Vlatko Andonovski will have tough decisions ahead as he narrows the roster from 23 players to 18
By Alex Holmes
The USWNT won its fourth SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday and became the first country to win it in back-to-back years. With the Tokyo Olympics less than six months away, head coach Vlatko Andonovski now needs to whittle the roster from 23 players to 18. The SheBelieves tournament gave him a look at several players presumably on the bubble of making the cut. Andonovski used a different starting XI for each game and played 22 of the 23 players on the roster. Who bolstered their chances of making it to Tokyo? Which players still have some question marks?
Of the 23 players on this year’s SheBelieves roster, 14 were on the 2019 World Cup team. That last number doesn’t include Tobin Heath (ankle injury), Sam Mewis (ankle injury), rising star Catarina Macario, who has quickly asserted herself into Andonovski’s starting XI, or the potential back-up goalkeeper to Alyssa Naeher. This means bubble players trying to make it to Tokyo, such as Casey Krueger, Kristie Mewis, Midge Purce, Sophia Smith, and Lynn Williams had very little margin for error and that margin will get even smaller heading into the summer. Here are some bubble players who stood out during the She Believes Cup, as well as some who could benefit from a few more friendlies this spring.
Midge Purce started at right back in the opener against Canada and played in the second half against Argentina. With only six USWNT appearances—all coming in the last year and a half—Purce has quickly joined the Tokyo conversation and will make Andonovski’s job tougher as he thinks about who he wants on his defense in the Olympics. She has proven to be a versatile, aggressive defender and owns the right side of the pitch. Purce was at her best this week when joining the attack and making it difficult for the opposing team to pass out of pressure in their own defensive third.
Casey Krueger (formerly Short) was a late add to the SheBelieves roster. She replaced Alana Cook, whose club team PSG opted not to release her due to COVID-19 protocol. Krueger only saw about ten minutes of action in the first game, coming on as sub in the eighty-first minute against Canada, and played the first half against Argentina. Although she didn’t get as many minutes as Purce, she made the most of her time by playing solid on-ball defense and notching an assist in the Argentina match.
Kristie Mewis was a late-game substitute against Canada and Brazil before playing the full 90 minutes against Argentina. Similar to Purce, Mewis only has a handful of appearances with the USWNT, but her stock continues to rise—she has found the back of the net three times since November, including a brilliant left-footed strike in the Argentina match, where she also assisted on a Carli Lloyd goal.
Lynn Williams is one of the team’s fastest and most physical forwards. She played in the entire match against Canada and saw significant time against Brazil. With Tobin Heath out for this tournament, Williams had an opportunity to distance herself from other bubble players. She didn’t make the stat sheet in either game she played in. Not coming away with a goal or assist in two matches will be tough for a player competing with Heath, Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Christen Press for a forward spot on the Olympic roster.
Sophia Smith simply did not get enough playing time to strengthen her case in the Olympic conversation. She played in the final thirty minutes against Brazil and Argentina. Similar to Williams, she’ll need to put up stats from here on out if she wants a shot at Tokyo. Smith notched an assist against Argentina after driving at the opposing backline and playing a through ball to Alex Morgan. Smith will still be someone to keep an eye on even if she doesn’t make the Olympic cut. At only 20 years old, she’ll be a strong contender for the 2023 World Cup and the next Olympic cycle.
USWNT players will now head home to their respective NWSL clubs to continue preseason preparation. The NWSL is slated to begin play in April. Andonovski and the USWNT will reconvene in April as well, giving players a final chance to make their case for the Tokyo Olympics.