There Is A New USWNT Coach And There Might Be Roster Changes
The 2020 Olympic Roster
It’s official! Vlatko Andonovski is going to be the new coach for the US women’s national soccer team. The news does not come as a surprise to anyone. Rumors have been flying around for some time now about how the Reign FC coach was about to take over one of the most famous soccer teams in the world. As a well-respected coach with an impeccable record in the National Women's Soccer League, he seemed like the logical replacement to former coach Jill Ellis. While Andonovski has some pretty big shoes to fill, the USWNT is probably in good hands.
Andonovski’s first real test will not come until the 2020 Olympics start approaching, but we will see him coach his first game in November against Sweden, the team that knocked Team USA out of medal contention in the 2016 Olympic Games. The November 7th game will offer us a glimpse into what Andonovski’s plans are for the future of the team. Right now, everybody is wondering what the Olympic roster is going to look like. The wise decision is probably to avoid making too many dramatic changes to the lineup until after the Tokyo Olympics. After all, Ellis’s roster clearly had success during the 2019 World Cup in France since the USWNT brought home the victory for the United States.
Keep in mind, however, that the USA’s dominance might not last forever. Indeed, the US has struggled a little lately. They started off their World Cup Victory Tour strong, but began to falter in their two games against South Korea. They barely scraped a win in the first, while only drawing the second. South Korea might be a good team with fantastic players such as Ji-So-yun leading the attack, but they are certainly not the most foreboding team that the USWNT has ever faced. Great Britain, Sweden, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, and the Netherlands have all qualified for the Olympics. These are teams that are capable of posing a serious threat to the USWNT, so Andonovski might have watched the games against South Korea and thought that some changes need to be made before the US is ready to face a squad like Sweden in an important competition. Most expect these changes to be minor, so many of the 23 Americans selected for the 2019 World Cup will most likely make the roster for the 2020 Olympics.
PLAYERS WITH A SOLID SHOT OF GOING TO TOKYO
In the past, Ertz has probably been the first name on Ellis’s roster because she is versatile, dependable, healthy, and experienced. At only 27 years old, she has already made 91 international appearances and was on the winning team of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup. During both of those years, she was named to the FIFA Women’s Best XI, an award given to the eleven best female soccer players in the world. In 2015, she won the honor as a defender and, in 2019, she won as a midfielder, which highlights her versatility. Indeed, while she is one of the strongest defenders in the NWSL for the Chicago Red Stars, Ellis often placed Ertz in the midfield. She usually plays a more defensive midfield position and often makes crucial clearances, but she can also contribute on offense and become a target in front of the net if her team finds themselves in need of a goal.
The 2019 World Cup was Dahlkemper’s first World Cup appearance, but it probably will not be her last because she consistently produced relatively good results in France. She made her World Cup debut with an impressive record in the NWSL as a central defender for the North Carolina Courage, so it was no surprise to see her starting every single match with the USWNT. She is only 26 years old, so it looks like she is the future of Team USA’s defense.
In France, Dunn was very good at keeping some of her speedier opponents from being able to get decent opportunities on goal. She was specifically praised for her performance against Kadidiatou Diani of France, but Dunn also shut down Spain’s Lucia Garcia and England’s Nikita Parris. Based on her performance as a defender against the top teams, no one could have guessed that Dunn typically does not play defense. When playing with the Carolina Courage, Dunn is a very dangerous attacker and Andonovski might think that Ellis wasted Dunn’s talent by putting her in defense. However, many think Ellis made a good decision because, while Dunn’s pace came in handy on defense during the World Cup, she also got involved when her team was pressing forward. Although Dunn never scored, she had a couple of close opportunities. She is young, healthy, and versatile, which is why it is extremely likely that she will be playing in Tokyo. Andonovski will just have to decide if she should continue playing defense.
After her stunning performance in France as a co-captain of the USWNT, Rapinoe became one of the most famous soccer players in the world. Following the tournament, she won the FIFA Golden Boot, FIFA Golden Ball, and FIFA Best Women’s Player. She is now expected to win the prestigious Ballon d'Or. Even before the tournament, she had an impressive list of accomplishments on both the club and international level. Since the tournament, she has been relatively subdued due to injury, but she seems to have recovered well and was able to join the USWNT for their two games against South Korea. Over the course of those two games, she assisted all three of the goals that the US scored. At 34 years old, Rapinoe likely knows that her international career cannot last forever, but she should be able to hold out for one more Olympics, especially since she has worked well under Andonovski on Reign FC for two years now. Even if Rapinoe’s form starts to decline with age, Andonovski will know that her focus and mentality can still contribute to the team.
There were a couple of hiccups for Naeher in France, especially against Spain when she did not properly work with her defense, allowing Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso to sneak the ball into the back of the net. However, overall, Naeher did not let the team down. She even blocked a PK against England. Although she is fit and healthy, she is also over 30 years old and Andonovski might want to replace her with a younger keeper. He does not have to look far since Reign FC’s Casey Murphy is one of the best young keepers in the NWSL. However, goalkeepers do not usually decline in health until their later 30s and Andonovski knows that veteran goalkeepers can be useful to have around.
Lavelle had an explosive year with the USWNT. Before 2019, she was relatively undistinguished, but her performance in the World Cup brought her out of obscurity and rapidly thrust her into the spotlight. She scored a stunning goal in the final match against the Netherlands and soon became a fan favorite. She ended up winning the FIFA Bronze Ball after the World Cup and she was later named to the FIFA Women’s Best XI. In the NWSL, she plays with the Washington Spirit, a team that has struggled a little bit at various points during this year, but Lavelle still had a couple of standout moments during the season, especially when she scored her first goal with the team. Like most of the players on the Washington Spirit, Lavelle is very young, so she certainly has a bright future ahead of her. She just needs to avoid another injury.
Like Rose Lavelle, Horan is another young midfielder with a bright future. She is such a powerful weapon on the Portland Thorns that her opponents have said that the only way to keep the Thorns from scoring is to prevent Horan from getting too many touches on the ball. For a long time, people believed that she was going to be the future of the USWNT, especially after she was honored as NWSL MVP in 2018, becoming the first player to win the title without simultaneously winning the NWSL Golden Boot Award. Unfortunately, she did not get as much time on the pitch in 2019 as expected because of the fantastic form that Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, and Rose Lavelle displayed on the pitch. However, she did add depth to the midfield.
After Julie Ertz was sent to play defense in the first game against Thailand, Mewis ended up with the opportunity to be a starter as a center midfielder. She showed off her amazing footwork and ball movement, which is why she earned the chance to play in six out of the seven games. She returned to the North Carolina Courage after the NWSL and continued to deliver solid performances. She just needs to hope that she did not slip too far under the radar in the NWSL, which can be a challenge for anyone that plays for the North Carolina Courage, a team stacked with some of the strongest players in the league.
Pugh did not see much of the pitch in France, but did make her World Cup debut in the first match of the tournament. During the game, she ended up being one of the many players to score a goal against Thailand. Since the tournament ended, she has continued to get chances to play for the national team and even scored a goal in one of the recent games against South Korea. Her list of international credentials might be relatively short compared to other forwards like Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, or Megan Rapinoe, but Pugh brings youth to an aging offense.
Heath is 31 years old, making her one of the older offensive players on a team that already has many veterans on offense. During the World Cup, there were only two forwards under the age of 30 and one of them turned 30 in the middle of the competition. It is no surprise, therefore, that a few people have argued that the national team needs to find younger attackers. The new coach might agree, so Heath’s future could be precarious. However, her World Cup performance was very strong and, since the World Cup, she has scored two international goals. She is also arguably the best dribbler in the world. The USA has a couple of players that are difficult to dispossess, including Lavelle, Mewis, Morgan, Press, Rapinoe, Lloyd, and Dunn, but Heath can probably out-dribble them all. Her technical skills are unparalleled, so Andonovski likely knows that she would be difficult to replace.
Although Press was not generally a starter under Jill Ellis, new leadership might be a good thing for Press. She had a solid performance throughout the 2019 World Cup in France, scoring a crucial goal against England. She was also one of the few bright spots in the USWNT's two rough games against South Korea. She did not manage to score in those games, but she brought a spark to a relatively lifeless first match, which is probably part of the reason Jill Ellis decided to start her in the second. She has pace and ball control. She also brings excellent service on set plays.
Davidson was the youngest player on the USA World Cup squad. Defenders like Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, and Kelley O’hara are aging, so Davidson is in the perfect position to be groomed by Andonovski as one of their replacements.
PLAYERS THAT ARE MORE UP IN THE AIR
As a veteran central defender, Sauerbrunn has an extensive list of international achievements. She has been a member of the last three World Cup teams and the last two Olympic teams. Although Sauerbrunn has continued to prove herself as a member of the USWNT and as a member of the Utah Royals in the NWSL, she is already 34 years old and her World Cup performance was not as sharp has it could have been. Andonovski might, therefore, want to introduce some younger defenders to the team in Sauerbrunn’s place. Still, it makes sense to have at least one real veteran like Sauerbrunn in the back to play alongside some of the younger and less experienced players such as Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Casey Short, Emily Sonnett, and others. She has a shot of sticking around for the Tokyo Olympics, but we might see Sauerbrunn playing fewer minutes as she ages.
Morgan is another older forward that would be difficult to leave off the team just because of her age. She is one of the strongest scorers in the US, but there are younger and healthier strikers that have a good nose for goal. Morgan also has not played since the World Cup due to injury and pregnancy, so she could easily be left off the Olympic roster, especially since she is due to give birth just three months before the Olympics start. She will have some time to recover and prove herself, so she still has a chance of going to Tokyo because of her very strong record. Part of her ability, however, comes from her pace, which may slow down as she ages. Her style of play has matured over the years, so her continued development as a player may make it possible for her to chase down Abby Wambach’s record.
Most people expected Short to go to the 2019 World Cup, but Jill Ellis surprised everyone by opting to bring Ali Krieger to the squad, which left Short off the roster at the last minute. Instead, Short stayed home and helped the Chicago Red Stars make it to the NWSL championships. She is one of the most dependable fullbacks in the NWSL, which is part of why she got so close to booking her ticket to France with the national team. Unfortunately, Ellis likes attacking fullbacks and Short does not always contribute on offense. However, with new leadership, Team USA’s style of play might change. Andonovski has certainly shown himself to be somewhat less stubborn than Ellis. He is more likely to invite talent like Short onto the team, even if means the team has to be flexible about making some stylistic adjustments.
Lloyd does not want her international career to be over and she is doing everything in her power to ensure that Andonovski gives her a shot. She had a tough time adjusting to her role as a substitute during the World Cup, but it seems to have given her the desire to show everyone just how talented she is. Sky Blue FC was almost at the bottom of the NWSL standings this season and only scored 20 goals all year, but nearly half of those goals came from Lloyd, making her one of the highest-scoring players in the league. She has also been scoring international goals, putting more balls in the back of the net than anyone else on the USWNT since the World Cup ended. Her shots are like rockets, she is difficult to mark, she can take on several defenders, she excels in the air, and she is good at moving the ball around midfield. Ellis, therefore, had no reason to drop Lloyd from the roster, especially since the two of them have been together for years. However, a new coach might want to start training younger attackers.
At 31 years old, O’hara is also one of the older players and she has had problems with some injuries in the past. However, her performance at the World Cup was undoubtedly incredible. With good reason, she was named as one of the FIFA Women’s Best XI for her role as a fullback on the USWNT. The new coach might want a couple of younger legs in the back line, but there is still room to keep some veterans on the roster, especially if the veteran in question was voted as one of the best fullbacks in the world.
The 23-year-old captain of the Washington Spirit was, like Casey Short, one of the players that just missed making Jill Ellis’s 2019 World Cup roster. When Ellis brought Morgan Brian and Allie Long onto the squad, Sullivan was forced to stay home. However, Ellis has been giving Sullivan other opportunities to play in international games since the World Cup tournament ended. Sullivan can play as an attacking midfielder and create goals, but she can also play as a more defensive midfield, which could give Julie Ertz the chance to play as a center back if Andonovski is interested in putting Ertz in her more natural environment.
The World Cup roster had 23 spots, which gave Franch the chance to go to France as one of the backup keepers. Since the Olympic roster has only 20 spots, the new coach may opt to bring only one backup onto the squad. Luckily, out of the two backup goalkeepers that went to France, Franch has the better shot of staying on the roster for the Olympics. The 28-year-old Portland Thorns keeper was named the NWSL Keeper of the Year in 2017 and 2018. She is relatively young, so she has a bright career ahead of her, but she still has international experience. As young as she is, however, she is not that much younger than Alyssa Naeher and the new coach might want to find a younger backup that can be groomed as the permanent long-term keeper when Naeher retires.
While Sonnett was never the top of Jill Ellis’s roster, she is certainly one of the better players in the NWSL. She also does have a decent amount of international experience under her belt. In 2018, she started getting more involved with the squad when Kelley O’hara was battling injuries all year. Sonnett was also part of the team that won the World Cup victory in France, where she got a chance to play against Chile at the end of the second match. At 25 years old, Sonnett has a lot of time to get even better than she already is. Andonovski may appreciate her youth and give her more opportunities to play with Team USA.
To everyone’s surprise, Jill Ellis brought Brian onto the 2019 World Cup team. Ellis clearly believed in the young midfielder, even if her performance in the NWSL was not always great. Apparently, Ellis felt that she could rely on Brian, but Andonovski might not see whatever Ellis saw, so Brian needs to start standing out more or she might get replaced by someone else. Team USA’s midfield already has tons of young talent because of players such as Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis, and Rose Lavelle. The NWSL can also supply healthier midfielders such as Andi Sullivan if Andonovski decides he wants to add more depth. At least three names from the 2019 World Cup roster need to be dropped before the Olympics and, unless Brian can catch the attention of Andonovski, she is at risk of staying home in 2020.
OTHER PLAYERS TO KEEP IN MIND
When Jessica McDonald flew to France for the 2019 World Cup, the North Carolina Courage replaced her with Hamilton. Hamilton then had a breakout year in the NWSL by proving to be a very dangerous weapon on offense. She started in 17 out of the 24 games that she played and scored nine goals. For her performance, she was nominated for NWSL MVP and made her international debut under Jill Ellis during the World Cup Victory Tour in a game against Portugal. Andonovski may give her another call before the Olympics, which could give her the chance to show that she can produce results in international games.
According to rumors, the young PSG defender may be playing in the November 7th game against Sweden, setting the stage for potentially inviting members of European clubs onto the USWNT. The European clubs tend to produce players that are very technically advanced, which may be part of the reason that many USWNT stars spent time developing their careers abroad in Europe, including Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Lindsey Horan, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Megan Rapinoe. While these stars now play in the NWSL, there is still plenty of talent in Europe. Cook may have been too young and too far away to stand out to Jill Ellis, but her father is British, which is how she got her name onto Phil Neville’s roster in a recent game against Portugal. Now, Andonovski seems to have set his sights on Cook as well, suggesting that he wants to prioritize transitioning off some of the aging defenders on the USWNT.
The best American goal-scorer in the NWSL must assume that she has a shot of getting herself onto the national team. The 26-year-old forward just needs to get a little bit more international playing time. Jill Ellis never fully connected with Williams, but Andonovski could have different thoughts. She might get her name on the Olympic roster if she manages to prove that she can still be lethal on the international level.
PLAYERS TO THINK ABOUT SAYING GOODBYE TO
A surprising name in the 2019 World Cup roster was Long. She has had a tough time with injuries and did not make many international appearances in the year leading up to the 2019 tournament. Jill Ellis seemed to have included Long anyway because, as a player for the Portland Thorns and for Reign FC, Long has good chemistry with key players like Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, and Alex Morgan. Ellis probably also felt that a more veteran midfielder like Long might be useful, especially since the rest of the midfield was much younger. However, now that the younger midfielders have gained experience in France, Long’s age will start counting against her. Although her performance with Reign FC this season has been decent under Andonovski, she is already 32 years old. Ellis may have had difficulty transitioning Long off the team, but Andonovski may not have that problem.
As a Carolina Courage player, McDonald will know how to work with the many other Carolina Courage players that are hoping to make the Olympic squad, including Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Kristen Hamilton, and Jaelene Hinkle. It would be so easy for Andonovski to just pluck all the best Americans from the Courage and use them to build the Olympic roster. However, although McDonald went to France in 2019 and had a fantastic year with the Courage, she is an older offensive player, which is the last thing Team USA needs right now. As strong as she is on offense, her international career is likely to be short-lived. McDonald does not even have that much international experience, so her age does not even come with the usual advantages of being a veteran.
With over 100 international appearances, Krieger is certainly a veteran defender that had an impressive performance in France as Kelley O’hara’s substitute. However, Krieger is 35 years old and she has been battling injuries lately. While there is room for some defensive veterans to go to Tokyo in 2020, Krieger is unlikely to be one of them.
Harris was one of Alyssa Naeher’s backup goalkeepers in France, but she is unlikely to make the journey to Tokyo. She is older than all the other USA goalkeepers that went to the 2019 World Cup, so Andonovski will probably cut her from the team. It will be sad to say goodbye, especially since she and Ali Krieger were such a power couple, but there is no reason to hold onto a goalkeeper that is older than Alyssa Naeher, especially since Alyssa Naeher now has World Cup experience.
In conclusion, Andonovski must drop at least three players from the national team. The players in the most danger of staying home this summer are Allie Long, Jessica McDonald, Ali Krieger, and Ashlyn Harris. He might cut all four of them from the team, leaving room for one new face. This new player is most likely going to be either Andi Sullivan or Casey Short. However, players like Lynn Williams, Kristen Hamilton, and Alana Cook all might be trying to carve themselves a path to Tokyo. Andonovski might pick up some of them as well if he decides to cut Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, AD Franch, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Morgan Brian, and Emily Sonnett due to their age, health, or lack of good form.
However, altogether, most of the more recognizable faces are presumably going to stick around. Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe will probably still be leading the attack. Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, and Sam Mewis will likely be somewhere behind them. Abby Dahlkemper and Alyssa Naeher should be in the back line. Crystal Dunn and Julie Ertz will be somewhere on the field, even if it is not clear where. Christen Press and Mallory Pugh will be around to add depth to the attack, while Tierna Davidson can add depth on defense. These twelve players have an average age of 27, which is just about the perfect average that Andonovski is probably looking for.