If the United States is to retain the Women’s World Cup championship this summer in France, repeat the glory of four years ago in Canada and post consecutive titles for the first time in the program’s decorated history, Jill Ellis believes experience is the pathway to the trophy.
The U.S. coach made that abundantly clear in explaining her roster selections Thursday. Most of her 23-member squad had been locked in place for a year, but in filling the last few slots, she turned to tried-and-trusted players.
At the end of a 40-minute conference call with reporters, she capsulized the general theme of her decision-making process with this comment: “World Cups aren’t a moment to invest in players; World Cups are about winning.”
With that philosophy, Ellis turned to two World Cup veterans, even though neither has been in the mix much this year and one had seemingly disappeared from consideration.
Ali Krieger and Morgan Brian made the cut, at the expense of candidates who were unproven on soccer’s grandest stage.
“Some of the players, you don’t ever know until that moment that they are in the pressure cooker of a World Cup quarterfinal or semifinal,” Ellis said. “No one, I feel, on this roster, knowing the psychological makeup, is going to melt in this pressure cooker.”
As the last decisions loomed, the heat of past World Cups and Olympics endeared Krieger and Brian to Ellis. Krieger, 34, started in the past two World Cups.
Brian, 26, was a pivotal figure in the championship campaign four years ago.
On a roster stacked with talent, neither seems likely to start any matches. But having them as an option seemed to play into Ellis’s decisions.
“Having been on the journey with Mo certainly helped her and helped me in that decision,” Ellis said of Brian, who, amid injuries, had not appeared in a U.S. training camp since January.
“It’s not just what they can do on the field; it’s trusting them to execute in a massive world event and knowing Mo will always know her role, always do her job.”
Another player to fit that description was midfielder Allie Long, 31, who, despite just two brief appearances this year, had proved her value by starting three matches at the 2016 Olympics.
With Krieger, Brian and Long in, defender Casey Short and midfielders McCall Zerboni and Andi Sullivan (Lorton, Va.; Washington Spirit) were out. None have played in the World Cup or Olympics.
In all, 12 players selected Thursday were on the 2015 World Cup squad and four others participated in the Olympics a year later. Most of the other seven have received regular call-ups for some time.
“Even though there are younger players per se, they’ve been with us for a while and have experienced a lot of top quality matches,” Ellis said of players such as Mallory Pugh, a Washington Spirit attacker. “Ultimately, that is what you want. Those games provide the most answers.”
Just 21, Pugh has already appeared in 50 international matches, including the Olympics. Lindsey Horan, 24, is Ellis’s most important midfielder.
The core of the team, though, lies with a weathered bunch, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath. At 36, Carli Lloyd, hat-trick hero in the 2015 final against Japan, is heading to her fourth and final World Cup, where she will be a role player.
The average age is 28, the same as in 2015, when experience and depth helped propel the United States to its first crown in 16 years.
The other theme Ellis emphasized was versatility. With injuries and suspensions bound to strike, she wanted the flexibility to move players into other positions.
Ertz, for instance, was showered with praise for her performance as a center back in 2015; she is now the starting defensive midfielder. If necessary, Ellis will not hesitate to return her to the back line.
Crystal Dunn is a converted left back who could end up seeing time in the attack. Kelley O’Hara, whose recovering ankle boosted Krieger’s roster prospects, is the first-choice right back but also a capable left back.
In addressing Krieger’s inclusion, Ellis spoke as if she were discussing any number of players on the roster.
“What I know about Ali Krieger is no moment is ever going to be too big for her," Ellis said. "For a coach, when you get down to this point, the psychological piece is also part of the consideration. They are all players who have experienced big moments, know what it takes, have lived in those moments.”
Should the Americans fall short of the championship, Ellis believes, nerves and inexperience will not be the reason.
U.S. World Cup roster
Age: 28. Hometown: Salina, Kan. College: Oklahoma State. Club: Portland Thorns.
U.S. matches: 1.
Age: 33. Hometown: Satellite Beach, Fla. College: North Carolina. Club: Orlando Pride.
U.S. matches: 21.
Age: 31. Hometown: Stratford, Conn. College: Penn State. Club: Chicago Red Stars.
U.S. matches: 43.
Age: 25. Hometown: Menlo Park, Calif. College: UCLA. Club: North Carolina Courage.
U.S. matches/goals: 37/0.
Age: 20. Hometown: Menlo Park, Calif. College: Stanford. Club: Chicago Red Stars.
U.S. matches/goals: 19/1.
Age: 26. Hometown: Rockville Centre, N.Y. College: North Carolina. Club: North Carolina Courage.
U.S. matches/goals: 83/24.
Age: 34. Hometown: Dumfries, Va. College: Penn State. Club: Orlando Pride.
U.S. matches/goals: 99/1.
Age: 30. Hometown: Fayetteville, Ga. College: Stanford. Club: Utah Royals.
U.S. matches/goals: 115/2.
Age: 33. Hometown: St. Louis. College: Virginia. Club: Utah Royals.
U.S. matches/goals: 155/0.
Age: 25. Hometown: Marietta, Ga. College: Virginia. Club: Portland Thorns.
U.S. matches/goals: 31/0.
Age: 26. Hometown: St. Simons, Ga. College: Virginia. Club: Chicago Red Stars.
U.S. matches/goals: 82/6.
Age: 27. Hometown: Mesa, Ariz. College: Santa Clara. Club: Chicago Red Stars.
U.S. matches/goals: 79/18.
Age: 24. Hometown: Golden, Colo. College: none. Club: Portland Thorns.
U.S. matches/goals: 66/8.
Age: 23. Hometown: Cincinnati. College: Wisconsin. Club: Washington Spirit.
U.S. matches/goals: 24/6.
Age: 31. Hometown: Northport, N.Y. College: North Carolina. Club: Reign FC.
U.S. matches/goals: 42/6.
Age: 26. Hometown: Hanson, Mass. College: UCLA. Club: North Carolina Courage.
U.S. matches/goals: 47/9.
Age: 30. Hometown: Basking Ridge, N.J. College: North Carolina. Club: Portland Thorns.
U.S. matches/goals: 147/28.
Age: 36. Hometown: Delran, N.J. College: Rutgers. Club: Sky Blue FC.
U.S. matches/goals: 271/107.
Age: 31. Hometown: Glendale, Ariz. College: North Carolina. Club: North Carolina Courage.
U.S. matches/goals: 7/2.
Age: 29. Hometown: Diamond Bar, Calif. College: California. Club: Orlando Pride.
U.S. matches/goals: 160/101.
Age: 30. Hometown: Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. College: Stanford. Club: Utah Royals.
U.S. matches/goals: 113/47.
Age: 21. Hometown: Highlands Ranch, Colo. College: none. Club: Washington Spirit.
U.S. matches/goals: 50/15.
Age: 33. Hometown: Redding, Calif. College: Portland. Club: Reign FC.
U.S. matches/goals: 150/44.