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USWNT 2016 Olympic roster guide: alternates

It’s a thankless job unless someone gets hurt or carded out

Soccer: Women's World Cup-Training-USA Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Find the full roster guide by position here.

The main roster of 18 players tends to grab all the attention, but being a roster alternate may be one of the most thankless jobs in sports ever. You’re required to travel and train with the team, maintaining the same standard as everyone else, but knowing that you’ll have the barest opportunity to actually play, and that only if something bad happens to one of your teammates.

But alternates deserve our attention too, if only because sometimes they signal who is on the fringe of the team and will be ready to move into the main roster in the near future. Regardless, these are all players who have worked just as hard as the 18 on the main roster, and in the event that one of them gets called up (knock on wood), will no doubt fill in quite ably.

Here are the four players selected as alternates for the 2016 Olympics.

Ashlyn Harris
Age: 30
Height: 5’7”
Club: Orlando Pride
Caps: 8
First cap: March 11, 2013 | USA vs Sweden
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup

In a battle that was described by Jill Ellis as ‘splitting hairs’, Ashlyn Harris fell just short of eventual number two goalkeeper selection, Alyssa Naeher. Season-ending shoulder surgery ended her Olympic bid in 2012 and similarly a minor knee injury in December 2015 opened the door for Naeher to solidify the number two spot. Truthfully, the difference between Naeher and Harris is less number two and number three and more 2A and 2B. Harris is an acrobatic goalkeeper whose shot stopping ability is certainly amongst the best in the world. In her three years playing for the Washington Spirit, she was often times talismanic and has continued that form with her new NWSL club, the Orlando Pride. Being an alternate goalkeeper doesn’t mean that she won’t be integral to the success of the team. In training she will still play a crucial role in helping the team stay prepared. If called upon due to injury, expect Harris to do a professional job.

Samantha Mewis
Age: 23
Height: 6’0
Club: Western New York Flash
Caps: 12
First cap: March 7, 2014 | USA vs Sweden
Goals/assists: 2 goals/0 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: none

Mewis is an attacking midfielder who has spent the last few months on the outskirts of the national team. She was very likely the final cut made to trim the roster down to 18, losing out to Allie Long and Megan Rapinoe. Still, it’s been a solid year for Mewis, and she will certainly have hopes of making future rosters and earning a continued space in the squad. Her performances in the NWSL have been excellent, orchestrating the attack for a somewhat surprising Western New York squad who have been scoring goals for fun. Mewis is a strong player on the ball, and particularly good at playing diagonal balls through the middle.

Her most likely route to making the squad is an injury in central midfield. She’s better in an attacking role, but has also played deeper in a holding position, and could cover there as well. She likely missed making the full 18 because her all-around play is not quite as fully develop as Allie Long, or perhaps down simply to having less experience, but there’s really very little difference between the two.

Heather O’Reilly
Age: 31
Height: 5’5”
Club: FC Kansas City
Caps: 230
First cap: March 1, 2002 | USA vs Sweden
Goals/assists: 46 goals/54 assists
Previous major tourneys with WNT: 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2011 World Cup, 2008 Olympics, 2007 World Cup, 2004 Olympics

Heather O’Reilly has been an integral part of the WNT for so long that it was a bit of shock to the system to see her left off a major tournament roster for the first time in over 10 years. It would’ve been a bigger shock had she not already been slowly pushed to the bench in recent months, kept out of her usual spot as a right winger whose main function was to provide width, fast ball movement along the flank, and accurate crosses. The writing was on the wall when she was left off the Olympic qualifying roster in January and was only confirmed by every game spent on the bench. She’s played three games for a total of 75 minutes in 2016, and this looks to be her last big tournament, barring a sudden surge in form.

Still, should O’Reilly get called in, she’ll undoubtedly give the team exactly what’s been advertised on the tin for years: a tireless engine that can go 90+ minutes and still be functioning like it’s kickoff, and width on the right, with an option to shoot hard from distance.

Emily Sonnett
Age: 22
Height: 5’7”
Club: Portland Thorns
Caps: 9
First cap: October 25, 2015 | USA vs Brazil
Goals/assists: 0 goals/0 assists
Previous major tourneys with WN: None

Emily Sonnett is a rising defensive star in her first professional season out of the University of Virginia. Drafted number one overall in the 2016 NWSL College Draft by the Portland Thorns, she was first capped by Jill Ellis months before she even played her first professional game. Often likened to co-captain, Becky Sauerbrunn, it is clear that Ellis favored experience over promise by leaving Sonnett off of the final 18 with the battle for that final defensive spot going to Whitney Engen over Sonnett.

To see playing time in the tournament would require multiple injuries to the steady center back core of the US. However, if Sonnett does see time on the field she’s a steady, positionally sound center back. Giving major tournament experience to a youngster, even as an alternate, instead of leaving her in the US with her club team can only benefit the US in the long run.