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Carli Lloyd is going to celebrate her 39th birthday with a trip to the Tokyo Olympics.
The two-time World Cup and Olympic champion was among the 18 players on the U.S. roster for the Tokyo Olympics that was announced Wednesday morning. Lloyd turns 39 on July 16, breaking Christie Rampone's record as the oldest U.S. woman to play in the Olympic soccer tournament by almost two years.
"Always an honor," Lloyd said on Twitter afterward. "Incredibly grateful to be heading to Tokyo."
The Americans are trying to become the first reigning World Cup champions to win the Olympic title. They begin group play July 21 against old foe Sweden, which knocked them out in the quarterfinals in Rio, their earliest exit ever at a major tournament.
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Of the 18 players headed to Tokyo, midfielder Kristie Mewis is the only player who wasn't part of the U.S. team that won the World Cup two years ago. She and younger sister Sam will be the first sisters to play for the U.S. at an Olympics or senior-level World Cup.
"We know there are some very talented players that won’t be in Japan, but these were the difficult decisions that we had to make,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We have a very experienced roster that has been through adversity at the highest levels."
No one fits that description better than Lloyd.
Relegated to the bench at the 2019 World Cup, the two-time FIFA Player of the Year had said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue to Tokyo. But a coaching switch – Andonovski replaced Jill Ellis in October of that year – and the year postponement of the Olympics because of COVID-19 has rejuvenated Lloyd, who said earlier this month that her game is now at a “whole other level.”
“I’ve never been this fit, fast, explosive. Just my overall game,” Lloyd said. “There’s been so many things I’ve worked on and tried to finesse in the last year or so.”
Lloyd certainly made her case for being included on her fourth Olympic team, playing in all 10 of the USWNT’s games this year and leading the team with five assists.
"I never spoke to Carli about how old she is and how old she’s going to be during the Olympics. I leave that for everyone else," Andonovski said on a conference call after the roster was released. "I don’t judge players by age. Either they're good players who can perform and help us win or can’t."
With only 18 players on Olympic rosters, five fewer than for the World Cup, and a fast-paced schedule that requires the USWNT to play every three days, Andonovski had some tough choices to make.
Those choices were made tougher with injuries to midfielder Julie Ertz and forward Tobin Heath, longtime starters for the USWNT. Ertz, one of the team’s most indispensable players, hurt her knee during a collision in an NWSL game last month, while Heath hasn’t played for club or country yet this year because of ankle and knee injuries.
But Andonovski said Wednesday that both are progressing "very well," and that he expects Heath to be able to play in the two-game, send-off series against Mexico. The games are July 1 and 5. Ertz should be ready for closed-door games once the team gets to Japan.
Despite the wealth of U.S. talent, Andonovski picked a roster that will produce few arguments. In addition to Lloyd and Heath, the U.S. will take Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press, who is playing as well as anyone recently, at forward.
The Mewis sisters, Lindsay Horan and Rose Lavelle join Ertz in midfield. The starting backline of Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O'Hara remains intact, with Emily Sonnett and Tierna Davidson backing them up.
Alyssa Naeher is the starting goalkeeper, with Adrianna Franch as the No. 2.
Goalkeeper Jane Campbell, defender Casey Krueger, midfielder Catarina Macario and forward Lynn Williams are the U.S. alternates, and will accompany the team to Japan. They would only be added in case of an injury but, unlike at the World Cup, can be substituted at any point during the tournament.
Macario, a two-time NCAA champion and Hermann Trophy winner, is considered the future of the U.S. team, but Andonovski said there are still players who are ahead of her.
"She has the potential to be on this team for a long time, and be a main figure on this team for a long time," Andonovski said of the 21-year-old. "The experience of being with team at a tournament like this will only help the experience."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USWNT soccer roster for 2021 Olympics announced: Carli Lloyd leads way