, a strange decision given how valuable she has been for club and country in the last two years. The NC Courage star should get her chance in the SheBelieves Cup.
Alternatively, Morgan Brian received a real wake-up call by being left off the roster for the tournament. Brian started against France last month but now looks in real danger of missing out on the World Cup squad – particularly if the aforementioned players shine in the SheBelieves Cup.
McDonald gets another chance to show she belongs
Jessica McDonald had just one cap when she was named on the roster for November’s friendlies against Portugal and Scotland. She now has five caps, having featured in both of those games as well as last month’s matches against France and Spain.
Though the 30-year-old is a late arriver on the international scene, she appears to have timed her moment to perfection. McDonald led NWSL in assists last year and was tied for fourth in goals, and her skill set is exactly what Ellis is looking for in a backup to Alex Morgan. The U.S. has little depth at striker, having used Carli Lloyd as a makeshift No. 9 of late, leaving an opening for a more natural target player like McDonald to step up.
If McDonald does so against the tough competition in the SheBelieves Cup, a spot in France may beckon.
Could Lloyd return to a familiar role?
Horan’s absence highlights the USWNT's lack of creative options in the middle of the field. Aside from Rose Lavelle, the other five midfielders on the roster (Mewis, Zerboni, Colaprico, Sullivan and Julie Ertz) are more defensive-minded players.
The U.S. has options to generate offense from other areas, of course. Ellis wants her two full backs to push high up the field, and the manager deploys an attacking trio in her 4-3-3 formation. One does have to wonder, though, about the role of a player who is currently listed as a forward on the roster: Carli Lloyd.
Lloyd made her name as an attacking central midfielder, but has been deployed as a reserve forward with the U.S. recently. With Horan out, though, will Ellis turn to Lloyd in the middle of the field again? It may make sense, especially with McDonald on the roster as a backup to Alex Morgan.