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The core of the United States national team that will travel to France later this month for the 2019 Women’s World Cup has been established for months. So when U.S. Soccer announced on Thursday the team’s 23-player roster for this summer’s tournament, there was, in one sense, little of consequence. There was little uproar. There were end-of-the-bench decisions to be made, but that’s about it.
There were, however, a few surprises.
And there were, therefore, a few notable roster snubs.
There was no Landon Donovan 2014. Nothing even close. And there weren’t any omissions that change the USWNT’s outlook at the World Cup. But there were two players in particular who some felt deserved to go to France, and who will instead be watching from home.
The two major USWNT World Cup roster snubs
McCall Zerboni | Age: 32 | Caps: 9 | Position: Defensive midfielder
Zerboni, a back-to-back NWSL Best XI selection on a championship team, is the one snub that could be impactful. The U.S. lacks defensive midfield depth behind Julie Ertz. Zerboni seemingly was that depth. And when she had spelled Ertz or played alongside the USWNT’s midfield anchor over the past year, she had often justified Ellis’ decisions to give chances to a late bloomer.
But Ellis left Zerboni off the final 23, instead opting for Morgan Brian. Brian, in theory, could play in the No. 6 role if Ertz were unavailable due to injury or suspension. But Zerboni, frankly, has been both better and healthier than Brian for a while now. She seemed to be both a better Ertz backup than Brian and a better second-half-sub-to-protect-a-lead than Allie Long.
Ellis disagreed. Now we wait and see if the preference will come back to haunt her.
Casey Short | Age: 28 | Caps: 27 | Position: Fullback
It’s difficult to get too incensed over Short’s exclusion. Did she deserve a place as the backup left back? Yeah, probably – especially if Ellis’ rosters since last summer, every single one of which Short made, were any indication. Her last-minute demotion was a bit perplexing.
But at the same time, she hadn’t seen the field in recent months despite consistent call-ups. Crystal Dunn is the obvious starting left back. Tierna Davidson, a natural center back, is Dunn’s primary backup. If Short wasn’t going to be used, it didn’t make much sense to carry her simply to have a natural left back in the squad.
That, actually, is a central guideline for sound World Cup roster building: Don’t take players just because they seemingly deserve to be taken. Take players for specific purposes. With specific scenarios in mind. “We go through worst-case scenarios over and over and over again,” Ellis said Thursday. If the scenario in which Ali Krieger is needed was more plausible than the one in which Short was needed – and Kelley O’Hara’s injury troubles suggest that might be the case – this was the right move.
The same reasoning applies to other fullbacks who weren’t given prolonged looks ...
Merritt Mathias | Age: 28 | Caps: 1 | Position: Right back
Mathias had occasionally been on the fringes of U.S. squads over the past two years. It’s fair to wonder, then, why Krieger, who hadn’t been called up since April 2017, leapfrogged her when Ellis apparently realized right back was a position of need. But Mathias has one cap. Krieger has 99. There’s your decision right there.
Jaelene Hinkle | Age: 25 | Caps: 8 | Position: Left back
The same reasoning applies to Hinkle, who is by many accounts the best left back in the NWSL. But she hasn’t played for the national team since early 2016. She probably didn’t help herself when she declined a national team call-up in 2017 – because she refused to wear the USWNT’s special Pride Month jerseys for religious reasons. And some speculators will surely pinpoint that controversy as a reason Hinkle didn’t get more opportunities.
But Ellis said Thursday that the decision was “solely based on soccer.”
“One of the things our staff and I do is, we go through worst-case scenarios over and over and over again,” Ellis said. “So looking at depth and versatility is a big part. And it becomes harder, I think, for a player that plays one position … a player that’s locked to one position, I do think that’s part of the decision-making.”
Andi Sullivan | Age: 23 | Caps: 11 | Position: Central midfielder
Sullivan had been in or around the central midfield picture at various points over the past three years. But she didn’t fill a specific need. Brian, Long and Zerboni were always going to be ahead of her on the pecking order.
The bottom line
In the end, there were only two players who have seen game action for the USWNT in 2019 that didn’t make the World Cup cut. One was Emily Fox, a 20-year-old defender from the University of North Carolina who looked out of her depth in January. The other was Zerboni – who, as discussed, is the one true snub here.
In one sense, the U.S. has some roster problems, and they are arguably of Ellis’ own making. Perhaps her mismanagement of the player pool months and years before roster deadline day were problematic. But it’s tough to quibble with too many of her final decisions.
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