Ellis looks to finalize Olympic roster in final friendlies before Rio



With less than a month and just two tune up matches left for the United States Women’s National Team, coach Jill Ellis needs to put the finishing touches on the roster.

Of particular interest will be the play of Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe.

The United States will play South Africa for the first time on Saturday in Chicago (1 p.m. EST, FS1). Rapinoe injured her self during the Women’s World Cup Victory Tour in Hawaii and is just rounding into shape. She has begun training with Seattle Reign, her club team, and she’s in camp with the national team as they prepare for the Olympics in Rio. She won’t play against South Africa and may play in the July 29 sendoff match against Costa Rica. With an 18-player roster, Rapinoe will have to prove she can bring something special to force Ellis’ hand. The energetic midfielder has perhaps the best service on the team, which was better served when Abby Wambach was on the other end (remember the Brazil finish?). But this is a different team with a different style.

Lloyd is a different story. She’s going to Brazil no matter if she plays a minute or all 90 against South Africa. Her recovery is going fine, according to media reports, and she could benefit from the additional rest away from the nearly year-long whirlwind of the World Cup, the Victory Tour, Olympic Qualifying and wear-and-tear of the Houston Dash and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) travel. She’ll be at the apex of the central midfield triangle most likely with Lindsey Horan and the unflappable Morgan Brian in back of her. It’s doubtful that she’ll play a full 90 minutes but she’ll play enough to get her sea legs back.

The other areas that are of interest are the backup goalkeeper spot — Alyssa Naeher or Ashlyn Harris — and the backup central defender which is a battle between newcomer Emily Sonnett and veteran Whitney Engen. Allie Long and Sam Mewis will compete for an outside midfielder spot as Ellis has evidently made up her mind on Heather O’Reilly. The energetic midfielder from New Jersey has been picked for the last few friendlies but hasn’t got off the bench. If Rapinoe can go at all, it will probably spend the end for O’Reilly.

As for the match, South Africa won’t be much of a challenge for the American. They have Portia Modise with her 114 caps at striker and defender Janine Van Wyk anchoring the backline. The rest of the South African team is young and inexperienced.

South Africa, which will be competing in its second straight Olympics, was drawn into a tough Group E with China, Brazil and Sweden.

Saturday will mark the first meeting between the two teams and the first time the Americans will play an African team in a friendly. Nigeria is the only other African team to play the United States and all four times were either on Olympic or World Cup competition.

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