It's no secret that trimming the U.S. women's national team player pool to 18 for the Olympics is a difficult task, and that's evident by who Vlatko Andonovski has called on for a trip overseas for two difficult friendlies.
Of Andonovski's 23 players chosen to face Sweden and France, 21 were part of the SheBelieves Cup–winning side that beat Canada, Brazil and Argentina last month, with Sam Mewis and Alana Cook rejoining the fold, taking the places of Casey Krueger and Jaelin Howell.
The first match comes April 10 vs. Sweden—the opponent for Andonovski's first match as U.S. coach, a 3–2 win—in Stockholm before a return to France for the first time since winning the 2019 Women's World Cup title to play against Les Bleues in Le Havre on April 13. That latter friendly is notable, given it takes place against the last opponent to beat the U.S. at the site of that defeat. Since then, the U.S. is unbeaten in 37 matches, has won another World Cup (which included a return to Le Havre, where the U.S. beat Sweden in the group stage) and now has set its sights on Olympic gold.
The matches against the two top-five teams, according to the most recent FIFA world ranking, will put the USA's 16-game winning streak under Andonovski to the test and overlap with the start of the NWSL Challenge Cup, taking select NWSL players away from their clubs for the competition. In total, 17 of the 23 players heading to Europe are based in NWSL.
“I give our larger pool of players credit for always making selections difficult, but this group going to Europe has shown consistent quality in their performances as well as in their abilities to contribute to the overall chemistry of the team,” said U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, who indicated he'd have his Olympic choices set by mid-June on a call with reporters on Tuesday. “We still have much evaluation to do from trainings, international matches, NWSL matches and overseas club matches before selecting the Olympic team, but I’m really looking forward to these two games for what adversity they will bring. The exciting thing is that I know our players have the talent and mentality to meet those adversities with a great energy and overcome them.”
Here's a closer look at the squad:
Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
This is the same trio that Andonovski took to the SheBelieves Cup and is a good indicator of who will be in the mix to head to Tokyo, with Naeher the entrenched starter and Campbell becoming the preferred No. 2 to the previous backup, Ashlyn Harris. The U.S. has kept clean sheets in 14 of the last 15 matches, including six straight.
Alana Cook (PSG), Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Midge Purce (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)
The core group hardly changes here, with seven of these eight the same as those chosen for the SheBelieves Cup, the one difference being Cook stepping in for Krueger, who is out injured. Just how many defenders Andonovski will take as part of his 18-player Olympic roster remains to be seen, but versatility plays in Dunn's and Purce's favor, while there should be fierce competition behind Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn for center back depth.
Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Catarina Macario (Lyon), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Manchester City)
Trimming from this group will be next to impossible given form, potential and experience. It's just a very complementary group with no real weaknesses. If there is an Olympic omission from this group, Kristie Mewis is likely to be closest to the cut line, though that's based on it being a numbers game alone. Her resurgence—she went more than six years between caps—is one of the more unique and admirable tales on the team.
Macario is back in the mix amid her continued progression at Lyon, where she's appeared in the Women's Champions League. Her side will face Cook's PSG in the quarterfinals. Sam Mewis, Lavelle and Dahlkemper's Man City, meanwhile, will face Barcelona.
Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Manchester United), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
Another deep group features the return of Lloyd, who is one cap shy of hitting 300 in her illustrious career. Only Kristine Lilly and Christie Pearce Rampone have hit that mark in international soccer history (Canada great Christine Sinclair is four caps away). Andonovski is giving her and Rapinoe every chance to make another Olympic team, while Morgan will continue to keep building in her return following the birth of her daughter. She scored her first international goal as a mom in the SheBelieves Cup finale vs. Argentina.
The group still doesn't feature Tobin Heath, who remains out with an ankle injury but figures to be a good bet to go to Japan if and when she's back.