Our guide to the USWNT 2016 Olympic roster continues with the midfielders. Missed part 1? Goalkeepers and defenders are here.
Club: Houston Dash
First cap: June 15, 2013 | USA vs South Korea
Goals/assists: 4 goals/9 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup
Brian’s introduction into the starting XI last summer in the quarterfinals of the World cup is widely regarded as a key turning point in the tournament. Slotting in at holding midfield, she provided the ballast for a more cohesive attacking formation, and contributed significantly to the strong US performance in the final stages.
When she is at full strength, Brian is among the most elite players in the world—possessed of tremendous skill, good pace, superb vision on the ball, and an almost preternatural sense of positioning. Her heat maps cover virtually every inch of the pitch, making it seem as if her team is playing with an extra player or two. And she fulfills crucial roles in both the offense and defense. Going forward, her movement is often crucial to maintain possession and building play, as she provides key outlet passes for her teammates and is able to hold the ball under pressure. Defensively, she is a superb presser and an instinctive tackler, using her tenacious movement to close down angles and intercept passes all around the pitch.
Unfortunately for the US team, Brian hasn’t been fully healthy for much of 2016, nursing one hamstring injury for most of the spring, and recently coming down with a similar ailment in her other leg. Playing for the Dash this year, she has lacked the explosive acceleration and sharp angles that define her game. The US will certainly be hoping that those problems will be behind her by the start of August. That said, even at less than 100%, Brian is very likely to start. Her coolness both on and off the ball are crucial to stabilizing the US’s tendency to overbalance in the attack, and would be difficult to replicate with any other player on the roster.
Club: Portland Thorns
First cap: January 18, 2008 | USA vs Finland
Goals/assists: 15 goals/25 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup, 2008 Olympics
One year ago, Tobin Heath was widely considered to be an immensely talented but also extremely frustrating player. Her inclination toward dribbling and aggressive attacking moves made for some exciting moments, but also made for lots of giveaways and wasted opportunities. Over the past year, that narrative has changed dramatically. Heath still has all the technique and the skill, but has started using it more judiciously, and in doing has stepped up to the next level. She was NWSL player of the month for April for her exploits with the Thorns, and is as good a bet as anyone on the squad to come out as the player of the tournament.
Heath usually plays on the left, and is probably to start there initially. It’s possible that Megan Rapinoe might play her way back into the starting lineup and retake her spot on the left wing, which could force Heath to the other wing or into a more central location. But regardless of where she plays, the US will be depending heavily on her to inject creativity and inventiveness into their attack.
Club: Portland Thorns
First cap: March 8, 2013 | USA vs China
Goals/assists: 3 goals/7 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: none
Horan made a name for herself as the first player to sign a professional contract immediately out of high school, eschewing college to play for Paris Saint-Germain. After three successful years in France, she has now returned to the US to play for the Portland Thorns. An extremely versatile player, she has usually played in a forward attacking role for club, but has been asked to drop further back and fill a holding role for the US team. While this experiment has not proved entirely successful as of yet, it is likely to be her position for the Olympics. Most likely, she and Morgan Brian will pair together in the central midfield behind Carli Lloyd, though it remains to be seen precisely how they will be set up there. Horan’s strengths in that role are her distributive capacity and her ability to make runs from deep. Her weaknesses are primarily defensive; she is not especially strong at pressing, nor does she close down space particularly well. She is, however, sometimes prone to rash challenges and will need to be wary about card accumulation.
Club: Houston Dash
First cap: July 10, 2005 | USA vs Ukraine
Goals/assists: 87 goals/49 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup, 2008 Olympics, 2007 World Cup
Going into the London Olympics four years ago, then-coach Pia Sundhage benched Carli Lloyd in favor of Shannon Boxx. As history would have it Shannon Boxx injured her hamstring opening the door for Lloyd to earn her way back onto the pitch. She would go on to score two goals in the Olympic final against Japan and avenge the 2011 World Cup loss, winning her second gold medal. This wasn’t the first time that Lloyd came through big time in the knockout rounds of a major tournament and it wouldn’t be the last time. We all remember her transcendent hat trick in the World Cup final, an achievement that somehow pales in comparison in a year that saw her not only win a World Cup but her first FIFA World Player of the Year award.
The situation heading into Rio could not be more different than London. Now a co-captain along with Becky Sauerbrunn, Lloyd will be looked to as a leader by example on the field. Under Jill Ellis, she’s been given the creative and attacking freedom to drift in and out of position wherever she feels as though she might be most dangerous. At times Ellis has chosen to play Lloyd as a striker up top with Alex Morgan or as the attacking tip of a three woman midfield triangle. The ice water in her veins will certainly come in handy in the event the United States goes to penalties.
Crucial to Lloyd’s success will be catching fire and maintaining momentum, she has the tendency to start slow in major tournaments before lighting it up in the knockout stages. If she can recapture the form that’s made her Big Game Carli Lloyd, the United States will be in for Olympic success.
Club: Portland Thorns
First cap: May 8, 2014 | USA vs Canada
Goals/assists: 2 goals/2 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: None
The story of Allie Long’s selection to the Rio Olympic roster is one of timing as much as it is of skill and determination. A member of the women’s soccer generation in the United States largely failed by the collapse of the WPS, she is the first true success story of the NWSL. After signing with the Portland Thorns for the inaugural NWSL season, Long reintroduced herself to a national audience after playing overseas in France for PSG. Her consistent performances over her first NWSL season helped earned Long her first USWNT call up from Tom Sermanni. But when the managerial role shifted from Sermanni to Jill Ellis and she was left off the 2015 World Cup roster, it seemed Long’s national team career was over before it really began.
The retirements of Shannon Boxx and Lauren Holiday opened up two slots in the midfield. The unexpected injuries to Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd made room for Long to get called up by Ellis and earn playing time. But in order to solidify her position she played the long-coveted number six role instead of her natural attacking midfield role. Because of this Long will be in competition with World Cup standout, Morgan Brian, for playing time in the tournament. When she gets time on the field look for her accurate flank switching balls to open up space and break pressure as well as her aerial ability on set pieces. If the United States finds themselves down late in a match, bringing Long on to mix it up and try to snag a goal would be a terrific option.
Club: Seattle Reign
First cap: July 23, 2006 | USA vs Ireland
Goals/assists: 31 goals/39 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup
Megan Rapinoe has as storied a history with the WNT as any player currently among its ranks, which perhaps played into the decision to bring her along despite having not quite recovered 100% from an ACL tear in December 2015. As of the roster announcement in early July, Rapinoe was just starting to play contact again, but head coach Jill Ellis said she would have been able available for an international friendly against South Africa but for a separate minor injury picked up in training. On the other hand, Ellis has also said she’ll have to work Rapinoe into her games at the Olympics, gradually stepping her up over time. Ellis’ faith in Rapinoe’s abilities trumped any thought of bringing someone who could possibly be 100% from the beginning, and it’s not necessarily a misplaced faith when you consider what Pinoe can do in any given game.
The most fabled of these accomplishments may still be her left-footed cross to Abby Wambach in the dying moments of the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup against Brazil. The things is, Rapinoe is certainly capable of pulling that off again and is also known to score on her own in a variety of ways, whether long range shot or tricky Olimpico. So 45 minutes of Rapinoe in a game may well be worth 90 minutes of another player, if she can still produce assists at her old going rate.
Stay tuned for our guide to the USWNT’s forwards!