Morgan, Lloyd lead USA Olympic roster; Rapinoe makes final cut
There was little surprise in the outcome after U.S. women's national team manager Jill Ellis revealed the 18 players who will aim to win the USA's fourth straight Olympic gold medal next month in Brazil.
Veterans Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo lead the charge, while impressive 18-year-old Mallory Pugh and NWSL standout Crystal Dunn lead the contingent of non-World Cup players to work their way into the squad.
Megan Rapinoe, who has been recovering from a torn ACL, has made the cut, while veteran Heather O'Reilly, who won Olympic gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012, did not make the final roster in the one minor notable. Ellis's squad features a balance of youth and veterans and a blend of experience and relative inexperience, but it surely enters Brazil as the favorite to win a fifth gold in six Olympic competitions.
The U.S. will play New Zealand, France and Colombia in group play (on August, 3, 6, 9) with hopes of an extended stay in the host nation.
Here is the U.S. roster in full, followed by some initial thoughts on the 18 players going for gold:
GOALKEEPERS: Hope Solo (Seattle Reign), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS: Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns), Kelley O'Hara (Sky Blue FC), Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers)
MIDFIELDERS: Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Allie Long (Portland Thorns), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
FORWARDS: Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado/UCLA), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit)
ALTERNATES: Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns), Heather O'Reilly (FC Kansas City), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride)
Straightforward selection for Ellis
Remember when the Women's World Cup ended last summer and we all wondered how difficult it'd be for Ellis to pare the player pool down to 18? Well. Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny retired. Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux got pregnant (congratulations to Rodriguez on the birth of her son Luke!). Suddenly, Ellis didn't have a surplus of sure things; in fact, she needed to seek players to fill roles.
Everything worked itself out over the course of the World Cup Victory Tour, SheBelieves Cup and friendlies that ensued, and what Ellis was left with was a pretty established 18-player core. Pugh and Dunn proved their worth time and again. Long and Horan offer value in need areas in the midfield. The goalkeeping and defensive unit that was so valuable at the World Cup remains.
And with that, there's the squad.
Yes, there are "snubs" as there are with any tournament roster, and it's unfortunate for some tried and tested veterans that their time appears up, but Ellis has not made any egregious choices. These 18 are deserving and more than capable of winning it all.
Rapinoe, the super sub?
Megan Rapinoe hasn't played a minute since tearing her ACL prior to the USA's canceled friendly in Hawaii in December. She was in camp to be evaluated before last weekend's friendly vs. South Africa and clearly proved in training and in her talks with medical staff that she's good to go. There's no denying Rapinoe's ability when fit, but even she admits that "I won’t be coming being the starter I was and being a 90-minute player," as she said to SI's Grant Wahl.
Rapinoe just presents too much game-changing potential and boasts too much experience to be left behind, even at less than full strength. If the U.S. is in a pinch late in games and needs an attacking spark, Rapinoe, even in 20 minutes, can provide that punch. Her set piece and crossing proficiency make her an invaluable weapon, and she is no stranger to coming through in the clutch, whether it was her cross to Wambach against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup, her two goals in the opening win over Australia in the 2015 World Cup and the number of moments in between and before.
Rapinoe is a luxury add for an 18-player squad that is blessed with good wide play options (Heath, Pugh among them), but Ellis wouldn't have taken her if she didn't think she could play a role.
No doubt for Dunn
Crystal Dunn's omission from the World Cup roster was a tough pill to swallow, as she detailed recently in The Players' Tribune, and for any player, a moment like presents a fork in a career: Either you choose to respond positively, or you crumble. For Dunn, it's been the former. And how.
She's been a force in the attack and should start regularly in Belo Horizonte and Manaus. Her nine goals in 2016 are second only to Morgan's 11, and her four assists trail only Pugh (seven) and Lloyd (five). Whereas Ellis had the option not to call on her for the trip to Canada last summer, there was no denying Dunn's determination, dynamism and production in 2016.