USWNT stock watch: Reflections on the Olympic qualifying tournament
Updated: Feb 22, 2020
The United States women completed Olympic qualifying in style, rampaging through the tournament in a series of lopsided, shutout victories. Qualification was never in serious doubt, of course, but new head coach Vlatko Andonovski will certainly be happy to have encountered smooth sailing in his first set of competitive matches.
This also provides a nice opportunity to reflect on the stock of various players. While qualifying was not especially competitive and shouldn’t be overinterpreted, it certainly did provide some more information about the players vying for the short supply of roster spots this summer. Let's take a look at who improved their case, and who did themselves some damage.
Christen Press. She deservedly won the tournament’s Golden Ball for some incandescent play, including several absolutely outrageous goals. Press has been the best U.S. striker for over a year at this point, and it seems increasingly hard to believe she shouldn’t be a starter. The only real question is whether she has so successfully redefined herself as a wide player that she needs to be played out there. If so, starting her would probably mean sitting Megan Rapinoe. On form, that feels perfectly defensible, but it might be a tough sell.
Lynn Williams. Despite consistently scoring for her club team (finishing 1st or 2nd in the NWSL three of the last four years), Williams never got much of a look from Jill Ellis. The arrival of Andonovski has given her a new lease, and she certainly took advantage of it here, scoring three goals and assisting five more. With Alex Morgan’s pregnancy and struggles from some of the other strikers, Williams appears to have given herself a serious shot of making the Olympic 18.
Ali Krieger. After an extended period out of the national team, Krieger was brought back right before the World Cup after every other fullback experiment failed to bear fruit. Under Andonovski, however, Krieger seems to be a serious contender at center back. She played quite well there across several games in qualifying, bringing a lot of attacking flair to the role. On a constrained roster, positional flexibility is huge, which might give Krieger a real shot—something that felt inconceivable 12 months ago. On the other hand, she struggled a bit in the final against Canada, letting several good attacks through. That means SheBelieves might be the true test. If she can perform well against tougher opposition, it could be enough to write her ticket. If not, she’ll probably miss out.
Kelley O'Hara. There was nothing special about O'Hara's performances in the tournament. She was just her normal excellent self. But the crucial thing is that she seemed healthy. She's spent the last few cycles almost supernaturally spacing out her injuries to ensure a relatively clean bill of health for all the big international tournaments. Based on these performances, it seems like that might just happen again this year.
Alex Morgan. Yes, really. She obviously didn't play, but she still managed to demonstrate incredible skill even at 7 months pregnant in training. More importantly, she also benefited from her potential replacements failing to take the opportunity of her absence to lock down the role. Morgan has said she plans to be ready to go by the time the Olympics roll around. If no one else has staked a claim to the #9 position, it will certainly help her chances.
Jessica McDonald. Playing in the wide right and central roles, McDonald didn’t do much with the minutes she was given in qualifying. She wasn’t bad—literally zero U.S. players were actually bad over the course of the tournament—but she also didn’t do much to stake a claim to the job. She’s a very smart player, generally, but her linking play here wasn’t great, and she rarely got meaningfully engaged in the attack. The reality is that she probably wasn’t making the 18 anyway, but a special performance here could have opened up the question a bit more. That didn’t happen, and McDonald now feels like a pretty serious long shot.
Carli Lloyd. It’s long been assumed that Lloyd was the likeliest backup to Morgan. She is best playing centrally, and on occasion does do the same sort of work as Morgan—providing a focal point around which everyone else can circulate. She had one outstanding game—against Costa Rica—which made a powerful case for her in that role. Unfortunately, she also had several bad games in which she functioned as an anchor on the attack. There’s nothing new about this. She has long been a frustrating player who can turn up huge when things are on the line, and that still seems true. But no one defeats time forever, and if the tide is turning, it might go out quick.
Adrianna Franch. She didn’t play, so this has nothing to do with Franch’s own performance. But Ashlyn Harris did get a game and did perfectly fine in the job. That’s a good indication that she remains the #2 under the new coach. With only two roster spots for keepers in the Olympics, that suggests Franch may end up on the unfortunate side of the cut.
Emily Sonnett. The best news for Sonnett is that Casey Short didn’t make the roster, leaving her plenty of opportunities to display her competence. The worst news for Sonnett is that she didn’t do anything in these matches to display anything more than the competence we already know she has. Ultimately, her core selling point is versatility—she can play center back or fullback—which is certainly valuable. But she isn’t a particularly dynamic fullback and is also pretty clearly down the ranks in terms of preferred center backs. A return to full health for Tierna Davidson presumably would knock Sonnett another step lower on the rung, which might be the difference between making the 18 and missing it.
Andi Sullivan. Sullivan would walk right into the starting XI for almost any team in the world. Unfortunately for her, she’s competing for a spot in what might be the most stacked position anywhere in global soccer. If you already have Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz and Rose Lavelle, it’s going to be tough for anyone else to break through. Also, Crystal Dunn! Sullivan certainly did well in the one game she played against Panama, but it’s notable that this was her only chance to play. That’s not a great sign for her chances going forward, especially given how aggressively Andonovski rotated in other positions.
Lindsey Horan. Horan ended up the odd one out more often than not last summer. It remains to be seen whether that will continue with the new coach. Significant rotation meant we never got a clear sense of how he views the midfield setup. Horan certainly did well in her opportunities, but this still has to be regarded as an open question.