Vlatko Andonovski has made his first significant roster decisions as U.S. women's national team manager, omitting Women's World Cup winners Mal Pugh, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Brian and Allie Long as part of eight cuts made for the forthcoming Olympic qualifying tournament.
With rosters limited to 20 players for Concacaf's eight-team tournament–two more than will be permitted to go to Tokyo in the summer–some difficult cuts were always going to be a factor.
January camp took place from Jan. 5-15 in Tampa, Fla., and began with 28 players. The others who didn't make the final cut were goalkeeper Jane Campbell, defenders Midge Purce and Casey Short and forward Sophia Smith.
“Full credit to the players for competing hard during our January camp and for making our final roster decisions difficult,” Andonovski said in a statement. “We have a balanced roster with versatile players and of course they have a lot of experience in important games. This is a team that understands that you have to be aggressive and unpredictable in how you create scoring chances but also knows how to be smart on defense at the same time. They are mature and savvy players who can adjust on the fly if needed and of course are highly motivated to earn that berth to the Olympics.”
The U.S. will face Haiti (Jan. 28), Panama (Jan. 31) and Costa Rica (Feb. 3) in group play at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, where the top two teams will advance. Presuming the U.S. women go through–and as two-time reigning Women's World Cup champions and the only winners in the history of the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament that dates back to 2004 it stands to reason they will–the all-important semifinal match takes place Feb. 7 at Dignity Health Sports Park outside Los Angeles.
The semifinal winners will claim the region's two berths at Tokyo 2020, joining a 12-team field that already includes host Japan, Sweden, Team Great Britain, the Netherlands, Brazil and New Zealand. The Feb. 9 championship match is for bragging rights and has featured the USA and Canada in each of the last three qualifying tournaments.
Here's a closer look at who will try to punch the USA's ticket to the Olympics, where there's unfinished business after an embarrassing quarterfinal exit from Rio 2016:
Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
The same trio that went to the World Cup will take part in Olympic qualifying, with Naeher the expected starter after she rose to the occasion in France. The Houston Dash's Jane Campbell misses out after being one of the eight camp cut casualties.
Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Orlando Pride)
Davidson, Purce and Short are the ones not moving on from January camp, which indicates that Andonovski plans to use Dunn at fullback much like his predecessor, Jill Ellis, and still rates the veteran Krieger, who was out in the USWNT wilderness for two years before making a late charge to make the World Cup roster. O'Hara, Dahlkemper, Sauerbrunn and Dunn figure to be the starters if Andonovski opts for a four-woman back line.
Davidson is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered late last year, Andonovski told reporters on Friday. It hampered her ability to fully participate in camp and is enough to keep her from official competition.
Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)
The core of the Women's World Cup-winning midfield features here, along with the addition of Sullivan, who has long been pegged to crack the national team picture. Veterans and World Cup winners Brian and Long did not progress after being included in camp.
Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (North Carolina Courage), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
Alex Morgan being out while pregnant figured to open the door for some on the forward depth chart, but instead, Andonovski appears to be turning center forward duties over to the persistent Lloyd, who may be 37 but is still scoring at an astounding rate. In Andonovski's first two matches in charge, Lloyd started and scored three goals (two of which came within the first six minutes of wins over Sweden and Costa Rica) and has shown no signs of decline as it relates to putting the ball in the back of the net.
She's joined by World Cup winners Rapinoe, Heath, Press and McDonald, though there's no room for Pugh, who was dealt a second piece of surprise news in as many days following her trade from the Washington Spirit to Sky Blue. Andonovski indicated that Pugh still has a bright future with the national team, but that others were simply ahead of her in earning their places on this team.
Sophia Smith, the top overall pick in Thursday's NWSL draft also misses out. She was the youngest and only non-professional player in the most recent camp.