Head coach Vlatko Andonovski of the United States looks on prior to the start of the game against on March 8, 2020 in Harrison, N.J.
Vlatko Andonovski has one thing on his mind these days, even when he isn’t trying to think about it.
That subject is which 18 players the U.S. women’s soccer head coach will select for the national team’s Olympic roster. With the Send-Off Series against Mexico right around the corner in East Hartford, Connecticut, on July 1 and 5, Andonovski must make those decisions soon.
“It’s probably easier to tell you how often I don’t think about it,” he said during a Zoom media conference call earlier this week. “It is crazy but it’s always in the back of your mind. If there’s one second that something doesn’t drag your mind away, that’s what you think about. I can’t tell how much I think about it, but it is a lot.”
After the USWNT’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria in the final match of the Summer Series in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday night, Andonovski and his staff will go to work.
The math is difficult. In contrast to the 23-player rosters for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, only 18 players will be selected for the Olympic tournament, plus four alternates.
At least five players who competed in France in 2019 won’t be on this roster. And that doesn’t include any newcomers vying to make the team.
The first 15 roster spots are pretty straight forward.
Here are the 15 players who appear to be locks:
Goalkeepers: Alyssa Naeher, Adrianna Franch
Defenders: Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Midge Purce
Midfielders: Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis
Forwards: Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press
Ertz, who is recovering from an MCL injury she suffered while playing for the Chicago Red Stars in the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League opener, did not play in the Summer Series. Forward Tobin Heath has been working out with the USWNT but hasn’t played since Dec. 20 due to a knee injury. She is a longshot to go to Tokyo.
Seven women are battling for the final three spots — defenders Tierna Davidson and Emily Sonnett, midfielders Kristie Mewis, Catarina Macario and Andi Sullivan, and forward Lynn Williams.
Player selection will come down to who is in better form and more versatile and where depth is needed. Mewis, who had a strong game Wednesday, and Williams, who scored only minutes after entering the match, three minutes into second-half stoppage time, helped their causes.
Roster selection is hardly an exact science. While experience is important, so is thinking about the future, Andonovski said. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if he picked a promising younger player over a veteran.
“Development is a major factor in choosing the roster, because it’s almost not fair to the younger players if you don’t take that in consideration,” he said. “If we’re taking experiences in consideration, we have to (consider) development … on the other side. We take that into consideration when we’re making decisions.”
Kristie Mewis, who played for Andonovski when he coached FC Kansas City in the NWSL years ago, felt she and her teammates will get a fair shot.
“He is so transparent. He’s blunt. He’ll tell you how it is. I think that’s something that is super important at this level,” she said. “I think all of us are mature enough and old enough to just know the truth. I obviously love that.
“… It makes me trust him even more that he can just say those things to my face. I just think that everyone responds better to that. At least I do. So, I love that part about him. I do trust him with everything. That’s just definitely one thing that I think is why he is where he is today, and that’s coaching the national team. He gets so much respect for that.”
Andonovski wouldn’t give any clues as to when those decisions will come down, whether it would be Thursday, Friday or next week.
“I feel pretty good we have very good knowledge of the players,” he said. “I have accumulated a lot of knowledge, and lots of data for other players in the last year and a half. So, when the decision time comes, I believe that we are going to make the right decision.”
So, just how much is building a roster on Andonovski’s mind?
Even though the U.S. won’t kick off the Olympic tournament for another month, believe it or not he admitted that he already is thinking about the 2023 Women’s World Cup roster.
“To some degree, we’re thinking about the World Cup roster already,” Andonovski said. “Yes, once the Olympic Games (are done), we’re going to dive a little deeper into it.”