News Live Scores
United States

USWNT Olympic roster features major talent, vast experience and a pair of big injury risks

1:37 PM EDT 6/23/21
USWNT 2021
The U.S. will be favored to take home the gold in Japan, but it's not hard to think of ways in which their squad could falter

Vlatko Andonovski made the biggest call of his U.S. women’s national team coaching tenure on Wednesday, naming his 18-player roster for the Olympics in Japan.

The biggest questions involved the health of injured duo Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz, and Andonovski gave both players a major vote of confidence through their inclusion.

Andonovski bet big on experience by naming a veteran-laden group. Given the team’s incredible success over the past few years, it’s hard to blame him. 

But though they are favored to bring home gold, there are potential landmines for the U.S. in the weeks to come. Betting big on veterans and partially injured players could come back to haunt Andonovski in a tournament featuring small rosters, a hot climate and short turnaround times between games.

Here are three thoughts on the USWNT Olympic roster.

Experience wins the day

The numbers tell a clear story: this team is experienced.

The Olympic squad has an average age of 30.8, an average cap total of 111 per player, and 17 of the 18 players were on the 2019 World Cup roster.

Andonovski could have brought in some fresher faces, but the likes of Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith and Midge Purce were all left off the roster. In their place were players with longer track records with the team, like Carli Lloyd, Kristie Mewis, Tierna Davidson (who, at 22, is the youngest player on the team) and Emily Sonnett.

This is a group that, at some point in the near future, will be due for an overhaul. But for now, Andonovski believes that a team full of players who’ve been in the arena is most likely to bring him gold in his first major tournament in charge.

“I don’t look at players by age, because there are so many other things we are looking for before we see how old they are,” Andonovski said on a conference call. “The important thing is whether they help us win the Olympics or not.

“If you look at the data, you’ll see that Megan Rapinoe has scored the most goals in 2021 and Carli Lloyd has the most assists in 2021, so all together we feel very comfortable with some of the more experienced players.”

Ertz and Heath both make the cut

In 2016, Jill Ellis selected Megan Rapinoe for the Olympic squad despite her comeback from a torn ACL being far from complete. In Rio, Ellis attempted to use a hobbled Rapinoe, but the decision to bring her backfired. 

In the team’s quarterfinal loss to Sweden, Rapinoe was brought in as a substitute, only to later be subbed off herself as it became clear she wasn’t able to fully contribute.

Amid this backdrop, the inclusion of both Ertz and Heath was even more notable. On a roster of just 18 players, it’s far from ideal to have two of them carrying any kind of injury.

Ertz has been out since May with a knee problem, while Heath hasn’t played since January due to an ankle injury followed by a knee injury. The pair’s inclusion says a lot about Andonovski’s confidence in his medical staff and their assessment of the players.

The next chance we may get to assess the pair’s fitness are the team’s send-off friendlies against Mexico on July 1 and 5. Should Ertz and Heath not feature, it will then be a race against time for the Olympics opener against Sweden on July 21.

Andonovski said Heath is farther along in her recovery than Ertz. While the former should be ready to play some part against Mexico, Andonovski said the latter would get some minutes in closed-door games in Japan before then "hopefully [increasing] the minutes in the group stage in the Olympics.”

The U.S. can afford some patience when it comes to Ertz and Heath. The group stage sees eight of 12 teams advance to the knockout phase, which means the USWNT’s place in the quarterfinals is almost a given – with or without Ertz and Heath. 

If the two players aren’t 100% by the quarterfinals on July 30, though, Andonovski will have made a real mistake in bringing them.

Rosters to expand?

The Netherlands have reportedly requested that the roster sizes for the tournament be increased to 22 players, meaning that the four named alternates would become fully rostered players.

This would be a major win for the U.S. due to the aforementioned age and injury questions that its roster carries. Having Jane Campbell, Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams and Macario available for selection would be a game-changer.

Andonovski confirmed that U.S. Soccer is in talks with the Dutch and Swedish federations about a possible last-minute expansion of roster sizes – and that he’d be happy to see the change go through.

“In terms of the 22 players, I know the federation has been in talks with the Swedish federation and the Netherlands federation to analyze the process,” the coach said.

“I don't know where they are at with it but I would welcome the four alternates to become fully rostered players and available for selection at any point in time.”

USWNT Olympic squad in full 

Position Players
Goalkeepers Adrianna Franch, Alyssa Naeher
Defenders Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett
Midfielders Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis
Forwards Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe