Rapinoe Makes USWNT Olympic Roster; O’Reilly Stays Home

IMAGE, USSOCCER.COM

By TOM SLATER

There were no surprises when coach Jill Ellis announced the 18 players she’s taking to Brazil next month as part of the United States Women’s National Team.

The tell-tale signs that experts and amateurs alike were pointing out for months all played out the way as was expected. The recently injured Megan Rapinoe is on the team. Heather O’Reilly’s international career may be over barring injury to Rapinoe or another wide midfielder. Central midfielder Allie Long is in. Sam Mewis is out. Alyssa Naeher is Hope Solo’s backup. Ashlyn Harris isn’t. Ellis went with experience picking Whitney Engen as the backup central defender, leaving newcomer Emily Sonnett home.

O’Reilly, Sonnett, Harris and Mewis will all be alternates and could be called up if there is an injury.

Ellis announced her team today. The selections are pending approval of the United States Olympic Committee, which figures to be a rubber stamp. All 18 players and the four alternates will be in Kansas City for the final sendoff match against Costa Rica on July 22.

The roster is an interesting combination of youth and experience.

Midfielders Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath and goalkeeper Hope Solo were named to their third Olympic rosters. Solo was also an alternate in 2004 and will be attending her fourth Games. Rapinoe, forward Alex Morgan and defenders Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn will be playing in their second Olympic Games.

The remaining 11 players made their first Olympic roster, although forward Christen Press and defender Meghan Klingenberg were alternates on the 2012 team.  Of the 18, 14 played in the Women’s World Cup last summer. Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh, Lindsey Horan and Long were not on the on the team in 2015.

Having just turned 18 on April 29, Pugh becomes the USA’s second youngest women’s soccer Olympian.

“The last few camps capped a nine-month evaluation process and the players certainly made it a real challenge to narrow the roster down to 18,” said Jill Ellis. “We’ve got a great blend of players with experience at the Olympic Games and in major events along with the youthful energy of some players who did not play in the Women’s World Cup last summer. As a coach in the Olympic Games, you want to put together a group capable of reaching the top of the podium while also being mindful of getting players prepared for the next World Cup, and I think we’ve done that.”

The biggest decision was the health of Rapinoe. The colorful and creative midfielder suffered an ACL injury in Hawaii during the team’s Victory Tour in December. She rehabbed all winter and only recently returned to “full contact” training with the Americans. Ellis is counting on her ability be healthy enough to offer something off of the bench –  especially on free kick and corner kicks.

“Megan is fit and she’s strong, stronger than ever,” said Ellis. “That was the biggest question. Megan gives us an ‘it’ factor because she has one of teh best corner kicks and free kicks in the world. She had quad pull from taking corner kicks that why we held her out against South Africa. We’d like to build her up, the same way we did with Alex (Morgan) in the 2015 World Cup.”

The decision to keep Rapinoe literally spelled the end for O’Reilly. The 31-year-old from East Brusnwick had been seeing her playing time cut drastically in the last year. Ellis had left her off the roster in Olympic Qualifying and she has only seen sporadic playing time since. She played a few minutes against South Africa Saturday.

The United State will open Group G play on Aug. 3 – two days before the Olympic Opening Ceremony – against New Zealand. The USA also play France on August 6 and Colombia on August. 9.

2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (2
): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (6): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (6): 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)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)