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Once more unto the breach for the USWNT at Tokyo 2020

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Vlatko Andonovski didn’t have an easy task selecting an 18 player roster (with four alternates) considering the talent at his disposal but this morning, the USWNT Olympic roster was officially announced.

Nigeria v United States - 2021 WNT Summer Series Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

When it comes to the United States Women’s National Team, they go into every tournament as the favourites or joint favourites. It’s been this way since at least 1999 and hasn’t changed no matter who helmed the team or who was on the roster. This year at the Olympics will be no different. Some may find this narrative arrogant but the USWNT have the medals to back up that talk and will be looking to be the first team to win a World Cup and the following Olympics consecutively.

For Tokyo 2020(1), the USWNT has talent across the board and it will be up to Vlatko Andonovski to harness that talent and bring home the Gold medal that eluded this team in 2016. The names on the roster are familiar and mostly well-known at this point but it doesn’t mean that they have lost their will to win over the years. Even the veterans on this team can still create a moment of magic when needed and that is what USWNT fans will be looking forward to as the team embarks on their Olympic journey in Tokyo this July.

Nigeria v United States - 2021 WNT Summer Series Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Everywhere you look in the roster, you can see how this team is set up to go all the way. Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Rose Lavelle offer a creativity that’s not easy to contain while Alex Morgan has looked sharp in front of goal for the Orlando Pride. In and around those players are the likes of Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan who can pick a pass just as good as anyone and at the back, Becky Sauerbrunn offers a solidity that many teams cannot emulate. The key to all of this will be the fitness of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz. When fit, these two are automatic starters for the USWNT and give the team an edge that usually sees them pick up wins, even when the team isn’t playing well. Heath may be closer to full fitness than Ertz is but the fact that both have been selected for the roster shows that Andonovski and his coaching staff feel that they will be ready to feature prominently in Tokyo.

If there are any weaknesses in this team, it could be their inability to break teams down. They have struggled recently against teams that look to defend deep and spring on the counter and in 2016, that led to their downfall. Andonovski has noted this concern and will be looking to use every tool at his disposal to try and overcome that. If the USWNT can’t find those solutions, Sweden and others will capitalise on that and send the USWNT to an early departure from the Olympics once again.

Depending on Ertz’ fitness, Andonovski may opt to go with a 4-3-3 that sees Horan as the No. 6 like she has played recently for the USWNT. That midfield has shown signs of imbalance and could be another cause for concern if again, Julie Ertz cannot play straight away. Considering that Sweden is the first opponent for the USWNT at the Olympics, a midfield of Horan, Mewis, Lavelle could be swimming against the tide as Sweden can keep up with the USWNT physically and at a talent level as well.

Lastly, the roster has a lot of players either coming back from long-term injuries or fighting to get back to match fitness once again. The medical staff know more than we do but this is a gamble to take with such a small roster allowed at the tournament. Vlatko Andonovski has clearly planned for this by selecting players in the 18 who are versatile as well but with such a compact schedule, niggling injuries could become worse or players could fade due to fatigue very quickly.

“We have a very experienced roster that has been through adversity at the highest levels” Andonovski stated in the press release of the roster and he’s right. Many players in the roster will be playing in their third or fourth Olympic tournament and have featured during previous World Cup campaigns. Despite the concerns about their playing style against defensive teams or lack of fitness in the roster, the USWNT tend to succeed during extreme pressure. This will be another test for them and one many have them passing with flying colours once again.

A legend graces the tournament once again

Carli Lloyd has now played in four World Cups and will be headed to her fourth Olympic tournament. Whatever some may think of her presence on the team, that is an accomplishment that many players can only dream of replicating. She may be entering what could be considered the twilight of her career but she continues to have the trust of the coaches and looks to make an impact every time she steps on the pitch. If this is the last time we see Carli Lloyd in the “red, white and blue” we should savour it as we do with any storied player throughout the years. Not many have had as big an impact on international tournaments (2008 Olympics, 2012 Olympics, 2015 World Cup) as Lloyd has and she deserves every accolade that has come her way.

Nigeria v United States - 2021 WNT Summer Series Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

A year can make all the difference

Alex Morgan wasn’t meant to compete in the Olympics this time last year. She was in a race against time in 2020 after giving birth to her daughter earlier that year and many did not see her getting back to fitness in time. Then the pandemic happened and the Olympics were delayed by a year. That gave Morgan the chance to regain full fitness with Tottenham Hotspurs and find her shooting boots again with the Orlando Pride. As a veteran on this team and one of the few you can rely on to finish 99% of her chances, any team can only benefit from having Morgan on it. The USWNT head into Tokyo with her probably leading the line and Vlatko Andonovski will not be alone in feeling excited about that.

Andonovski looks to go where no other has before

As previously noted, no team and no head coach has managed to win the World Cup and then win the Olympics that follow that World Cup. Although the head coach has changed since 2019, Andonovski will look to lead the USWNT to that feat for the first time ever. Known for his possession-orientated style and an affinity for a 4-3-3, Andonovski has proved at club level that he has what it takes to win the big one (leading the now defunct FC Kansas City to two NWSL Championships). He has tried to fine tune this team leading into the Olympics and while some things have worked, others haven’t quite fit in as well as many would like. However, Andonovski is a shrewd tactician and seems to have the backing of the players so if anyone could make history, you wouldn’t bet against him doing just that this summer.

USWNT Olympic Roster

Goalkeepers: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars).

Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit).

Midfielders: Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage).

Forwards: Tobin Heath (unattached), Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (unattached), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign).

Alternates: Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyonnais), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage).