The United States Women's National Team roster for the 2020 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament was announced on Friday. Among the names listed, 18 of the 20 players were part of the World Cup-winning team assembled by Vlatko Andonovski's predecessor, Jill Ellis. This will be the first test of Andonovski's coaching skills at the international level, but the United States are expected to coast through to the quarterfinal round in a group that consists of Costa Rica, Panama, and Haiti.
Superstars galore in Vlatko's first selection
The United States easily boasts the most robust field of talent in the world of women's soccer, so there is plenty of insight to glean from the new head coach's selections going into the qualifying tournament. While the tournament itself is expected to be more of an exhibition for the United States, which has won the last two Women's World Cup titles, this will be a chance for Andonovski to build the team tactics and culture to his liking. Additionally, while this roster includes the top-20 players from the USA, the final Olympic roster will be just 18 women strong.
The aging stars from Ellis' former teams are all there. Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Kelley O'Hara, and Megan Rapinoe all made the squad and will continue to represent their country under the new head coach. There was initially talk that Vlatko might take this opportunity to trim the roster and bring about a youth movement within the team, but those ideas have been soundly quelled. Instead, it is clear that the new coach is looking to continue the culture that has won the last two world championships. This is a smart move, given that he had less than a year between being hired and heading to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.
It is also clear that Andonovski has brought club play to greater importance as well. The additions of Lynn Williams and Andi Sullivan, both of whom had fallen out of favor with Ellis, shows that his time as the coach of Reign FC and FC Kansas City is being taken into account. No American has scored more goals than Lynn Williams in the NWSL than Williams, and Sullivan proved to be the lynch pin of the Washington Spirit midfield during the 2019 season after a disappointing rookie season in 2018. These small changes bode well for players who are cutting their teeth in the NWSL and feel like they should be afforded opportunities on the national team.
Some players experience changing tides
Elsewhere on the team, things are trending down for players like Mallory Pugh. The outstanding forward, who made an impact in her late teens with the USWNT, was not selected for the 20-player qualifying roster and was just traded to Sky Blue FC after two seasons in the nation's capital. Between injuries and lackluster performances, Pugh went from the brightest light on the best team in the world to an afterthought in three short years. She will certainly be set up well to impress with her new club team, but the former phenom has not lived up to her own hype.
Morgan Brian and Allie Long are two other players who snuck into the World Cup squad only to be ousted under the new regime. Both players were questionable additions in the midfield who rarely played in France, and their departure likely means that they didn't pass the talent test for Andonovski and the limited Olympic roster. The move is especially damning for Long, who played for Reign FC under Andonovski in 2019.
Defender Tierna Davidson is supposedly still unable to play after suffering an ankle injury at the end of the 2019 NWSL season. She is expected to make the team when she is healthy, but there is still some uncertainty surrounding her position without any high-level playing time.
When are qualifiers?
The round-robin qualifying group stage will start on January 28th. The semifinal matches, which will decide the teams in the Olympics, will take place on February 7th. The final match, which is a purely ceremonial exhibition, will be on February 9th.