The U.S. women’s soccer team’s rout of Belgium last Sunday was the program’s last game before coach Jill Ellis picks her 23-player roster for this summer’s World Cup. Those players will report to training camp in the first week of May, which means there isn’t much time left before Ellis makes her decisions.
There isn’t much soccer left either. World Cup players are expected to play in just three weeks’ worth of NWSL games, starting with the season openers this weekend.
With that in mind, the time is right to predict who Ellis will take to France. The perspective from here is that 19 players are locks to make it, with two more players near-certainties. The last two players will be Ellis’ most difficult selections, and her most controversial.
Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride): Arguably the team’s most essential player, certainly its most essential attacker. She scores pretty goals and tough goals with equal aplomb, and doesn’t judge. Asked to rate her recent goal against Australia — which was one of her best — from 1 to 10, Morgan replied: “I think all goals are 10s.”
Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC): The Delran native’s two headed goals against Belgium showed she has succeeded in converting from midfielder to forward. She can still play her old role, but Ellis values Lloyd’s clutch finishing most and knows no team in the world will want to see Lloyd come in as a late-game sub.
Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC): Her goals, creativity, and leadership make her as important now as she’s ever been.
Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns): No other American player, male or female, has her combination of speed, on-the-ball skill and unpredictability. This World Cup is her time to be a superstar.
Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit): Still a “young phenom” at age 20, she already has 50 caps and 15 goals. Both numbers will rise for a long time, as her two goals against Australia showed.
Christen Press (Utah Royals): Long a striker — and long below Morgan on the depth chart as a result — she has blossomed this year in a wide role. Her pace makes her a natural fit, and she can play on either side of the field.
Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns): She’s a certain starter and arguably the Americans’ best all-around midfielder. But what’s her best role? She can play some defense, but her skill set is better used when she’s free to create.
Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit): The team’s best pure playmaker, but that might be an unaffordable luxury in big games. Can she be as effective as a sub as she is as a starter?
Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars): Her relentless defense, drive, and vocal leadership make her one of the first names in the lineup.
Sam Mewis (North Carolina Courage): She has a mix of attacking skill and defensive tenacity that no other American can match. Will Ellis make the most of her, or will the insistence on starting Horan and Lavelle together ultimately blow the chance at a repeat title?
Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals): A captain in every sense, from her on-the-field leadership to her off-the-field wisdom.
Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars): Though she’s just a rookie in the NWSL, she earned 19 caps as a collegian. With a few big injuries in the rear view mirror, she’s in line to be a starter in France.
Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage): She’s a better passer than Davidson, but not as good a one-on-one defender.
Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns): A solid backup who can play in the middle or on the right.
Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage): The starting left back, even though it’s not her natural role. Her great work in attacking buildups has outweighed her sometimes-shaky defensive positioning.
Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals): Unquestionably the starting right back when she’s healthy, she has battled an ankle injury since the fall. Will she finally be over it by June?
Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars): The clear No. 1, but without her predecessors’ big-game experience. Then again, Ellis never gave her a chance to get it until now.
Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride): A seasoned veteran and longtime backup. She can make big saves but has a history of big gaffes.
Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns): Her shot-stopping prowess has earned her the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
Casey Short (left back, Chicago Red Stars): She’s the best pure left back in the pool, but Ellis hasn’t played her since October — and hasn’t said why. Injuries might be a reason, but is there more to it?
McCall Zerboni (central midfielder, North Carolina Courage): A defensive specialist and ideal late-game closer. Had Ellis played her a little more in recent games, she’d be with the locks.
Competing for the final spots
Ali Krieger (right back, Orlando Pride): After returning to the national team for the first time since mid-2017, could the 34-year-old Penn State alum snatch a last-minute ticket to France? If so, there’s only one reason: the lack of outside back depth. She might be needed to back up O’Hara.
Jessica McDonald (forward, North Carolina Courage): If the 31-year-old makes it, she’d be one of the team’s best stories: a veteran who put in years of work to succeed, and the team’s only mother. She’d also bring a pretty good scoring touch.
Allie Long (central midfielder, Reign FC): A veteran who played in the 2016 Olympics, but these days not as good as Ertz or Mewis — and maybe Zerboni.
Andi Sullivan (central midfielder, Washington Spirit): If Ellis had room for a player who wouldn’t play but would get experience for the future, Sullivan would be it. But the room doesn’t seem to exist, especially with the issues at outside back.
Jane Campbell (goalkeeper, Houston Dash): If any of the top three get hurt before the World Cup, Campbell is next in line.
Danielle Colaprico (central midfielder, Chicago Red Stars): After years of success in the NWSL, she was on the cusp of a national team breakthrough when an injury put her out of the SheBelieves Cup. Ellis said she’d call Colaprico up again once healthy but left her off the recent roster. Whether that’s because of the injury or something more is unclear.
Morgan Brian (central midfielder, Chicago Red Stars): She was crucial at the 2015 World Cup and a regular at the Olympics, but she has fallen out of favor this year and has likely missed her shot.
It’s usually impossible to read Ellis’ mind, but the bet is that Short and Zerboni make it, and the last picks are Krieger (amazingly) and McDonald. If not for the outside back problem, it should be McDonald, who can contribute as a striker and a winger, and Colaprico. But the lack of defensive depth is so significant that it might not be possible to leave Krieger at home.