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Get to know the 2016 USWNT Olympic roster: goalkeepers and defenders

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Your guide to the USWNT Olympic squad, position by position

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

This is your guide to the USWNT 2016 Olympic roster, position by position. We’ll be posting this guide in parts all week so you can prepare yourself for kickoff on August 3.

GOALKEEPERS

Hope Solo
Age: 34 (35 by the time the tournament starts)
Height: 5’9"
Club: Seattle Reign
Caps: 197
First cap: April 5, 2000 | USA vs Iceland
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup, 2008 Olympics, 2007 World Cup

Considered an automatic selection at this point, Hope Solo enters Rio as the most decorated goalkeeper in US Soccer history. A two-time World Cup Golden Glove recipient, Solo is looking to do something that no goalkeeper in US history has done: win an Olympic gold medal the year after winning the World Cup. Having earned her 100th shutout in a match against South Africa, the milestone chase is out of the way right in time for Rio.

Obviously known for her dynamic shot stopping and positioning, it will be Solo’s distribution and communication with her back line that will make a difference in Rio. Look for Solo to use her pinpoint drop kicks and quick roll outs to launch counter attacks and catch the opposing team off guard. If she is able to do this consistently, that’ll be a key to victory throughout the tournament.

Alyssa Naeher
Age: 28
Height: 5’9"
Club: Chicago Red Stars
Caps: 6
First cap: December 18, 2014 | USA vs Argentina
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 Women’s World Cup

Alyssa Naeher has quietly worked her way up to become the WNT’s second goalkeeper. She, like her counterpart Ashlyn Harris, has spent years chugging away for clubs across Women’s Professional Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, with a stint overseas in Europe. Unlike Harris, Naeher spent a couple of seasons being one of the few points of light for her club team with the Boston Breakers. But if Naeher was forced to face significantly more shots than other NWSL goalkeepers, that meant she also made significantly more saves, highlighting both her shotstopping and her positioning in the box at the expense of the Breakers’ standings. Despite Boston’s struggles, Naeher was named NWSL’s 2014 Goalkeeper of the Year.

Combine this with Harris needing knee surgery in 2015, and Naeher was able to put some distance between herself and her closest competition for the #2 spot. She still hasn’t gotten much time to really prove herself for the WNT, but she remains a steady presence for her current club, the Chicago Red Stars. If history is any indication Solo will play every minute of every game in the Olympics, but Naeher is certainly a more-than-solid choice as a backup should it come to that.

DEFENDERS

Kelley O’Hara
Age: 27
Height: 5’5"
Club: Sky Blue FC
Caps: 81
First cap: March 28, 2010 | USA vs Mexico
Goals/assists: 2 goals/10 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup

Kelley O’Hara has followed a somewhat meandering path to her current position as the starting right back for the WNT. She was originally a forward, then converted to a defender by former head coach Pia Sundhage. It turned out to be a pretty brilliant stroke from Sundhage, whose experiments didn’t always turn out so hot. O’Hara is known for her endurance and speed, both qualities crucial to the style of wingback play desired from her. She just needed to strengthen herself on the defensive side of the ball - "just," as though being a good defender isn’t as much about positioning and cerebral anticipation as it is about raw athleticism. O’Hara still isn’t quite as defensively sound as her predecessor, Ali Krieger; Ellis is hoping the tradeoff in offensive capability will make up for that.

O’Hara will be expected to get deep and whip in some crosses, or possibly cut in herself from time to time. She’s also capable of being put in almost anywhere on the field; that versatility is a huge part of why Ellis included her on the roster. O’Hara can switch from right to left back, or she can go in at forward, or even midfield at a pinch.

Becky Sauerbrunn
Age: 31
Height: 5’7’
Club: FC Kansas City
Caps: 108
First cap: January 16, 2008 | USA vs Canada
Goals/assists: 0 goals/3 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup

While often passed over for the major awards at the international level, many regard Becky Sauerbrunn as perhaps the best defender in world soccer today. After a number of years playing primarily as a reserve, she cemented her status as first-choice center back after the 2012 Olympics. In the World Cup last summer, she was the rock around which the defense was organized, and helped lead the US to victory. She has since been named co-captain of the team, along with Carli Lloyd.

Her style of play isn’t flashy, but is grounded in relentless and precise application of the fundamentals. Where other center backs make highlight reels with desperate last-second clearances, the trademark Sauerbrunn move is a simple tackle which squelches a dangerous move long before it can manifest. Her positioning is pinpoint and her ability to read the game is second to none. Those qualities have earned her three consecutive Defender of the Year Awards in the NWSL, where she has captaining FC Kansas to consecutive titles, and are crucial to the US chances for winning Gold in Rio this summer. On a squad with many stars, there is arguably no single player more important to the team’s chances this summer than Sauerbrunn.

Julie Johnston
Age: 24
Height: 5’7"
Club: Chicago Red Stars
Caps: 38
First cap: February 9, 2013 | USA vs Scotland
Goals/assists: 8 goals/2 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup

Julie Johnston is one summer removed from her veritable skyrocket to stardom. A year and a half ago she was left off the World Cup qualifying roster and although she was later added after an injury, she did not see a minute in the tournament. After working with Carli Lloyd and her trainer, James Galanis, and a few key USWNT defensive injuries, Johnston suddenly solidified her role as preferred center back partner for Becky Sauerbrunn. A series of commanding performances in the World Cup made Johnston a household name.

One year later Johnston’s World Cup performance can be put in perspective and in doing so it becomes clear she’s still got a lot to prove. If not for Hope Solo’s doctorate in mind games, we might be looking at Johnston’s conceded penalty in the semi-final as the straw that broke the camel’s back. Similarly if Carli Lloyd hadn’t ascended to another plane of existence during the final, we might remember that Johnston conceded an own goal during that match. Known for her crunching tackles and dangerous near post run on set pieces, Johnston will need to limit the crucial mistakes to capitalize on her effectiveness in the Olympics.

Meghan Klingenberg
Age: 27
Height: 5’2"
Club: Portland Thorns
Caps: 64
First cap: January 23, 2011 | USA vs Canada
Goals/assists: 3 goals/4 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup

Klingenberg’s ascendance to her starting spot on the left seems to have happened fairly quickly. She went from two caps in 2011, none in 2012, and four in 2013, to 18 in 2014. She played in every single WNT match in 2015 and was an integral part of that solid core of defenders in the World Cup that kept the United States in it through group stage. Some of that was the team transitioning from its previous left-sided fullback, Steph Cox, who had a natural left foot. Part of it was also that Crystal Dunn was still being tested as a defender a few years ago. Now that things have settled down a bit, Klingenberg is the designated left back, pushing as high as she can go along the flank to deliver service into the box. Sometimes that can mean she meanders a little bit, but she’s been getting better about learning to go or stay and not getting caught out too high. Plus, her strong connection to Tobin Heath, developed through club play in Portland, is a vital offensive tool on the left side of the field.

Whitney Engen
Age: 29
Height: 5’8"
Club: Boston Breakers
Caps: 36
First cap: March 4, 2011 | USA vs Norway
Goals/assists: 4 goals/1 assist
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup

Whitney Engen saw her minutes peak in 2014 and then gradually taper off through 2015. As third center back, Engen might have one of the most thankless jobs on a squad that will almost certainly field Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston for the great majority of the Olympics, if not all of it. Engen is expected to act as a reserve in case either Sauerbrunn or Johnston is unavailable or needs to be moved in the formation, and she must fit in as seamlessly as possible with a defense she rarely plays with outside of practice. Still, Engen has enough caps not to come undone in a big tournament, and should she be required to step in, will probably be a fairly steady presence.

Ali Krieger
Age: 31
Height: 5’6"
Club: Washington Spirit
Caps: 90
First cap: January 16, 2008 | USA vs Canada
Goals/assists: 1 goal/8 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2011 World Cup

Krieger was, for a very long time, the acknowledged starting right back for the WNT. She was derailed before the 2012 Olympics with an ACL injury during qualifying, but worked her way back to full healthiness and returned to her starting spot with a minor adjustment period. In 2015, she was an absolutely crucial part of the back line at the World Cup and seemed to be a lock to once again start in the Olympics, but as Jill Ellis looks for more attacking from her fullbacks, she’s placed Krieger on the sub list.

Krieger is more defensive-minded than her counterpart Kelley O’Hara but she does her fair share of overlapping runs as well, and is certainly capable of quick interchange to move the ball into the attacking third, where she can whip in a cross. Krieger is too valuable not to see some time during the Olympics and may even see a start here or there, especially as the high-energy game demanded of O’Hara will certainly require squad rotation.

Stay tuned for our next player guide on midfielders!