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Sunday, November 28, 2021

What We Know, And Don’t, About The USWNT Olympic Soccer Roster Four Months Out

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The opening ceremonies of the already-delayed Olympics are scheduled for July 23, 2021, meaning we are less than four months out.

However, U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski isn’t ready to close off potential options who aren’t part of his just-named 23-person squad, even though time is growing short, for a pair of April friendlies against France and Sweden.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s fair to assume that,” Andonovski said on a media call Tuesday afternoon. “Because on this roster we have players… that are not on this roster because they’re injured.”

Andonovski was quick to name Tobin Heath, for instance, as someone critical to the team’s plans in the year ahead. The hope is that Heath can return to fitness in time to get 3-4 matches in with the national team. Certainly, the singularity of Heath makes her an easy player to plan for — if she’s healthy, you pencil her in for the typical Tobin Heath things. If not, it will simply be a dimension the team has to live without.

But overall, he doesn’t sound like he’s particularly worried about striking a balance between finding a rhythm for the selected team to play, a consistent watchword for his predecessor Jill Ellis, and is instead focused on making certain the individuals he does choose are in-form.

“So, we have roughly said middle of June where we’re going to know the roster,” Andonovski said. “And in the meantime, we’re going to use these camps but also we’re going to use the NWSL games in their respective markets to continue evaluating the players and evaluating their fitness and performance before we select the roster.”

Still, those matches against Sweden on April 10 and France on April 13 — a pair of powerhouses, both matches in hostile territory — provide a means for those selected to prove what other players on the sideline cannot.

Carli Lloyd remains central to the team’s plans as well, with a chance to both earn cap 300 in her next appearance, and to solidify her role as designated goalscorer in the manner of late-career Abby Wambach.

Crystal Dunn, too, is on this group of 23, listed as a defender, and it will be interested to see how and where Andonovski deploys the multifaceted star. A similar question exists for Midge Purce, on the team, and expected to play further up the field this season for her club team, Sky Blue FC.

And then there’s Sophia Smith, already thrice-capped, who Andonovski singled out for praise. Amid a crowded veteran group up top, it is interesting to see Smith remain in the mix, a nod to both her development and the consistent need to balance the current interests of any national team with the years ahead.

“Every camp, we see a progress, which is very, very promising for us,” Andonovski said. “That means that she’s integrating in the system, that means that she lives the system, she knows what we’re trying to do, and she’s doing well into it.”

It will be worth watching if Smith gets the chance for extended minutes during these two friendlies as well. But what we also know is that even as the USWNT plays that week, we’ll need to keep a close eye on NWSL standouts as well, since Andonovski is taking league form into account as he makes his plans.

“We know that the window is short,” Andonovski explained, “And that’s why we’re going to maximize the opportunities that we have.”

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