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The USWNT’s Olympic Roster: Where It Stands Today

ROY K. MILLER/ISI PHOTOS

The USWNT clinched their fourth SheBelieves Cup title after a decisive 6-0 victory against Argentina last week.

Though the US walked away from the three game series with a clean sheet, the tournament provided key tests for the defensive line and further opportunities to evaluate the team’s execution in the attacking third.

Last Friday, during the semiannual U.S. Soccer Federation board meeting, it was confirmed that the FIFA Olympic roster deadline is June 30. Additionally, general manager Kate Markgraf announced five more opportunities to assess this team before Vlatko has to make a final call. The women will play two friendlies on the road in April during the FIFA window (possibly in Europe) and three matches in June when the U.S. hosts the Tournament of Nations.

TRACKING VLATKO

With an 18 player Olympic roster (plus four alternates), the operative word for Andonovski is “versatility.” So far this year, we’ve been able to see more of what individual players can do in his system when slotted into positions they don’t typically occupy for the national team.

The most prominent episode came in the 63’ minute against Colombia in January, when Crystal Dunn subbed in for Megan Rapinoe in the attack and notched an assist to Lindsey Horan just 10 minutes later. Dunn played at outside back throughout the 2019 World Cup but has made it clear that she’d like to spend more time up top for the national team, which could very well happen in Tokyo.

On the defensive end, we’ve had the chance to see what Midge Purce can do in the right back position as well as Emily Sonnett’s play as both a two and a three. And though she’s seen as heir apparent to Becky Sauerbrunn, Tierna Davidson got the opportunity in the match against Argentina to show that she can play up the left side and get involved with the offense.

In the midfield and up top, Andonovski has experimented with different player combinations now that Alex Morgan and Christen Press are back to join Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Lynn Williams. He’s also played Catarina Macario both in the eleven and nine positions as well as in her typical midfield spot.

During the SheBelieves Cup, the USWNT played with a different forward line each game. Andonovski also worked to change the pace of the games via his substitutions (“game changers,” as he calls them), most notably when he subbed in Morgan, Press, and Rose Lavelle to replace Lloyd, Rapinoe, and Macario against Canada, all in the 64’ minute.

When it comes down to decision time, Andonovski knows he’s going to need a roster of athletes that can deliver consistent play while also giving him tactical flexibility. Olympic rosters are small, the schedule is packed, and the USWNT is in a position to make history as the only team to ever win a World Cup and Olympics in back-to-back tournaments. Andonovski will have to balance leveraging his team’s proven core while also developing the unproven players who are the future of the program.

Assuming he takes two goalkeepers, six defenders, five midfielders, and five forwards, here’s our best guess as to where the roster stands today.

GOALKEEPERS:

Assuming Alyssa Naeher is locked in as the team’s starting keeper for the Olympics, the question now is who backs her up. Ashlynn Harris has held the position as of late, but Jane Campbell took a turn in goal in Florida, playing a full 90 against Argentina.

Regarding her performance in the game, Andonovski stated “We’re very happy with Jane and her form. She’s been incredible in camp, actually in several camps in a row now and I just hope she continues the form in her [home] market.”

The Houston Dash keeper might have a better shot at being chosen as an alternate, but given that Ashlyn Harris (35) and Alyssa Naeher (32) are both north of 30, Andonovski could want to give the 26-year-old Campbell some crucial experience at a major tournament.

DEFENDERS:

The USWNT defense is more or less rock solid with Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara looking like locks to start on the backline.

A knee bump kept O’Hara from playing in the majority of the SheBelieves Cup, but her 30 minutes against Argentina were a reminder that it’s still her spot to lose, and Andonovski has spoken glowingly of the leadership she brings to the team.

Given her aforementioned versatility and level of play, Emily Sonnett probably has the inside lane on claiming the fifth spot. She was a part of the 2019 World Cup team, and when O’Hara came off against Argentina, it was Sonnett who Andonovski sent in.

Sauerbrunn is 35, and while age doesn’t seem to be slowing her down, this summer’s Olympics may be her last major tournament with the team. If that’s the case, Tierna Davidson could be an attractive selection for the sixth spot. The youngest player on the 2019 World Cup roster, Davidson’s selection would thread the needle between utilizing the team’s foundation while also giving younger places opportunities to grow.

Sonnet and Davidson may be the favorites, but Midge Purce, Ali Krieger, Alana Cook (who missed the tournament due to PSG’s quarantine protocols), and Casey Krueger are all in serious contention. Krueger may be lower down on that list (with Krieger possibly on top given her international tournament experience), but as always, club performance could change that assumption entirely.

Purce’s ability to play multiple positions could be enticing given the compressed Olympic schedule. And while Cook may be off American fans’ radar, having spent most of her professional career in France, she has the skill and potential to be a perennial USWNT regular in the not-so-distant future.

MIDFIELDERS:

Whittling down the midfield on this team is enough to make the most stoic break out in hives. One thing we can be pretty confident about is that one does not leave the house without keys, wallet, cell phone, and Julie Ertz.

That leaves four spots open for five contenders. Three of those openings likely belong to Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis who announced her return from an ankle injury with a brace against Birmingham City on Sunday while playing for Manchester City.

The last spot is a tussle between Kristie Mewis and Catarina Macario.

Macario has a confidence on the field that belies her age and international experience. SheBelieves didn’t show us the full extent what she’s capable of, but whether she goes to Tokyo or not, she’s on track to be a fixture for this team going forward.

As for Mewis, Andonovski noted after the Argentina game that, while it took her a moment to figure out how to impact the game, once she did, her performance was great, netting a goal, an assist, and a variety of impressive runs. From the outside looking in, her decision making and precision on the ball (especially near the goal) make a very good case for taking her.

Will Macario’s presumptive future with the national team give her the nod? She may be the more obvious choice given her potential, but Mewis has now proven both domestically and internationally that she’s ready to slide in and make a difference for this team.

FORWARDS:

When assessing the forward pool, it’s important to remember that we haven’t seen Tobin Heath since November, and based on her ankle prognosis, she may not see minutes for her country until the Tournament of Nations. Andonovski, however, doesn’t seem concerned about her ability to bounce back and get fit.

“She’s been in a situation like this before where she’s coming back from injury and needs to recover quick,” he noted ahead of the team’s match against Canada. “I’m confident that Tobin will do whatever it takes to get ready for the Olympics.”

Andonovski’s assessment seemingly locks Heath into the roster spot. Christen Press also seems like a sure bet, having gone from a super sub under Jill Ellis to potentially the team’s most dynamic goalscorer under Andonovski.

Alex Morgan is also looking more and more like herself on the pitch after giving birth to daughter Charlie and beating COVID-19. After the Argentina match, she acknowledged that she still has some work to do to get back into form, and she is someone who will benefit from consistent NWSL training and gametime in Orlando. If she keeps heading in the direction she’s going, she should soar straight on to Japan.

When it comes to Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, there’s no question that they have the fitness required to make the Olympic roster. Either they both will go and that’s that, or (not to sound like a broken record), it will come down to the player who most impacts the game in the ways Andonovski needs them to.

If the roster was decided today, Megan Rapinoe appears to be the more likely contender. Coming back from a year of rest, Rapinoe still owns the eleven position both in setting up plays, scoring goals herself (she finished as the tournament’s highest scorer with three goals), and adding energy to the game when she comes in off the bench. Both her and Lloyd have a history of making the biggest plays on the biggest stage. That could be hard to turn down.

Lynn Williams and Sophia Smith remain the two question marks. Smith seems less likely to make the roster, simply given the depth on this team. Her time will come.

Williams is more difficult to assess. After making a name for herself with her game-braking speed, she’s now proven to be a consistent goal scorer in the NWSL, with one MVP and three league champions to her name. At the international level, she’s someone who has proven she can make a difference both offensively and defensively from the seven spot. During the SheBelieves Cup, however, she missed on a few key opportunities in front of the goal against Canada and Brazil.

Will those blunders impact her Olympic chances? Maybe. But what if she carries a North Carolina Courage squad that recently lost Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, and Abby Dahlkemper to the top of the NWSL table early in the season? It’s just too early to know which variables Andonovski will weigh the most.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR NEXT

As players now return to their home markets, both domestic and international, Andonovski and his coaching staff will be paying close attention to how players perform for their club teams.

In the U.S., NWSL pre-season is underway with the second Challenge Cup set to start on April 9, followed by the regular season on May 15. Overseas, the UEFA Champions League games begin in March, a series that will give Dahlkemper, Lavelle, Mewis, and Macario high-stakes, high-octane opportunities on the field. Press (and Health once she’s healthy), will continue their WSL season with Manchester United, banking solid minutes in a competitive environment.

As Vlatko said during his post-game presser last Wednesday, selecting the roster will remain an ongoing process.

“Everything that we do in camp, in training, in games, everything that they’re going to do in games with clubs is going to be important as well, because ultimately it may come down to the certain form a player is in if both players are equal.”

And despite how safe some selections may feel, Andonovski reminded the public that he’s still closely evaluating each player every time they step on the pitch.

“We’re still evaluating everyone. The list is still pretty big compared to 18.”

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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