Delran’s Carli Lloyd is heading to the eighth major soccer tournament of her 16-year U.S. national team career as part of the 18-player squad for this summer’s Olympics.
The roster was announced Wednesday morning with the fanfare of a national TV segment on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Picking an Olympic team is traditionally the hardest job a U.S. women’s team manager faces since the 18-player limit is smaller than the World Cup’s 23. Vlatko Andonovski’s choices were arguably the hardest in the program’s history since all the players from the 2019 championship squad are still active with the national team or NWSL clubs.
Contenders with World Cup medals — some from both 2019 and 2015 — had to fend off a new generation of prospects led by Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith, and Andi Sullivan. There was also a corps of players who earned national team recognition through strong league play, such as Lynn Williams and Kristie Mewis.
With all that depth, the bubble was vast. Lloyd, who will turn 39 on July 16, knew she had a fight on her hands. But few players in the U.S. pool have her finishing touch, and few on the planet can match her track record of clutch goals.
When she scored 23 seconds into the Americans’ penultimate game before the roster was picked, a 4-0 win over Jamaica on June 13, the case was closed. Andonovski gave the final seal of approval by subbing Lloyd off at halftime, a sign her work was done.
Julie Foudy, the former U.S. star who will be NBC’s lead women’s soccer analyst in Tokyo, wasn’t surprised that Lloyd made it.
“She’s a player who, when people start to think she’s done or too old or lost a step, she takes that and says, ‘I’ll show you differently,’” Foudy said. “It seems like Vlatko’s done a good job of managing expectations. He seems to be communicating with her and telling her there’s definitely a role for you, and it probably isn’t in a starting role. But there is a huge role for you, and you’re vitally important to this team.”
Because of that, Foudy said, “and as long as she gets that and understands the value, too, I do think there’s a great role for her. … You know that she’s going to give you goals and that she’s going to be dangerous.”
Heath, Ertz overcome injuries
Once Lloyd booked her ticket, the big questions became about another U.S. player with local ties: Julie Ertz, the defensive midfield rock who’s been sidelined with an MCL injury since a May 16 game with the Chicago Red Stars. (She counts as local until husband Zach is traded from the Eagles, and for longer if she wants.)
There were also doubts over New Jersey-born wing wizard Tobin Heath, who suffered an ankle injury in January playing for Manchester United and then a knee injury during her recovery. She was healthy enough to take part in this month’s training camp but not play games.
Andonovski said on June 9 that both players were “on schedule to play in the Olympics,” and they both made the cut. He said Wednesday that both players are “rehabbing very well,” and Heath will likely play in warmup games against Mexico in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 and 5.
“Tobin is slightly ahead of Julie,” Andonovski said. “Julie will probably start getting minutes in some closed-door games while we’re in Japan, and then hopefully increase the minutes in the group stage in the Olympics.”
Seventeen of the Olympic team’s 18 players were on the World Cup team two years ago. The only one who wasn’t is Kristie Mewis, the sister of central midfield general Samantha. It’s a remarkable rise back to prominence for Kristie, who suffered a series of major injuries starting in 2014. Five years later, she returned to the national team, earned regular playing time and saw her stock take off.
“It’s very simple for Kristie: she is a product of the NWSL,” Andonovski said. “She played extremely well in the league in the last year and a half or so, and earned herself an opportunity. And then after the opportunity was given to her, she took full advantage of it. Every game that she came in, whether it was five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, she maximized that opportunity.”
Heath’s recovery might have had the biggest effect on Andonovski’s picks. Williams, a blazing-fast scorer who can play wide or centrally, did not make the squad. She will be one of four alternates, though, which means she gets to go to Japan and be on standby if a player suffers a tournament-ending injury.
The other alternates are goalkeeper Jane Campbell, defender Casey Krueger, and rising star playmaker Catarina Macario. Like Williams, Kruger and Macario bring versatility: Krueger can play left back or centerback, while Macario can play as a forward, attacking midfielder, or winger.
Who didn’t make it
The biggest omission is Margaret Purce, a winger who can also play right back. A Harvard alum in her fifth year as a pro, she played in six of the Americans’ nine games since the team’s resumption amid the pandemic last November, and scored two goals.
Purce was projected as a right back at the national team level for quite a while, and Andonovski has praised her often. But missing out here might let her take off as an attacker, her preferred role, and rise up the depth chart for the 2023 World Cup.
Smith, Sullivan, and Pennington School alum Alana Cook also came up short. Their absences are less surprising because of their youth, though Sullivan might have made this team had she not torn the meniscus in her left knee last summer. It understandably took a long time for her to regain her top form.
For now, the veterans still have the reins as the U.S. tries to become the first reigning World Cup champion to win gold at the following Olympics.
The full U.S. roster
Goalkeepers (2): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
Defenders (6): Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City, England), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)
Midfielders (5): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage)
Forwards (5): Tobin Heath (Unattached)*, Carli Lloyd (Gotham FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Unattached)*, Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
Alternates: GK Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), D Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars), F Catarina Macario (Lyon, France), F Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
* Heath and Press left Manchester United at the end of the English women’s league season in May. Their NWSL rights are held by Racing Louisville, but they aren’t going to play for the team for a while if at all.