Lloyd, Rapinoe return to USWNT as Ellis prepares for final decisions

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM

by TOM SLATER  

With time dwindling before the Rio Summer Olympic Games, coach Jill Ellis is in the final countdown before she names her 18-player roster for the United States squad.

And two of the biggest names have been added to camp in preparation for the final two tune-up matches before the Olympics.

Ellis has named team co-captain Carli Lloyd and midfielder Megan Rapinoe to the 24-player roster for camp. Lloyd, who injured her knee with Houston in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), has been declared match-fit and will play in the matches.

Rapinoe will train and be evaluated. She will not play in the July 9 match against South Africa, according to US Soccer.

There’s only two more friendlies left before the tournament with the next match on July 9 against South Africa at Soldier Field (FS1, 1 p.m. EST). The United States finishes with the final Olympic send-off game on July 22 against vs. Costa Rica at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas (ESPN, 9 EST).

The July 9 match will mark the first time the United States has played South Africa.

“We’re looking forward to finalizing our Olympic roster,” said Ellis. “We have been evaluating players since our Victory Tour last year, so we are anticipating a great camp and finishing that process. It’s exciting to play a new opponent and South Africa instantly has our respect for earning an Olympic berth from Africa.”

With Lloyd back – as expected – that could leave Christen Press or Crystal Dunn looking at a reserve role.

The rise of teenager Mallory Pugh has shortened the midfielder bench, although she’s listed as a striker. If Rapinoe emerges as a starter or even the first reserve off the bench, that could spell the end for Samantha Mewis and certainly Heather O’Reilly. The latter has been predicted since the start of 2016 when O’Reilly was first left of the Olympic Qualifying roster and has seen little time since then.

Other issues that figure to work themselves out before the match against Costa Rica:

  • Ali or Kelley: It’s been no secret that Ellis has given the advantage to the offensive-minded O’Hara. The Sky Blue defender used her spark from the Women’s World Cup to play her way into the starting 11 for most of the 2016 matches. She’s been able to flip flop from the right side to left when Kreiger has come on for Meghan Klingenberg. Kreiger is the better pure defender and still has supporters but mostly from the world of social media. Look for the rotation to stay intact.
  • The midfield bottleneck: it seems like Ellis has a new flavor off the month with each set of camps and matches. This is for sure: Morgan Brian is the holding midfielder. Lloyd will be tucked in under Alex Morgan up front. Pugh will be on the field somewhere as well. Allie Long and Mewis have had turns as well with Long getting an extended look in the Japan series. With Press and Dunn somewhere in there as well, the crowd keeps getting bigger. You may think it’s a good problem to have so much talent available but chemistry is important especially when the United States expects to go deep in the tournament.
  • Hope’s backup: It will only matter if Hope Solo gets hurt. As far as ability, there’s little to separate Ashlyn Harris or Alyssa Naeher. Again both have their fan bases. Thus far, Naeher has gotten the work when Ellis has decided to give Solo a rest. Which is hardly ever.

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3):
 Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)