The 2019 Women’s World Cup remains a month away. But the first sign that it is right around the corner arrived Thursday, with the release of the U.S. roster.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis named her 23-woman squad weeks before FIFA’s May 24 deadline. Barring serious injury or illness, this is the group she’ll take to France:
U.S. 2019 Women’s World Cup roster
(Club team in parentheses. Projected starters in bold.)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage)
FORWARDS (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (North Carolina Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC)
Notable inclusions and omissions
Heading into May, roughly 19 of the 23 spots on the plane to France were all but claimed. There were, therefore, no highly consequential decisions for Ellis to make. If all goes to plan, no player on the roster bubble will see meaningful minutes.
But there was a bubble, and there were, therefore, notable inclusions and omissions. The most surprising of the former were Ali Krieger and Morgan Brian. Krieger, a former mainstay, went two years without an appearance before starting last month’s friendly vs. Belgium. Brian, who started the 2015 World Cup final but more recently battled injuries, appeared to have fallen out of the picture.
Allie Long and Jessica McDonald also made the roster from the bubble. Those inclusions came at the expense of McCall Zerboni, Casey Short and Andi Sullivan, among others. Zerboni, a back-to-back NWSL Best XI selection, was the most stunning omission.
USWNT roster numbers and notes
The USWNT’s roster continuity over the past year has been remarkable. A fact that speaks to it: 19 of the 23 players in Ellis’ squad for last summer’s Tournament of Nations made the World Cup 23 – and that doesn’t include Mal Pugh and Kelley O’Hara, who missed the ToN due to injury.
Ellis called in 61 different players between the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 World Cup – including 30 for the first time – but narrowed the pool down to a core group in 2018.
The 23 players on this roster carry a combined 1,841 national team appearances and 94 World Cup appearances into camp, which begins this weekend.
There are 12 players from the 2015 roster remaining four years later. Seven of them also went to Germany in 2011, and one – Carli Lloyd – went to China in 2007.
Lloyd, at 36, is the elder stateswoman of the bunch. Tierna Davidson, at 20, is the youngest.
The U.S. roster isn’t necessarily unbalanced, but it’s certainly not balanced like a typical 23-player World Cup squad would be. Carrying more forwards than midfielders is extremely rare. And in a way, the roster’s composition reflects the occasional recklessness of Ellis’ lineups. At the same time, however, there’s versatility throughout. Three of the “forwards” are attacking midfield/winger types. A fourth is Lloyd, who was a midfield mainstay four years ago and can still play there if necessary. “Defender” Crystal Dunn can also play … well, basically anywhere on the pitch.
Now, onto our breakdown of the roster, featuring bios and analysis, organized by position and role:
Alyssa Naeher | Age: 31 | Caps: 43 | Position: Goalkeeper
For the first time in … well, ever, goalkeeper is a USWNT weakness. Briana Scurry and Hope Solo combined to hold down the starting post for more than two decades. But there was no obvious successor waiting in the wings when Solo controversially had her contract terminated in 2016. Naeher won a years-long competition for the No. 1 shirt, and she’ll be one of the better keepers in France. But by high U.S. standards, she’s been mistake-prone and underwhelming since earning the gig – a far cry from Solo, who rescued the Americans many times over the years.
Kelley O’Hara | Age: 30 | Caps: 115 | Position: Right back
Injuries have put O’Hara’s starting spot in question. Ellis said Thursday that she was currently “in a return-to-play mode.”
But when healthy, she’s the most talented American right back – though “right back” doesn’t quite do her justice. O’Hara was a forward in college, and at club level has played everywhere from midfield to fullback to on the wing. But she’s primarily been a defender with the national team, and that’s what she’ll be at her fourth major tournament (two Olympics and now two World Cups).
Becky Sauerbrunn | Age: 33 | Caps: 155 | Position: Center back
The senior member of the U.S. back line, and a mainstay since 2013, Sauerbrunn might not have the physical capabilities she had four years ago – which is occasionally problematic for a team that tries to make the game as much about physicality as possible. But there’s a reason she started 37 consecutive games in 2016 and 2017, and a reason she’ll almost certainly anchor the American defense in every meaningful game this summer. She’s often the smartest player on the field.
Abby Dahlkemper | Age: 25 | Caps: 37 | Position: Center back
France 2019 will be Dahlkemper’s major tournament bow. The UCLA product broke into the national team in late 2016, earned her first start in June 2017, and played every minute of every game the rest of that year. She’s no longer an automatic inclusion in the 11 – see Davidson, Tierna – but she should be Sauerbrunn’s partner on June 11.
Crystal Dunn | Age: 26 | Caps: 82 | Position: Left back
Dunn was an NWSL golden boot winner and MVP at age 23. She started Olympic matches as a forward at age 24. Now she’s … a left back?
Yep. Because fullback is a USWNT area of need, and Dunn could literally play any outfield position other than center back at a World Cup level. (And heck, if you asked her to play center back, she’d probably become one of the sport’s best in 12 months.) She’s that versatile, and that good. Ellis said Thursday that Dunn was the most versatile player she’s ever had in her time as national team boss.
Would Dunn be more effective as a winger? Probably. But she gets plenty of attacking opportunities in this U.S. system, with Megan Rapinoe cutting inside off the left wing and creating avenues for overlaps. And she grows as a defender by the game.
Julie Ertz | Age: 27 | Caps: 79 | Position: Defensive midfielder
Four years ago, she was World Cup-winning center back Julie Johnston. Now she’s a do-everything midfielder who almost does too much. She’s a nominal holding mid who doesn’t hold. A more apt description for her role would be destroyer. She never shies away from a tackle. She rampages forward, expertly timing late runs into the box to get on the end of chances. She’s great in the air. Her activity sometimes leaves the U.S. defense exposed, but the pros far outweigh the cons. Ertz is one of the team’s best and most impactful players.
Lindsey Horan | Age: 24 | Caps: 66 | Position: Central midfielder
Horan’s talent is undeniable. The first female American player to skip college and turn pro out of high school, she spent three-and-a-half seasons as a prolific striker at PSG in France. When she returned to the States, she morphed into a dominant midfielder, and in 2018 put together an MVP season the likes of which NWSL has never seen. She led the league in touches, duels won and aerial duels won. She was second in passes and dribbles completed, and third in goals – as a box-to-box midfielder. Ellis hasn’t quite been able to replicate the role, and Horan hasn’t quite been as consistent with the national team. But she’ll be a force this summer in France.
Rose Lavelle | Age: 23 | Caps: 24 | Position: Attacking midfielder
Lavelle is “different.” That’s Ellis’ word. Different in a good way. Different in a way that gives the U.S. midfield a dynamism and unpredictability it otherwise lacks. She’s excellent finding space in between the lines, and very clean technically. She’s been dogged by awful injury luck, and has only played three full 90s for the senior national team. But her unique abilities make her Ellis’ likely pick for the third starting midfield spot.
Tobin Heath | Age: 30 | Caps: 147 | Position: Right winger
There might not be a more entertaining player in the sport than Heath. With two of her first touches for the national team almost 10 years ago, she did this:
Nowadays, she does stuff like this:
Wander too close to the Queen of Nutmeg, and you risk embarrassment. Back off, and she’ll simply seek out victims. Oh, and recently, having bored of megs, she’s turned to back-heel goals:
Heath’s daring and effectiveness in the final third have fended off challengers for her starting spot as her fifth major tournament approaches.
Alex Morgan | Age: 29 | Caps: 160 | Position: Striker
Morgan has been a star for years now. With the 2019 World Cup on the horizon, though, she may very well be playing the best soccer of her life. She’s the complete striker – a target who can play with her back to goal and bring teammates into play; who can run in behind and stretch a back line; who can score with both feet or her head, from many angles and distances. Over 15 months beginning August 2017, Morgan tallied more than a goal per 90 minutes with the national team. But it’s her all-around development that makes the U.S. 4-3-3 system hum.
Megan Rapinoe | Age: 33 | Caps: 150 | Position: Left winger
The USWNT’s best playmaker for most of the decade wasn’t herself three years ago at the Olympics. She was coming off a third torn ACL, and didn’t re-find top form for nearly two years. Her creativity was sorely missed. But now she’s back, and almost better than ever, even at 33. She’s also transcended sport with her philanthropy and activism. She’s a co-captain, a fixture, an icon, and one of the most important U.S. players this summer.
Ashlyn Harris | Age: 33 | Caps: 21 | Position: Goalkeeper
Harris was Naeher’s main competition for the starting gig following Hope Solo’s ouster. Naeher gradually emerged as the winner of that battle, however, so Harris will go to a second consecutive World Cup as a backup.
Adrianna Franch | Age: 28 | Caps: 1 | Position: Goalkeeper
The 2018 NWSL goalkeeper of the year has never really gotten an extensive look as the U.S. No. 1. If Naeher struggles, expect that to be a talking point.
Emily Sonnett | Age: 25 | Caps: 31 | Position: Right back/center back
Sonnett, a solid and versatile defender, could start at right back. She also doubles as the roster’s fourth center back – which is where she plays week in and week out for the Portland Thorns. When she shifts to the right out of necessity for the national team, the U.S. system gets asymmetrical, with Dunn playing more as a left wing-back in possession and Sonnet tucking in as a right center back.
Tierna Davidson | Age: 20 | Caps: 19 | Position: Center back/left back
Davidson, a ball-playing left-footed center back, started 12 of the first 13 games of 2018 – all of them while still a college student and teenager. She appeared on track to unseat Sauerbrunn or Dahlkemper, or at least challenge them for a place in the 11, at the World Cup. A fractured ankle interrupted her rise, and with only six 90-minute games under her belt since early September, she’ll probably have to settle for backup center back and left back duties. But if she continues on her current trajectory – which included forgoing her senior year at Stanford to become the No. 1 pick in January’s NWSL draft – her time will come.
Ali Krieger | Age: 34 | Caps: 99 | Position: Right back
Krieger started every single U.S. game at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. Months before what will be her third, she was a complete afterthought ... until Ellis brought her back in from the wilderness for two April friendlies and played her in the second, two years and a day after her last appearance. Such are the gaping holes in the U.S. player pool at fullback.
But “what I know about Ali Krieger,” Ellis said Thursday, is that “no moment is ever going to be too big for her.”
Oh, and an unrelated off-field note: Krieger is engaged to backup keeper Ashlyn Harris.
Samantha Mewis | Age: 26 | Caps: 47 | Position: Central midfielder
Mewis was an NWSL MVP finalist and ever-present for the USWNT in 2017. But a November knee injury that year has proven to be a massive setback. She’s only started four national team games since. She’ll have some role to play in France, but it’ll likely begin as a bench one.
Allie Long | Age: 31 | Caps: 42 | Position: Central midfielder
Long is a very capable ball-winner in midfield, and could be an option off the bench if Ellis wants to buckle up a late lead.
Morgan Brian | Age: 26 | Caps: 82 | Position: Central midfielder
Brian was the U.S. midfield’s connective tissue back in 2015, starting four games, even as the team’s youngest member. She remained a regular throughout 2016, into 2017. Then injuries started to interfere. A knee ailment here, a groin strain there. They’ve nagged her for years now, and became more and more perplexing as time went on. “She has had an issue for quite some time and nobody’s been able to pinpoint what that is,” her head coach with the Chicago Red Stars, Rory Dames, said in late-March.
The USWNT, meanwhile, was preparing for April friendlies without Brian. Many assumed her World Cup hopes had been dashed. But Ellis, after flying to Chicago to meet with Brian and Dames, and after a “thorough process,” included her in the 23.
“As much as you want to focus on the here and now, you also know what someone is like,” Ellis said when asked about Brian. “Having been on that [World Cup] journey with Moe certainly helped her, and helped me with my decision. When you look at a player, it’s not just what they do on the field, it’s trusting them ... and knowing that Moe will always know her role, always do her job.”
Mallory Pugh | Age: 21 | Caps: 50 | Position: Winger
Pugh turned pro as a teenager, after less than a semester at UCLA. Even before that, she was an Olympian, starting two games for the U.S. at Rio 2016 and becoming the youngest American to score an Olympic goal.
It’s tempting to interpret the fact that she’s still a bench weapon as stalled development. But that’s entirely unfair to a dynamic attacker who 1) is stuck behind Heath and Rapinoe, 2) would start on almost any other team in the world, and 3) just celebrated her 21st birthday!
Christen Press | Age: 30 | Caps: 113 | Position: Winger/Striker
Press, like Pugh, is far too talented to be wearing substitute bibs. She’s emblematic of the USWNT’s depth. At least 25 of the 31 other nations at the World Cup would pay hefty bribes to have a player that can do this in their starting 11:
But Press is not better than Morgan. Nor Rapinoe, nor Heath – and she’s more effective through the middle anyway. So she’ll be one of the most impactful reserves in France.
Carli Lloyd | Age: 36 | Caps: 271 | Position: Striker/Attacking midfielder
The technical ability and instincts are still there. The mobility, not so much. So Lloyd – a dominant midfielder and World Cup final hat-trick hero in 2015 – has been relegated to a supersub role. She’ll see the field if and when the U.S. desperately needs a goal.
Jessica McDonald | Age: 31 | Caps: 7 | Position: Striker
McDonald’s path to the World Cup might be the most remarkable of the 23. She was traded four times in her first three NWSL seasons. She played for six different clubs between 2012 and 2016, didn’t yet have a national team call-up at age 28, and has admitted that thoughts of retirement entered her mind.
Her son, born in 2012 – McDonald is the only mother on the U.S. World Cup roster – was one of her motivations to keep pushing. Keep grinding. And she did just that, to an NWSL championship game MVP this past fall. Her strong 2018 earned her a place in the 23 as an aerial presence up front off the bench, with a long throw – somebody who, Ellis said, can “change a game.”
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