Following a January training camp that concluded with a 5-0 victory over Ireland, US Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis named her 20-player roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament in February. The US aims to win its forth-consecutive Olympic games and become the only team to win Olympic gold following a World Cup Championship in back-to-back years.
In a US Soccer statement, Jill Ellis noted, “This was an exceptionally challenging roster to select… The players all worked and competed very hard in the January Camp and that made the final decisions extremely difficult.”
There were certainly a few surprises in the 20-player roster, down from the 23-player roster for the Women’s World Cup this past year. After favoring experience and veteran leadership in the World Cup (the US was the oldest team competing with an average age of 29.5 years) Ellis is now injecting youth into the squad with an eye towards the future.
The roster announcement comes on the heels of Sydney Leroux announcing via social media that she and her husband Dom Dwyer, who plays for Sporting KC in MLS, are expecting their first child this September, ruling Leroux out of the Olympics.
2px); width:calc(100% 2px);">
World Cup players absent from the roster include Lori Chalupny, Shannon Box, Lauren Holiday, and Abby Wambach, all of whom are now retired. Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe are still recovering from injuries, while forwards Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez are both pregnant and unable to participate. Meanwhile, defender Whitney Engen gives way to 22-year-old newcomer Emily Sonnet, who was taken number one by the Portland Thorns in the NWSL draft earlier this month.
Noticeably omitted from the roster is Heather O'Reilly. A fan favorite known for her game face, O'Reilly saw limited minutes during the World Cup tournament but was impressive during the US Victory Tour notching 5 goals in 9 games. During January camp, O'Reilly (affectionately known as HAO) also set a new team record for the dreaded beep test, which tests the players' fitness and speed.
At age 31, O'Reilly also brings a great deal of leadership to the team with 228 national team caps, and 3 previous Olympic Gold medals. Ellis' decision to leave the veteran midfielder off her roster left many confused, including ex-US player and current ESPN announcer Julie Foudy.
Late Tuesday, Heather O'Reilly tweeted that she remained dedicated to the team and thanked her supporters. It should also be noted that although O'Reilly and Engen won't be on the team for the qualifying tournament, that doesn't mean they are out of Ellis' Olympics roster just yet.
The versatile Crystal Dunn, the reigning NWSL MVP, was all but assured a spot in the squad, as was defensive midfielder Lindsey Horan (who has been filling in for the retired Holiday). Other new players making the cut include Samantha Mewis, Stephanie McCaffrey, Jaelene Hinkle, and the youngest player ever to be named to a USWNT Olympic qualifying roster, 17-year-old Mallory Pugh.
This is a chance for Ellis to give the younger players experience in a competitive tournament at this level and allows her to better evaluate their performance before having to cut down the roster even further. Teams are only allowed to bring 18 players to the Rio Olympics this summer.
USWNT Olympic qualifying roster:
Goalkeepers: Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars) and Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC).
Defenders: Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City) and Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC).
Midfielders: Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash) and Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash).
Forwards: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars) and Mallory Pugh