The core of Jill Ellis's Women's World Cup roster appears to be set, but there are still some tickets to France up for grabs entering the final matches before the May send-off series.
Time is running short for the U.S. women's national team–specifically those players looking to make a final impression before Women's World Cup roster selection time.
The U.S. faces Australia and Belgium over the course of the next week in the final friendlies before the three-match send-off series that leads into the team's trip to France. Manager Jill Ellis will surely have her final roster selected before that last trio of matches, which means it's down to cut time for those on the fringe.
The roster, in many ways, is set. There's a clear preferred starting lineup and top choices off the bench, all of which have been cultivated over the last three-plus years. But World Cups don't always go to plan. Injuries happen, suspensions occur and depth is often tested, which is why the final roster spots can sometimes prove to be quite valuable in a team's championship quest.
This is arguably as deep a U.S. women's team as there's ever been, but there's some fine-tuning that can still be done for Ellis as she chooses her ideal 23 to defend the title won four years ago in Canada.
Here's a look at the position battles up for grabs as Ellis decides on those final, precious tickets to France:
Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris remain the top two choices, with the third GK spot coming down to Adrianna Franch and Jane Campbell. Franch has been NWSL's Goalkeeper of the Year for the last two seasons (something Naeher hasn't won since 2014 and Harris not since 2016), but she made a costly mistake in her de facto audition for a roster berth–and her first cap after years of waiting–during the SheBelieves Cup. Playing a back-pass in the box with her hands gifted England an indirect free kick from which it scored, and that kind of mistake just can't happen on a bigger, World Cup stage. It's unlikely the third goalkeeper would be pressed into action in France either way, but you never know, and Ellis can't afford to have an unreliable option.
Ali Krieger's return to camp after two years opens the door a sliver for the 34-year-old right back. She's in due to an injury to Kelly O'Hara, the presumed starter, but her appearance is an indicator that Ellis isn't settled on her backup options just yet.
"Opportunities, however they transpire, are exactly that, and Ali has been a great pro and will no doubt lean on her experience and strengths when she comes back into this environment," Ellis said upon welcoming Krieger back to camp.
Her presence should be a wake-up call for Casey Short and Emily Sonnett, who are also vying to join what otherwise appears to be a settled group that includes O'Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn and Tierna Davidson. Given Julie Ertz's versatility and ability to play at center back, Ellis has the flexibility to elect to beef up her roster elsewhere, too.
Allie Long has been in and out of U.S. camp over the last year, and just when it appeared that her time might've been up, the 31-year-old is back for these two friendlies. Given that Morgan Brian, whose emergence was so vital in that 2015 run, remains on the outs and appears to have missed out on making the team, the door is open for Long to seize a spot.
The preferred midfield appears to feature Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle, with Samantha Mewis, McCall Zerboni and Andi Sullivan likely slotting in behind them, but it's hard to put a value on the experience and positive team chemistry aspects that Long brings to the table. This is her chance to show she belongs on the plane come June.
A FINAL FORWARD
This position appears to be settled. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath are the preferred starters, while Christen Press, Mal Pugh and 2015 hero Carli Lloyd are the clear choices next in line in what's a deep field of attacking talent. If there's a seventh forward chosen, Jessica McDonald has the upper hand on claiming that spot over NC Courage teammate Lynn Williams. She's in camp now with a chance to have the final word, she got the call during the SheBelieves Cup and just needs to show Ellis that she's better off taking her to France, rather than an extra midfielder or defender.