The 2020 Summer Olympics women’s soccer games are scheduled to kick-off on July 22nd. With the Lady Yanks handily winning the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament and earning a trip to Tokyo this summer, what is next up for Colorado’s Lindsey Horan’s and the Concacaf Champions?
My thinking? What lies ahead for us all in the next 5 1/2 months is a Battle of the Ages. An all-out slugfest between a gang of fan favorites—multi-talented, world-class footballers, who (deservingly so) want to make the slim U.S. Women’s Olympic Team’s roster. Head Coach Vladko Andonovski has his work cut out for him, with a cast of over 50 overachieving women to choose from (23 of whom played in the 2019 World Cup), but must narrow it down to a fixed 18-player Olympic team roster.
If Olympic teams rosters were to be submitted tomorrow, here are my predictions of who Andonovski would invite to Japan to fill in his preferred 4-3-3 playing formation:
1. Megan Rapinoe*
2. Tobin Heath
3. Christen Press
4. Carli Lloyd
6. Jessica McDonald
1. Julie Ertz
2. Lindsey Horan
3. Rose Lavelle
4. Sam Mewis
5. Andi Sullivan
1. Abby Dahlkemper
2. Kelley O’Hara
3. Crystal Dunn
4. Becky Sauerbrunn
5. Tierna Davidson
1. Alyssa Naeher
2. Ashlyn Harris
(*Starters in bold)
Given that the roster submission deadline is still months away, Andonovski is under no immediate pressure. And that plays right into his philosophy for fielding the best available squad.
In not so many words, he is eager to let the competition resume already. Speaking with reporters after the USWNT was crowded the Concacaf Champs last Sunday in Carson, California, Andonovski responded to a query about he expects open competition and opportunities for all of the hopefuls.
“Absolutely. I’m saying that because the NWSL (North America Women’s Soccer League) will have a big part of who is going to be on the (Olympic team) roster. We actually have a meeting with the coaching staff to organize ourselves, and put a plan in place to see and supervise the players that are on the team, but also players that we feel have a chance to make this roster.” He added, “So players that helped us qualify and did well in this tournament will have to maintain a good form in order to be on the roster for the coming Olympics.”
Where does Horan fit in?
Barring any catastrophic injuries, Lindsey Horan’s chance of making the 18-person roster is excellent. Having five midfielders on the roster is ideal. It gives Andonovski a pair of alternates, some flexibility in sending out a formidable starting XI, and the ability to call on a sub with fresh legs, deep into any one of the matches.
Horan boosted her stock value during the Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers by starting five of the seven games and scoring six goals, including a hat trick against Panama. She dished out two assists, earned Player of the Match honors, and played aggressively both on and off the ball.
Horan scored her sixth goal during the 3-0 finals win over Canada. Fellow midfielder Samantha Mewis punted a cross from the left wing to the right side of the box. The ball found Lynn Williams, who headed a pass to Horan. With a swift first touch, Horan lifted the ball past Canada’s Allysha Chapman and then slapped a quick left-footed shot into the lower right corner of the net. Her six-goal production gave the Golden, Colorado, native 18 career goals for Team USA.
Is Horan a clinch to win a roster spot? No. Should she feel pressure? Certainly. She did not start in the opener and semifinal matches of the Concacaf Olympic Qualification Tournament when Andonovski selected midfielders who started in the World Cup Final. Or was he just giving Horan time to rest and recover?
Add to that, Horan has capable competitors nipping at her heels, including Morgan Brian, Allie Long, and Andi Sullivan. Can she fall out of Andonovski’s good graces between now and the summer games? Yes. World Cup roster member Mallory Pugh and one of Horan’s best teammates was put on the back burner and left off of the USA’s Concacaf team roster after the team’s January 2020 camp in Tampa, Florida.
The Great Horan will just have to double-down on her efforts during the next five months and win one of the 18 prized roster spots the old-fashion way: by staying injury-free, in great form, and practicing and playing with grit and tenacity.
The challenge of making an Olympic roster
In a recent interview with New York Times Assistant Sports Editor, Andrew Das, television broadcaster and former USWNT star Aly Wagner said that making an Olympic team is “cutthroat. It is competitive and feisty and intense every day.” She then elaborated: “It’s emotionally a lot, for each of these players, if you’re playing and starting, it’s perfect. If you’re scratching and clawing to get into this roster, or get into the lineup, it’s a grind.”
Horan’s fellow midfielder Julie Ertz added: “Every game, every play, every practice, it’s very intense. We take it very seriously, and we have a standard we hold each other to.”
As for the battle, before next month’s SheBelieves Cup, Andonovski and staff will call-in members of the Olympic qualifying team and select players from the NWSL. The U.S. will face England, Japan, and Spain from March 5th through 11th, during the three-city SheBelieves Cup tournament, with doubleheaders being played in Orlando, Florida; Frisco, Texas; and Harrison, New Jersey.
And according to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the invited players should also expect to see playing time during a pair of friendlies in both April, June, and July. Brazil and Germany are among the teams that will here to face off against still-to-be-determined Team USA.
In the end, Andonovski and company will have to make some difficult decisions to pair down their Olympic hopefuls to an even 18 players.
May the best women win, and let the competition begin.