Taking stock of the USWNT's forwards ahead of Olympic qualifying
After the USA won the Women's World Cup this past summer, it seemed as if manager Jill Ellis was going to have to make some tough decisions the following summer, when only 18 players could make the trip to Rio for the Olympics (provided the USA qualifies in next month's CONCACAF tournament). As it turns out, things have worked themselves out in a different way for Ellis, leaving her with an entirely new kind of depth problem.
Sydney Leroux announced Monday night that she is pregnant and due in September, meaning she will be unavailable for the Olympics. The development, while obviously celebratory for Leroux and her husband, Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, takes another player from the USA's attacking arsenal. Fellow forward Amy Rodriguez is also pregnant, and Abby Wambach has retired. Add in Megan Rapinoe fighting back from a torn ACL, and areas where roles were solidified suddenly have a much different look.
With Olympic qualifying nearing (Ellis has named her 20-player roster for the tournament), here's a look at the changing guard among the U.S. forwards:
[Click and drag the slider in the center of the photo to reveal the old and new U.S. forward corps]
WORLD CUP ROSTER
Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, Amy Rodriguez, Alex Morgan, Christen Press
Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Stephanie McCaffery, Mallory Pugh
In short, it's Morgan and Press's time to shine. When asked last month on SI Now about her role in 2016, Press expressed her desire to have a larger role on the team.
"For me this is a new journey, a new adventure," Press told SI's Maggie Gray. "I'm going to be fighting the whole year for playing time. I would love to have a more central role on the team, I would love to be a major goal scorer for this team, and I think I can do that."
With everything that's transpired since the World Cup, the opportunity surely figures to be there.
Beyond the two sure things, the depth chart is starting to take form. Dunn proved her chops in NWSL last season as the league's Golden Boot winner and MVP, and she made a post-World Cup impact with the national team as well with four goals on the victory tour, meaning her place should be secure. For a player like Tobin Heath, a place in an advanced position on the wing also puts her in the mix as a lineup fixture, especially if Ellis keeps using a three-player front line.
Horan, now in NWSL after time with PSG, brings another playmaking element into the final third, while McCaffrey and the 17-year-old Pugh–who scored in her debut vs. Ireland on Saturday–could find themselves legitimately fighting for places on the plane Rio. Seven months ago, when the U.S. was lifting the trophy in Vancouver, that's not something anyone would have foreseen.