New U.S. women's national team coach Vlatko Andonovski's roster for the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament includes 18 of the 23 players who helped the American team win the 2019 World Cup, but there was no room for young stars Mallory Pugh and Tierna Davidson.
Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd headline the continuity, seeking to become four-time Olympians -- and three-time gold medalists -- if the U.S. qualifies and they make the final roster this summer.
The upcoming eight-team qualifying tournament in Texas and California determines which two teams will represent CONCACAF in Japan.
Because Olympic rosters are capped at 20 players, three fewer than World Cups, Andonovski was never going to be able to keep exactly the same team that Jill Ellis coached to the title in France last summer. And unlike four years ago, when several players retired after the U.S. won the 2015 World Cup, almost all players remained in contention for qualifying. This time only Alex Morgan, who is expecting her first child, wasn't part of the team's January training camp.
The four World Cup winners who were invited to the most recent training camp but were not selected for the qualifying roster are midfielders Morgan Brian and Allie Long, defender Davidson and forward Pugh. None of the four played any minutes for the U.S. once it reached the knockout rounds of last summer's World Cup.
The omission of Davidson, Pugh, both 21, represents at least a temporary setback for two of the highest-profile young American players.
The NWSL No. 1 overall pick in 2019, Davidson is still recovering from an ankle injury sustained during the NWSL playoffs. She was invited to the recent training camp but Andonovski indicated she was not able to participate to any extensive degree and would likely not be physically ready to play 90 minutes in time for qualifying.
Carli Lloyd is 'a different animal'
Mallory Pugh looks back on her early days with the USWNT and feeling "starstruck" by Carli Lloyd.
Pugh, who was traded from the Washington Spirit to Sky Blue FC on Wednesday, made the Olympic roster fresh out of high school in 2016. She then bypassed college without ever playing a game at UCLA and turned pro. But she has struggled at times to stay healthy and become a consistent dominant presence in the NWSL, even as she made the World Cup roster in 2019.
"It was competitive and she did well, but there were other players that I believed performed better than Mal," Andonovski said. "Now, by saying that, I want to be clear that she is a very good, very talented player. She performed well. She has a big future in front of her. I'm pretty sure that if she keeps on developing going forward, she will be on this roster."
To that end, Andonovski also said that Pugh, uniquely among the omissions, would continue to train with the team despite not being included on the roster.
The degree of roster continuity also suggests Andonovski doesn't intend to dramatically alter the shape or style of the U.S. from last year. That is most evident in the selection of Crystal Dunn as a defender. A prolific scorer as a forward or midfielder in club football, winning NWSL MVP honors with the Washington Spirit in 2015 and helping the North Carolina Courage win the past two NWSL titles, Dunn was cast as a fullback for the U.S. en route to World Cup success.
In not selecting other options at the position -- like Midge Purce or Casey Short, both of whom participated in the January camp -- Andonovski indicated that Dunn will remain a defender.
"At least for now she's a defender," Andonovski said. "But going forward, I would not be surprised if we see her in another role."
The rest of the back line is made up of Abby Dahlkemper, Ali Krieger, Kelley O'Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn and Emily Sonnett, while the World Cup goalkeeping trio of Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher remains intact.
Midfielder Andi Sullivan and forward Lynn Williams are the only members of the qualifying roster who were not part of the World Cup roster. Sullivan, 24, and Williams, 26, each debuted for the U.S. under Ellis and have double-digit career international appearances.
Sullivan joins World Cup holders Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle and Samantha Mewis in a young midfield that looks like the cornerstone of the future. Williams joins Heath, Lloyd, Jessica McDonald, Christen Press and Ballon d'Or winner Megan Rapinoe on the front line.
In addition to Heath and Lloyd attempting to reach the Olympic for a fourth time, O'Hara, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn are each seeking a third trip to the Olympics. Morgan, who won the Silver Boot (given to the tournament's second-leading scorer) in the most recent World Cup and has said she hopes to make the final roster this summer if the U.S. qualifies, would also be seeking a third Olympic appearance.
The U.S. opens qualifying against Haiti on Jan. 28 in Houston, where it will remain for additional group games against Panama and Costa Rica. The U.S. is a combined 23-0-0 against those three opponents in its history, outscoring them 137-2. That includes a 6-0 win against Costa Rica, the highest ranked of the three in FIFA's world rankings, to close the 2019 schedule.
The winner of the U.S.'s group will play a semifinal in Carson, California, against the second-place team from the group containing Canada, Jamaica, Mexico and St. Kitts and Nevis. The winners of both semifinals qualify for the Olympics.
Unlike World Cup qualifying, there is no possible route to qualification for the semifinal losers.