By Tim Grainey
The next major tournament for the U.S. women’s national team is the 2012 London Olympics and Soccer365’s Tim Grainey looks at who has the inside track to one of the 18 roster spots as well as looking back on the Stars and Stripes recent tour of Japan.
U.S. Olympic Roster Projections
The key question upcoming for the U.S. side is who will make the Olympic Games Team for the summer tournament in London. The U.S. has to cut down from the 23 players they took to Japan to 18 for the Olympics, three fewer than for a World Cup. Looking at the 23 player roster for the Kirin Cup tournament, midfielders Lori Lindsey and defenders Whitney Engen and Megan Klingenberg did not play at all. Neither did Nicole Barnhart and Ashlyn Harris, the two reserve goalkeepers. Former National Team head coach Tony DiCicco, who did studio work for ESPN2 during the tournament, felt that the 17 players who received game time during the two games in Japan--along with Barnhart, have the inside track to an Olympic Team spot. That’s a good starting assumption, but we see a few tweaks to the final roster:
Goalkeepers—Two will make the squad, with one backup in case of injury, who may practice with the team but won’t count towards the 18. Hope Solo is a lock as a starter. Nicole Barnhart should have a sufficient body of work, along with a strong WPS season in 2011 in Philadelphia, to make the flight. Ashlyn Harris or Portsdam's Alyssa Naeher could make a late push and both represent a strong future for the Americans in goal.
Defenders—Seven could go to provide tactical options and in case of injuries. Shoe-ins would be Rachel Buehler, Amy LePielbet, Christine Rampone and Becky Sauerbrunn. Kelley O’Hara has stepped into the Ali Krieger’s position after her injury in the Vancouver CONCACAF Qualification Tournament and could play in a midfield or forward position if necessary. Stephanie Cox will likely support from the bench, with Whitney Engen an outside bet to pip Heather Mitts for the plane ride to London. Meghan Klingenberg will probably miss out as well, but could be a leader for the next World Cup side.
Midfielder—Five would go to London rather than the conventional six, which would allow an extra defender on-board. Carli Lloyd showed inspirational play in Japan and provides brilliance and creativity in key moments of important games. Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe are locks. The final position will be between Tobin Heath and Amy Rodriguez. If Pia Sundhage is comfortable with her four forwards, she could select the dribbling phenomena Heath and leave A-Rod at home. If she needs another scorer, Heath stays home, along with Lori Lindsey in either scenario.
Forwards—All four who were in Japan should make it to London: Lauren Cheney, Sidney Leroux, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. Leroux only played eight minutes on the trip but linked up well with Morgan when the U.S. won the 2008 U-20 World Cup. Her five goals in one game in Vancouver in January was one of the memorable events of the tournament. If Pia Sundhage resigns after the London Olympics, as is being rumored in her native Sweden in order to take up a coaching or administrative role in their federation, then she would be leaving her successor a strong youth base by giving Leroux her first senior World Tournament. For stalwarts like Rampone, Boxx, and possibly Lloyd, this could be their last major event, and the side needs more young talent to integrate ahead of the 2015 World Cup in Canada. Unfortunately, with WPS on hold for 2012—if not indefinitely—there will be virtually no opportunity for a player to come on late for a spot, as has happened in the past with Shannon Boxx and Angela Hucles.
Have Your Say...Who do you think will make the U.S. WNT roster for the Olympics? Why? Sound off at the bottom of this article.
U.S. Trip to Japan Successful Despite Being Edged For The Title on Goal Differential
In their first game of their trip on April 1 in Sendai before a crowd of 15, 159--near the epicenter of last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami--the Americans fought back from a goal down to tie Japan 1-1. Japan’s Yukari Kinga scored from a goalmouth scramble in the 32nd minute but once again, it was the late heroics of Alex Morgan, who scored in the 73rd minute—her sixth tally in eight matches—to pull her side even with the reigning World Cup champions. Morgan’s goal was first ruled offsides, but the referee allowed it after determining that she received the ball from a ricochet off of a Japanese defender as Carli Lloyd attempted to pass the ball. Morgan now has 22 goals in 37 national team appearances.
Head Coach Pia Sundhage felt that the game was beneficial to her team, aiming to win their third consecutive Olympic Game title this summer: “It was an important game for us and excellent environment. I am so grateful that we got this kind of game. We can learn from how we played in the first half and how we changed it in the second half [where the U.S. outshot Japan 5-4 after a 3-6 disadvantage on shots in the first half.] It is great when you have such a big crowd watching and cheering when it really matters, and today it did.”
In the second game two days later in Chiba, the U.S. defeated Brazil 3-0 on goals by Carli Lloyd (18th minute), Shannon Boxx (23rd) and Amy Rodriquez (83rd minute). U.S. Head Coach Pia Sundhage was very pleased with the result: “Playing against Brazil is always good. I think in the first half the speed of play was good and we scored two good goals on set pieces, which is something we talk about and prepare the team for. At halftime, we made some changes because we wanted some players to get some minutes against a very good team. Overall, I am happy with the tournament. Playing Japan and Brazil in April as preparation for the Olympics is very good for this team.”
The game had just a few hundred fans because the start was advanced four hours to avoid the worst of impending heavy rains and high winds. Lloyd’s goal was her 36th international goal while Rodriguez tallied her 24th.
Brazilian superstar Marta was with her new Swedish side Tyreso and unavailable for her country’s trip, Marta played the last three years in WPS, winning the last two WPS Championships with FC Gold Pride and Western New York Flash after a previous stint in Sweden with Umea. Former Chicago Red Star forward Cristiane played the entire match and Brazil is once again coached by Jorge Barcellos, who coached St. Louis Athletica in WPS until it folded in 2010.
Japan won the tournament title on April 5 in Kobe by defeating Brazil 4-1 on goals by Yuki Nagasato (1. FFC Turbine Potsdam), midfielder Aya Miyama (ex Los Angeles Sol, St. Louis Athletica and Atlanta Beat), and forward Yuika Sugasawa (Albirex Niigata Ladies of Japan). Miyama also had a long free kick headed into the Brazil goal from defender Daiane. Former WUSA and WPS star and current FIFA World Player of the Year Homare Sawa has been suffering from vertigo and did not play in this tournament. Francielle, who won a WPS title with Sky Blue FC in 2009, scored Brazil’s lone goal of the tournament.
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