The USWNT Is A Puzzle. Only Take The Pieces That Fit.
The US women’s national team roster for the Olympics is going to drop any day. Between the time I start writing this and the time I end up writing this it may already have dropped. Only Vlatko knows when the timing is just right to send us all into a flurry of hot takes after all.
There are a lot of interesting things we might see when the roster drops. But there's a common theme to debate that seems to always form around the time the USWNT roster--really any women’s soccer rosters--is about to drop.
I’m not going to tell you who I think should make the roster in this piece. You can tune into the next episode to Dashing to the Races for my thoughts on the 18. What I do want to do here is offer a small plea: when thinking about who should make the 18, look at the team as a whole and not just at individual players.
As it does every time the USWNT does anything the conversation has been forming around individual player talent and often times--though to be fair not in ever case--the team as a whole seems to be an after though.
Talent at this level is a given. To even be in the conversation on if you should make a USWNT Olympic or World Cup roster indicates that you have at least enough talent to be called into the national team camp. It is true that conversations around if a particular player is playing better or worse than a past version of themselves can be fair when trying to figure out what their talent may be during the time of the tournament. It’s not uncalled for to note a player was doing very well two years ago but in the last year hasn’t been but looks to be on the upswing. We all know this can be debated and talked about for weeks. Even months or years in some cases. I know, I’ve seen Twitter do it. But talent overall on an extraordinary level is necessary to even be in the player pool in the first place.
I have never been the head coach of a national team but I do know enough to say with some confidence that when you are putting together a roster you can’t pick players based off of individual talent in a vacuum without thought to the group as a whole. Soccer is not an individual sport with the team component to it but a team sport with an individual component. In other words the US women’s national soccer team is not the US gymnastics team. In gymnastics individual players can compete in individual events at the same time as team events. Soccer is a team sport where individual brilliance can make or break a game but it’s more often that the team overall makes or breaks games.
As I’ve watched people on social media talk about if this player or that player should make it, often where they fit in the puzzle that is the USWNT is left out. Carli Lloyd has been at the center of this debate lately.
I do not believe that anyone making a good-faith argument into why Lloyd--or Ertz or Heath or a number of players outside of the USWNT preferred XI--should or shouldn't make the Olympic 18 is saying that she is bad. It’s a question of fit on the team, what the team already has in it’s toolbox and preparation for the future.
Taking someone who is on the last third of their career over someone who could very well be a starter in 2023 is a risk/reward bet that a coach could reasonably make. But so is telling a player who has a storied career that there are options they are going to go with instead. With a pool as talented and deep as the USWNT there are rarely truly bad choices. Outside of poorly put together back threes.
So as we prepare for the roster to drop just remember this. The USWNT is a puzzle and some pieces, some very good pieces, just don’t fit the puzzle as it currently is. Some of the pieces once did and some will fit in the future. But if a piece doesn’t fit then for both the piece and the puzzle as a whole it should be placed off to the side.