Friday’s selections afforded a few minor surprises and a glimpse into Andonovski’s thinking as the Summer Games approach and a new World Cup cycle begins.
The Americans, who have not lost in a year, should breeze through Concacaf group play in Houston Jan. 28-Feb. 3, then clear a semifinal hurdle in Carson, Calif., on Feb. 7 to earn an opportunity for a fifth gold medal since 1996.
From the roster choices, we learned:
Mallory Pugh’s fall is very real. No one has wanted to believe it or say it publicly because the Colorado-born attacker was anointed the next big thing. She skipped college soccer and was an Olympian at age 18.
Now 21, Pugh has not progressed as a player, for either club or country. That manifested into two jarring setbacks in 24 hours: traded by the Washington Spirit for four draft picks and left off the Olympic qualifying list.
“I really had hopes of her taking off,” Spirit Coach Richie Burke said Thursday.
Andonovski said “other players performed better. … Sometimes you are in form or sometimes out of form. For Mal, consistency is crucial for being on this roster. She needs to be more consistent day-to-day.”
That said, no one is giving up on Pugh, who, when in top form, is a terrifying force on the flanks. She will get a fresh start in the NWSL with Sky Blue FC, paired with, among others, veteran Carli Lloyd.
Acknowledging Pugh’s potential, Andonovski said he has invited her to train with the squad before the Olympic qualifiers. “If she keeps on developing, she will be in this process,” he said. “We want to provide the best opportunity for her to develop and monitor her development.”
She accepted the invitation, which, the coach added, “is the right mentality for this team. She said she would do whatever it takes.”
Andi Sullivan’s rise is very real. Only two players who were not part of the World Cup setup last summer were selected for Olympic qualifying: Sullivan and Lynn Williams.
With open-field skills and a finishing touch, Williams, 26, will help offset the absence of superstar forward Alex Morgan, who is pregnant with her first child. Sullivan, 24, did not fill a void; she beat out World Cup members Allie Long and Morgan Brian for a roster slot in central midfield.
Any doubts about her place in the national team (despite only 15 appearances) were put to rest with this assignment. The South County High School graduate (Lorton, Va.) will join Spirit teammate Rose Lavelle in the midfield mix.
Andonovski said Sullivan’s abilities allow him, when necessary, to move Julie Ertz from defensive midfield to center back.
Carli Lloyd is not going away. The World Cup triumph last summer figured to be the exit ramp for Lloyd, who was about to turn 37 and had been reduced to a substitute (much to her public disgust).
Since then, however, she has performed with renewed vigor and continued scoring goals on the international level. (Not to mention, she has a hunger to kick in the NFL).
No longer mobile enough to start in midfield, she has proven her capacity to play on the front line.
In constructing the roster, Andonovski said: “I didn’t want to look at their age, whether they were old or young. It was about whether they can do it or not, whether they are good or not. … Her mentality in training was absolutely incredible. It was a true example of what a pro competing for the national team spot should look like. … Her performance is extremely valuable but her experience is extremely valuable."
The foundation remains in place. On the men’s side, the end of a World Cup cycle typically ushers in a new wave of players. The women, however, must turn around and prepare for the Olympics a year later.
And the qualifying tournament falls just seven months after the celebrations in France.
With that in mind, Andonovski retained the core group: Lavelle, Ertz, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Crystal Dunn and Alyssa Naeher.
The exception was Morgan, who is due in April and hopeful of regaining her fitness in time to compete for an Olympic roster spot.
Aside from Pugh, Brian and Long, the other World Cup player cut was defender Tierna Davidson, 21. That initially came as a surprise, but Andonovski later revealed she had not participated in training camp because of an ankle injury and wouldn’t have been ready until mid-February.
Training-camp hopefuls such as Olney, Md.'s Margaret Purce, 24, and NWSL top pick Sophia Smith, 19, will have to wait a little longer for a big breakthrough.