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The three biggest questions facing the USWNT in its upcoming friendlies

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The United States women’s national team’s Summer Series kicks off Thursday with an international friendly against Portugal, followed by games against Jamaica and Nigeria.

The Houston-based series will serve as an inflection point for the USWNT ahead of this summer’s Olympics. While certain roster spots, like back line pillars Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper, feel locked in, others are still up in the air.

Only 18 players will make the Olympic roster, with the series providing a final opportunity for athletes to state their case.

Here are the biggest unanswered questions heading into the USWNT’s June friendlies.

Can Kristie Mewis make the team?

Kristie Mewis’s career has undergone a renaissance over the last two years. The Dash midfielder received her first national team call-up under coach Vlatko Andonovski in 2019 when the midfielder was named to a 24-player identification training camp. Mewis went on to lead the Houston Dash to the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup championship, earning herself subsequent USWNT call-ups.

After six years away from the team, Mewis logged her first USWNT cap with Andonovski in a November 2020 friendly against the Netherlands. Mewis put an exclamation point on her return to the pitch, scoring a goal in the game’s 70th minute, a record 2,722 days after her first goal with the national team.

“It was truly such a rewarding thing. I had wanted to be back on that field with that team for so long. It was definitely really special,” Mewis told JWS back in February when asked about the goal.

Battling back from an ACL injury and making her triumphant return to the USWNT would’ve been an extraordinary comeback story in its own right, but Mewis has continued to shine for club and country. In the 2021 NWSL season, Mewis has appeared in four games for the Dash, netting one goal and two assists. Mewis wasn’t awarded much playing time in the national team’s April friendlies, however, making her recent NWSL dominance all the more consequential.

Fighting for a spot in a stacked midfield which includes Rose Lavelle, sister Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan and Julie Ertz, Mewis has the likes of Lyon-phenom Catarina Macario and the Spirit’s Andi Sullivan to contend with. With Ertz out on injury, the Summer Series could provide Mewis the extended minutes necessary to stamp her ticket to Tokyo.

Who is the backup goalkeeper?

Alyssa Naeher has secured her role as the starting goalkeeper for the national team following a dominant 2019 World Cup performance.

Andonovski’s attention now turns to Naeher’s backup. Adrianna Franch and Jane Campbell have both been called into the national team’s June camp. Franch was previously on the 2019 World Cup roster, while Campbell has been receiving consistent USWNT call-ups as of late.

Both keepers have started the NWSL season strong, Franch for the Thorns and Campbell for the Dash. In her five regular-season games with Houston, Campbell has one clean sheet and a 68.4 percent successful save rate. Franch executed a notable penalty save to win the Thorns the 2021 Challenge Cup and has three clean sheets in Portland’s five regular-season games. If one or both of the keepers get minutes in the upcoming slate of friendlies, that may indicate who Andonovski is learning toward as second in line to Naeher.

What’s going on with Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath?

The term “indispensable” can be carelessly thrown around, but in the case of Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath, it’s hard to think of two more critical players. Both USWNT veterans, however, will miss the June friendlies due to injury.

Heath has been off the pitch since the beginning of 2021 after incurring a knee injury while playing with Manchester United. Ertz has been missing from action after suffering an MCL injury during a May 16 Red Stars game against the Thorns.

Heath seems to be a bit further along on her road to recovery and will at least participate in the USWNT June training camp. Andonovski has stated that he expects Ertz to join in the team’s send-off series in July.

As the team’s holding midfielder, Ertz plays a crucial role on both sides of the ball, connecting the back line to the midfield. Outside of being one of the most dangerous players with the ball at her feet, Heath also fills an essential role in Andonovski’s high press. If Health and Ertz’s rehab timetables don’t allow for a trip to Tokyo, the door could open for rising stars like Sophia Smith, Catarina Macario or Andi Sullivan to make their Olympic debut.

Tune in: USWNT vs Portugal, June 10 at 8:30 p.m. on FS1.