The U.S. women's national team's main objective in 2021 is reclaiming Olympic gold, and the first order of business in achieving that is whittling down an expanded talent pool to 18 players.
That process will continue in Orlando, beginning Saturday after coach Vlatko Andonovski revealed his 27-player squad for January camp and two camp-closing friendlies vs. Colombia on Wednesday. For the matches, on Jan. 18 and 22, Andonovski will be cutting his matchday roster down to 18, which is a dry run of sorts for the players and the pressure they'll face to earn a trip to Tokyo.
Two of the biggest question marks regarding the Olympic squad are the statuses of Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, the aging veterans and past World Cup heroes who haven't been active recently and haven't featured for the U.S. since last March's SheBelieves Cup. Rapinoe, 35, opted out of the NWSL's Challenge Cup and Fall Series, while Lloyd, 38, was sidelined with an injury. Both also missed the October and November USWNT camps and November friendly vs. the Netherlands, though they've maintained they want to be in contention for the Olympic squad. Now's their chance, after they were included in Wednesday's squad announcement.
In addition to Rapinoe and Lloyd, Mal Pugh will be making her return to the U.S. setup for the first time since the SheBelieves Cup as well. She was recently traded to the Chicago Red Stars as part of a second NWSL deal within 12 months as she looks to rejuvenate her career. A 2019 World Cup winner, Pugh was an Olympian as a teenager in 2016 and is still just 22.
A few U.S. veterans will not be taking part this month, opening up opportunities down the pecking order. Alex Morgan would normally have been in frame to participate after cutting her Tottenham stint short last month, but she revealed Tuesday that she contracted COVID-19 over the holidays, which ruled her out of contention. She had made her first appearance for the national team since giving birth to her first child vs. the Dutch.
"Unfortunately, my family and I closed out 2020 learning that we had contracted Covid while in California over the holidays," Morgan wrote on Twitter. "We are all in good spirits and recovering well. After our isolation is completed, I will follow US Soccer's return to play guidelines to ensure my body is fully recovered and I can join my teammates back on the field soon. Be safe and happy new year."
While England-based Man City teammates Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle will join the squad, Man United's Christen Press and Tobin Heath will not. Press just overcame a non-COVID-19 illness and is working her way back to full fitness, while Heath was invited to camp but will remain in Manchester to feature in the club's scheduled. matches, according to U.S. Soccer.
Other core players taking part include goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher; defenders Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O'Hara and Crystal Dunn and midfielders Julie Ertz and Lindsey Horan.
Catarina Macario, the 21-year-old Brazil-born star Stanford playmaker who recently became a U.S. citizen, has also been included in camp, though she is not yet eligible to play in a match. U.S. Soccer says she is in the "final stages of the process" to achieve that eligibility, adding another potential star into the mix—and creating more competition for one of those precious tickets to Tokyo.
Here is the USWNT's roster in full:
GOALKEEPERS: Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS: Alana Cook (Paris Saint-Germain), Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Fox (UNC), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Margaret Purce (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)
MIDFIELDERS: Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Jaelin Howell (Florida State), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Catarina Macario (Stanford), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Manchester City), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)
FORWARDS: Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)