U.S. women's national team manager Jill Ellis has chosen the squad she thinks is capable of repeating as Women's World Cup champions–and that includes the return of a pair of veterans who figured to be on the outside looking in.
Ellis has revealed her final 23-player roster for this summer's competition in France, where the U.S. will look to win a record fourth title and re-cement its status as the best in the world. She has been working with a large nucleus for some time but still had room for a pair of final-cut surprises. Right back Ali Krieger, the 2015 Women's World Cup champion who had just made her return to the team for the first time in two years during last month's camp, ultimately earned a ticket to France. The same goes for midfielder Morgan Brian, a key to the 2015 title team who battled injury and inconsistency during the four-year cycle yet wound up beating out others like Andi Sullivan and McCall Zerboni for a place on the plane.
The U.S. team will be led by a cast of veterans including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath, while players who didn't participate in 2015 like Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh will all look to make their mark on the biggest stage.
“Selecting a World Cup team is a long process, and I want to thank the players–the ones that made the final team and the ones that didn’t–for all of their hard work over the past two and a half years,” said Ellis, who stressed the importance of experience in pressure-packed environments and overall versatility on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “They all pushed each other in every training session and every game and challenged the coaches to make some tough decisions. These 23 players have been through adversity and success, and it’s a group that has the talent, confidence, experience and desire to help us win the World Cup.”
The U.S. women will play three more friendlies before departing for France: May 12 against South Africa at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; May 16 against New Zealand at Busch Stadium in St. Louis; and May 26 against Mexico at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Upon getting to France, they'll prepare for a group stage that includes matches against Thailand (June 11), Chile (June 16) and Sweden (June 20).
Here's a closer look at the USWNT's 2019 Women's World Cup squad:
Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
Naeher steps into the large void left behind by Hope Solo and is expected to be the starter in France, backed up by Harris and then Franch. The latter, who has been NWSL's Goalkeeper of the Year the last two seasons, beat the Houston Dash's Jane Campbell for the third goalkeeper spot. Both Naeher and Harris were Solo's backups in 2015, so while they don't have World Cup experience on the field, they've at least gone through the motions on the grand stage before.
Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
The preferred starters are expected to be Dunn, Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper and O'Hara, though the latter's recent ankle injury should have Krieger and Sonnett on notice. The defense was the USWNT's strength in 2015, posting five clean sheets in seven matches and only giving up three goals total en route to winning the title, but it's a unit that faces major questions entering France after some uneven performances in recent friendlies and the SheBelieves Cup. A 3-1 loss to France, 2-2 draws against England and Japan and a 5-3 win over Australia–teams who are all considered to be contenders this summer–have raised questions regarding the rearguard. Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Short is the one likely impacted most by Krieger's inclusion, and, at 28, she may have missed her last chance to go to a World Cup.
Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
Brian's inclusion is quite surprising, given her multiple omissions from recent camps and the SheBelieves Cup. Ellis is clearly going for experience and potential over the reality of the situation that Brian may not be in position to produce the performances expected of her. On the other hand, she is likely more of a depth piece this time around and one that will be counted on for smaller segments of matches and not the entirety of them. When at her best, she's world-class; it's just a matter of whether that version will be present in France. Meanwhile, Ertz, Horan and Lavelle have emerged as Ellis's preferred starting trio, though Mewis has also proven her value in the holding midfield spot, which could allow Ertz to play in central defense–where she starred in 2015–if necessary. Zerboni and Sullivan are the ones who wind up missing out with the more experienced Brian and Long getting the calls.
Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Mal Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
The starting trio of Heath, Morgan and Rapinoe makes for one of the world's most feared attacking combinations and will spearhead the USA's effort. There's ample depth, with Lloyd, the 2015 hero and Golden Ball winner, itching to make a contribution; Press proving her worth in the most recent friendlies; and Pugh poised for a breakout on the world stage. The World Cup will be the fourth for Lloyd, making her the ninth U.S. player to maintain that level of longevity. Did the U.S. really need to bring a seventh forward at the expense of depth in midfield or defense? We'll surely find out. McDonald adds another more direct element as a No. 9 should the U.S. require a different look.