Unlike men, U.S. women's World Cup roster lacks shocks, surprises

Unlike men, U.S. women's World Cup roster lacks shocks, surprises
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Head coach Jill Ellis’s selection for the United States 2015 Women’s World Cup roster, announced Tuesday, contained no surprises. Her rosters leading up to the tournament in Canada have become progressively more focused, preventing any controversy such as Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave Landon Donovan at home last summer.

Rather than naming the standard 35-player provisional list and reducing it from there, Ellis already whittled her group down to 25 for the 4-0 win over New Zealand on April 4. The final roster includes every player from that squad except defenders Rachel Van Hollebeke and Crystal Dunn, the two final cuts.

“Going into the send-off [friendly] games, I wanted to have 23,” Ellis said in a conference call with reporters after the announcement. “It just kind of made sense to do it right now, before the NWSL season.”

The most surprising inclusion is midfielder Shannon Boxx, who is off to her fourth World Cup. Like forward Amy Rodriguez, she returned for the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League season after having a baby.

Rodriguez led FC Kansas City to the 2014 national championship, scoring 13 regular-season goals and three more in the playoffs, including two in the final to down the Seattle Reign. Boxx’s resurgence was slower and less obvious, as she only played five games for the Chicago Red Stars in 2014.

“In January, I started to see just how far she’d come,” Ellis said. “I think Shannon can give us not just depth, but also some experience, being able to close out big games.”

However, Ellis included her in the recent Algarve Cup roster and extolled her virtues in midfield alongside the likes of Carli Lloyd, Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian.

Only captain Christie Rampone has played in more World Cups than Boxx, tying Kristine Lilly at the top of the all-time list with her fifth selection. Former FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach leads the roster in terms of matches played in the tournament with 18, scoring 13 goals in the process.

Only Rampone knows the feeling of winning a World Cup at the senior level, but two players on this squad won the 2008 Under-20 World Cup: Julie Johnston and Morgan Brian.

Until being drafted by the Houston Dash in January, Brian was the only collegiate player on the senior squad. The 22-year-old enters the tournament as the youngest U.S. player, while both she and Johnston have proven capable of starting at the international level.

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Johnston’s inclusion seemed much less certain until the Algarve Cup, when she ably deputized for an injury-plagued Rampone. She should be the first choice if Rampone’s health continues to be a problem; the captain has not played a match in 2015 due to back and knee injuries.

“I felt with Julie, the thing she was missing was experience,” Ellis said. “The past few games, where she’s played and she’s done very, very well, that’s now given me a comfort level.”

Megan Rapinoe’s return after her own knee injury buoyed the U.S. against New Zealand, as the team’s most dynamic winger. Without her, Ellis resorted to a narrow 4-4-2 system that lacked a wide presence.

Tobin Heath is the only other true winger on the roster, but her erratic performances usually see her starting matches on the bench. The U.S. also lacks depth at defensive midfield, with Ellis preferring technical distributors in deep, central positions over traditional destroyer types.

On the other end of the field, the American forwards have scored 311 international goals among the five of them. They should offer Ellis flexibility in her system of play, whether she decides to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 in any given match.

Since Ellis took over from Tom Sermanni in May 2014, stability has been the U.S.’s main concern. The result is a roster that looks similar to past squads, with 11 of the 13 players who appeared in the U.S.’s triumphant gold-medal game at the 2012 Olympics heading to Canada this summer.

The roster averages 101 caps, and only Johnston and back-up goalkeepers Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher have made less than 10 appearances for the senior team.

With Harris and Naeher’s inexperience, losing Hope Solo for any reason could be catastrophic. The U.S. will likely have to give its younger players experience in the next cycle, but Ellis’ job since she took over has been simply to steady the current group for a run at the 2015 tournament.

“I think ‘trust’ is one of the words I would use, to know what I’m going to get from these players because I’ve seen them in bigger, more stressful games,” Ellis said. “This has been a very close group. The chemistry is always good.”

With Solo’s recent disciplinary issues seemingly behind her, she and fellow stalwart Rampone continue to anchor the team, personifying the stability the U.S. wants to gain from its experience. Solo remains the best goalkeeper in the world, and the U.S. will need her to replicate the past performances that earned her that title to have a chance at winning its first World Cup since 1999.

“I wanted the players … to go through tough environments as we faced in Brazil, in France, just playing on the road, to kind of get a sense of what some of these players were like in big situations,” Ellis said. “Injuries kind of forced me to give experience to players, but in the end, I felt like it’s really given us a good feel for the players.”

U.S. 2015 Women's World Cup Roster

GOALKEEPERS: Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)

DEFENDERS: Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS: Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

FORWARDS: Sydney Leroux (Western New York Flash), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (Unattached)

GALLERY: U.S. Soccer in 2015