Last year, it was the Women's World Cup roster. This year, United States soccer fans are anxiously awaiting the players who head coach Jill Ellis will select for her roster for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
With two matches coming up for the team before they head off (first for a game against South Africa on July 9 and a match on July 22 against Costa Rica), and with Ellis recently naming 24 players for those matches, I decided to take a look at who could make that roster in Brazil.
Before we begin:
Ellis can only name 18 players to her roster, which includes 16 field players and two goalkeepers. Because four forwards were already selected, and that part of the list probably won't change (because it's hard to mess with a list of forwards that has Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Mallory Pugh on it, as it speaks for itself). I left off that category and instead focused on the midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers who could make the cut.
Midfielders (4? Well, technically 5 or 6.)
Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe, Samantha Mewis, and Heather O’Reilly were the eight midfielders called up.
Carli Lloyd had an impressive 2015, both for club and for country. Had she not been sidelined with her knee injury, I have no doubt that the impressiveness would have continued, which is why she's the first to make this list. Tobin Heath plays with admirable passion, though it's led her to trouble sometimes (yes, I'm talking about the red card). She currently leads the NWSL in assists, and is fourth in shots on goal while playing in all nine of Portland’s games this season.
At this point, there's a bit of a roadblock. If Megan Rapinoe can bounce back from her ACL injury in time, she’s an easy third choice. That said, there's been no definitive timetable for her recovery, and it has also been said that she was in camp for training and evaluation. Nothing is set in stone yet. Regardless of Rapinoe’s status, I'd love to see Heather O'Reilly make the final cut.
If Rapinoe can't play, it could be a toss-up between Morgan Brian or Lindsay Horan to take the final spot.
Out of the nine defenders that Jill Ellis has already selected, four jumped into mind right off the bat: Meghan Klingenberg, Krieger, Sauerbrunn, and Johnston. Yes, the same back line that did not concede a goal for 539 minutes during last year's Women's World Cup and was affectionately dubbed by the USWNT faithful as “The Line of Defense.”
As with the midfield, this is where I hit a roadblock. I've got a soft spot for Kelley O'Hara, and she's proven that she can handle being on the backline (though O'Hara's proven that she can handle most positions, but that's another story for another day). Her stats may not pop out at first glance, but I'd like to see what she does with a chance on the roster. The same goes for Whitney Engen. I've also been impressed with Jaelene Hinkle, so there's number seven.
I'll give the final spot to Emily Sonnett. She hasn’t made much noise so far at the senior level, but she has played for both the U-23 and U-18 team. She’s also won numerous accolades while at the University of Virginia for her defensive skills, including being named a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy during her senior year.
There is a small chance that Hope Solo could miss the Olympics, due to her ongoing legal issues stemming from a domestic abuse incident in 2014; however, if she's able to go to Rio, she is an obvious choice. With 196 caps and 99 shutouts at the time of this writing and performing exceptionally well with her NWSL team, the Seattle Reign, it's hard to see her not making the Olympic roster for any reason that's not an injury, a suspension, or an act of God.
Choosing a second goalkeeper was hard. Both Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher are exceptional players, though Harris may have the edge due to her performance with the Orlando Pride this season. She has the most saves in the NWSL and is tied for the second highest number of clean sheets.
That's not to say Alyssa Naeher doesn't deserve her shot as well, because she's also got amazing stats when it comes to her club team; but Harris has a little more experience. In the end, it's that little bit of experience that would set me at ease if Solo can't fulfill the starting keeper duties.
(Photo credit: vishpool/Flickr)