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Here’s who the USWNT should take to Tokyo

Becky Sauerbrunn huddles with the team before a game between Portugal and USWNT at BBVA Stadium on June 10, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos)

Picking an 18-player Olympic roster is brutal, and it’s especially hard for the deepest women’s soccer team on the planet. Despite this, Vlatko Andonovski will be choosing his United States women’s national team roster for Tokyo at the end of this week’s Summer Series, and with the player pool tightening up, I’m here to take a stab at slimming the roster down to its final form.

Some of these choices result as much from the available talent as from the team’s preferred tactics.

The USWNT has played consistently in a 4-3-3 formation under Andonovski, with a commitment to full-team defense and an attack that feeds off of catching teams in transition. The team is also the deepest in the world, and many of these roster decisions are made by a matter of degrees. Every last player out in every position is still Olympic quality, which means there are very few bad choices, even if some are quite difficult.

Goalkeepers (2)

This one’s actually easy. You take Alyssa Naeher as your No. 1 goalkeeper because she has experience on the largest stage and a built-in chemistry with the backline, and you take Adrianna Franch as your No. 2 because she’s the next best available keeper with international experience.

Franch has had an exceptional 2021 so far, her fundamentals are some of the best and she’s healthy. Jane Campbell seems to be in the future plans of the federation and Ashlyn Harris has been in the USWNT system for a long time, but Naeher and Franch are the two I trust in this particular tournament.

Defenders (6)

Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn, and Kelley O’Hara are the defensive locks. Sauerbrunn is the team’s captain, Dahlkemper is one of the best defenders in the world, Dunn excels pretty much anywhere on the field and O’Hara has been locked in with the Washington Spirit.

With the understanding that the team will likely need to rotate center backs on occasion, I would also take Tierna Davidson, who has moved into a leadership role with the Chicago Red Stars in the absence of Julie Ertz. Davidson has also played well at outside back in the past and could take over one of those roles if Dunn or O’Hara sustained an injury. 

In the final spot, one has to think the decision comes down to Emily Sonnett and Midge Purce as fullback depth, and in that circumstance, I’m taking Purce. Sonnett is a talented ball-winner with an eye toward springing the attack and placing the ball at the feet of the forward line, but she is simply not comfortable in defensive transition on the flank. If she were being looked at in a three-back option or as a No. 6, her place on the team would make sense. But in the context of Sonnett’s intended role, she’s the first player out for me. Purce is also not a natural fullback, but she’s improved defensively at the club level over the last year and, like Dunn, she has the ability to slot in as a forward at any time.

Midfielders (5)

The USWNT midfield was all but decided when Julie Ertz sprained her MCL in Chicago’s first regular season NWSL match. And in the face of her possible absence, it looks like the team has decided to … not change very much about the way they play.

With the understanding that Ertz should be healthy enough to go to Tokyo, she still makes my roster. Andi Sullivan is a great player, but she hasn’t gotten a foothold with the team in recent years and Andonovski doesn’t seem willing to take another pure No. 6. The other three players with their ticket to Japan already printed are the trio of Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, and Sam Mewis. Horan and Mewis are now even more important as they’ll be covering for Ertz as she gets back up to speed, and Lavelle will be tasked with play-making from an attacking midfield position.

If the team decides to pack the midfield and leave the frontline on the light side, then there’s room on the squad for both Kristie Mewis and Catarina Macario, who bring different skills to the team. Macario is a future star, one who can play in both the No. 9 and in the No. 10 and for whom this experience would be invaluable as the team eyes the 2023 World Cup. If Macario is the future, Kristie Mewis is the now. Mewis brings a level of game-readiness from her years in the NWSL and has the ability to change games with her passing vision and her willingness to run at a backline.

Macario is going to be a force for years to come, but she hasn’t quite shown the ability to impose her talent on international games this year. If I simply must choose, I’m taking readiness over potential, and that means Mewis.

Forwards (5)

This is the most nuanced and difficult position to evaluate, especially with Tobin Heath on her way back from a long-term injury. Christen Press and Alex Morgan are essential to the roster — both have a wealth of experience and are in very good form. And as controversial as this might seem, with Press excelling on the wing, no one else has snatched the backup No. 9 role. That means the team also needs Carli Lloyd.

From here, the decisions get more complicated. Sophia Smith is a growing talent who’s strong on the ball, but she hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to establish herself at the international level. Lynn Williams is a player with an engine that never quits, and Andonovski has favored her in recent months because she can destabilize other teams with her commitment to pressing from a forward position. That said, she can also be wasteful in front of goal and hasn’t wowed in club play this year. Megan Rapinoe is a fantastic leader and still lethal in dead-ball situations, but she leaves some defensive gaps and whether she’s the right player for a grinding tournament in the Japanese summer is up for debate. Tobin Heath is, well, Tobin Heath, but there are risks to bringing a player who is still working back from injury and there are no guarantees as to where her form will be by the time the tournament starts.

In something of a reversal of fortunes from the beginning of the year, I am not sure that Williams has been balanced enough in her international opportunities to unseat either Rapinoe or Heath. Rapinoe makes my roster, simply because I think she’s been impressive in 2021, both in club play and for the U.S.

However, with a lack of game tape on Heath, I have to go with my gut and stick with Lynn Williams. She has such a clear intention within Andonovski’s system, and when she executes on the defensive side of the ball, she makes the USWNT very difficult to play. I’m also residually nervous about bringing too many knocks to an Olympic tournament — blame 2016.

In short, the USWNT has few bad choices but quite a few hearts to break this week. No matter whom in this group they choose, rest assured, they’ll be the favorites for the Olympic gold.

‘UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class Tennis’ Debuts on Prime 

Still from tennis docuseries UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis
'UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis' follows four junior players as they prep for the Orange Bowl. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Prime Video is hitting the tennis court with Thursday's streaming premiere of UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis.

After four seasons of the men's high school basketball-focused Top Class: The Life and Times of The Sierra Canyon Trailblazers, athlete empowerment brand UNINTERRUPTED is expanding its purview to tennis with a new four-episode mixed-gender docuseries.

Junior tennis stars take centerstage

Behind the concept is 2017 US Open champion and world No. 45 pro Sloane Stephens, who co-executive produced the series alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter, co-founders of UNINTERRUPTED and its production and entertainment development arm, The SpringHill Company.

Top Class Tennis follows four players on their journeys to the Orange Bowl, arguably the junior circuit’s Grand Slam equivalent. The Florida-based international tournament was established in 1947 and has crowned a long list of future pros as champions, from retired great Steffi Graf to current star Coco Gauff.

Stealing the spotlight this season is rising Harvard sophomore and 2022-23 USA Today Girls Tennis Player of the Year Stephanie Yakoff, as well as five-time junior title winner and incoming Texas freshman Ariana Anazagasty-Pursoo. Both already have WTA creds, with Yakoff featuring at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open while Anazagasty-Pursoo competed on three Grand Slam courts.

Kamilla Cardoso, Kiki Rice, Caitlin Clark, Holly Rowe and Kristen Lappas at the ESPN+ 'Full Court Press' premiere
ESPN+'s Full Court Press is one of several women's sports docs hitting the screen this year. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Women's sports storms the big screen

Top Class Tennis is just the latest in what's shaping up to be a women’s sports documentary boom.

From Max's LFG about the USWNT's fight for equal pay and Netflix's Under Pressure chronicling the 2023 World Cup to ESPN+’s 2023-24 NCAA basketball series Full Court Press, athletes in women’s sports have taken streamers by storm.

UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis is available for streaming now on Prime Video

JWS Launches ‘The Gold Standard’ Hosted by Olympians Kelley O’Hara & Lisa Leslie

the gold standard logo
'The Gold Standard' is just one of three new JWS shows tackling the Summer Olympics.

Just Women's Sports announced three new digital series on Thursday, headlined by The Gold Standard, a new studio show hosted by Olympic gold medalists and women's sports icons Kelley O'Hara and Lisa Leslie.

USWNT and NWSL great O'Hara, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is teaming up with three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, herself a four-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, to bring viewers inside the world of Olympic women's sports. The pair will record each episode in-studio, with a series of special guests joining them throughout the show's run.

An insider's view of the Summer Games

The Gold Standard will debut on July 27th and cover the biggest women's sports stories from the Paris Olympics, giving fans a unique perspective by tapping into the insights and opinions of two legendary Olympians. 

"I know first-hand just how exciting and intense the Olympic Games can be," Leslie told JWS. "This show gives us a chance as athletes to bring fans closer to the experience, by sharing our unique insights into the Games. And with all the momentum we're seeing in women's sports, now is the perfect time to have a show dedicated to the biggest women's sports moments at the Olympic Games." 

"I can still remember watching the '96 Olympics and knowing that I wanted to be on that stage one day," says O'Hara. "Having the chance to compete in the Olympics and win gold was one of the highlights of my career. I'm looking forward to being a fan this time around and getting the chance to share my own perspective on the Games' biggest stories. Having teamed with Just Women's Sports before, I know this will be content that resonates with fans." 

The Gold Standard will live on Just Women's Sports' YouTube page, with select social cuts distributed across JWS digital platforms. The six-episode show will run through August 13th.

uswnt stars kelley o'hara and jaedyn shaw on jws digital series 1v1
1v1 with Kelley O'Hara will focus on USWNT players as they prep for the 2024 Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

Additional series focus on USWNT's Olympic run

The Gold Standard is just one of three upcoming JWS series designed to invite fans to experience the Summer Games from an Olympian's point of view, with additional series zeroing in on the USWNT's 2024 Olympic run.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, JWS will launch the latest edition of 1v1, with host Kelley O'Hara interviewing three of her USWNT teammates: Emily Sonnett, Jaedyn Shaw, and Rose Lavelle. These peer-to-peer interviews provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the USWNT's preparation for their first major tournament under new manager Emma Hayes.

To round things out, JWS is also bringing back its award-winning series, The 91st. This tournament's edition will be hosted by retired USWNT star and World Cup champion Jessica McDonald alongside noted soccer personalities Jordan Angeli and Duda Pavão. The 91st will follow the USWNT as it looks to go for gold against a stacked international field at the Paris Olympics — including reigning World Cup winners Spain.

Each new digital series leans on the expertise of its accomplished hosts and special guest stars, providing fans with candid, personality-driven commentary surrounding this summer's biggest event.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

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