Vlatko Andonovski, coach of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, used the past six months to test young players and gain a better understanding of his talent pool before the World Cup and Olympic qualifying tournament this summer.
The eight-team tournament will decide four automatic berths in the 2023 World Cup and one in the 2024 Olympics. (Another Olympic berth will be settled next year.)
First, though, the Americans will play friendlies against Colombia on June 25 in suburban Denver and June 28 in greater Salt Lake City.
Rapinoe and Morgan have not been with the top-ranked U.S. squad since October. While Morgan was an obvious selection — she leads the National Women’s Soccer League with nine goals — Rapinoe has yet to start an NWSL match this season.
Andonovski cited Rapinoe’s experience, leadership and ability to impact the game even as she gets set to turn 37 next month.
“We know what Megan is capable of doing,” he said. “We saw even in some minutes regarding the last game how dangerous she can be. But also the thing with Megan is she is very important for this group. This is a young group … so her experience of going through adversity, her winning mentality and knowledge and understanding is very valuable for the group.”
Andonovski also noted Mallory Pugh, who is in top form with the Chicago Red Stars, is ahead of Rapinoe on the depth chart.
“I can’t see right now someone getting this starting spot from Mallory,” he said. “She’s just incredible.”
Andonovski added, “What makes Megan special is she understands [the situation] and she will do anything possible to push Mal to be even better.”
Morgan, a striker with 115 goals in 190 U.S. matches, has scored in five of her past eight appearances with the San Diego Wave and had a four-goal game against Gotham FC.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn, 37, is also back after recovering from a knee injury. World Cup veterans Alyssa Naeher, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan were selected as well.
“They’re not on the team because they’re just experienced; they’re on the team, first and foremost, because they can perform,” Andonovski said. “Their experience is a bonus.”
O’Hara and Sonnett were among seven players from the Washington Spirit named to the squad. The others were goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury, midfielders Andi Sullivan and Ashley Sanchez, and forwards Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch. No other NWSL team has more than four.
Many regulars were not available because of injury (Catarina Macario, Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper) or maternity leave (Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz and Casey Krueger).
Tobin Heath and Christen Press, immensely experienced forwards, were not selected. Injuries have limited Heath to 17 league matches in the past two years. Press suffered a knee injury Saturday, but even if healthy she wouldn’t have been included on the squad, Andonovski said.
Later Monday, Press announced on Twitter that she had torn her ACL. “My heart is broken,” she said. Macario is also sidelined with an ACL injury.
My heart is broken: I’ve torn my acl. Readily accepting all love, prayers, virtual hugs, dog pics, and smudging ceremonies. Love you all xx— Christen Press (@ChristenPress) June 13, 2022
Thirteen players selected to U.S. camp have never competed in qualifiers. The biggest surprise was Wave midfielder Taylor Kornieck, a third-year pro invited to her first senior camp. Seven others have appeared in fewer than 10 international matches.
Goalkeepers: Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars).
Defenders: Alana Cook (OL Reign), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Kelley O’Hara (Washington), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Washington).
Midfielders: Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyonnais), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Gotham FC), Ashley Sanchez (Washington), Andi Sullivan (Washington).
Forwards: Ashley Hatch (Washington), Alex Morgan (San Diego), Midge Purce (Gotham FC), Mallory Pugh (Chicago), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Trinity Rodman (Washington), Sophia Smith (Portland).