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Jill Ellis names roster for USA vs China friendlies

A-Rod is back?

Trinidad & Tobago v United States Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

Jill Ellis has released the 24-player roster for the United States’ pair of friendlies against China PR on June 7 and June 12. There are a couple of moderate surprises here.

GOALKEEPERS (4): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride; 15/0), Casey Murphy (Montpellier HSC, FRA; 0/0), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 28/0), Abby Smith (Utah Royals FC; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (6): Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage; 18/0), Tierna Davidson (Stanford; 6/0), Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars; 5/0), Merritt Mathias (NC Courage; 0/0), Margaret Purce (Portland Thorns FC; 0/0), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC; 137/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Morgan Brian (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 74/6), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 59/15), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 49/5), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC; 252/100), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage; 34/7), Allie Long (Seattle Reign FC; 37/6), McCall Zerboni (NC Courage; 1/0)

FORWARDS (7): Crystal Dunn (NC Courage; 62/23), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC; 132/18), Savannah McCaskill (Sky Blue FC; 5/0), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 140/85), Christen Press (Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, SWE; 98/44), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC; 135/36), Amy Rodriguez (Utah Royals FC; 130/30)

Not returning from the last roster against Mexico are Jane Campbell, Kelley O’Hara, Casey Short, Emily Sonnett, Andi Sullivan, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh, and Lynn Williams.

O’Hara, Short, Pugh, and Sonnett are all injured at the moment. As for Sullivan, Hatch, and Williams, perhaps Ellis found their first couple of months in NWSL lacking. Hatch and Williams haven’t been particularly sharp in front of goal through the first nine weeks of the league. As for Sullivan, she’s been struggling to become a solid midfield presence with the Washington Spirit, and now with Julie Ertz healthy again, Ellis may be giving Sullivan more time to find her feet.

Changes to the roster from last time include Casey Murphy, Abby Smith, Merritt Mathias, Margaret Purce, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, McCall Zerboni, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Amy Rodriguez.

Ertz, Mewis, and Heath are all returning from injury and Press is back on the roster after Ellis left her off for not being with a club at the time of the Mexico friendlies. The interesting notes here lie with the goalkeepers, Zerboni, Mathias, Purce, and the venerable A-Rod herself.

First is #McCallup. That’s right, McCall Zerboni is in the mix, something that will undoubtedly satisfy a lot of NWSL fans. Zerboni has set her stamp on the league for years now, and is probably one of the top five midfielders currently playing in it. Her partnership with Sam Mewis was one of the defining elements of North Carolina through 2017; Ellis will now be looking for her to continue acting as a disrupting force and ballwinner in the middle of the park.

Midge Purce returns to the USWNT roster as well, something that seemed likely after Mark Parsons made her a key part of his Portland Thorns lineup and she worked hard to deliver on his faith in her. Purce has been playing very well in her wide right midfield role and could return there for the WNT, but she’s listed here as a defender, meaning Ellis perhaps intends to see if she can plug in at fullback as Purce has done intermittently at the club level. Her offensive strengths far outweigh her defense ones, but depending the style Ellis wants and the level of competition China offers, that may not necessarily matter for the purpose of these friendlies (though surely it matters in the long-term context of Purce’s position with this team?).

Mathias is another interesting call-up when you look at the list of defenders. Dahlkemper, Davidson, and Sauebrunn will be rotating through the CB position leaving Huerta, Purce, and Mathias as the fullback options. Of those three, Mathias is the only one who regularly plays at FB in NWSL at the moment and it’s good odds she’ll see a start.

And then there’s Abby Smith and Casey Murphy joining the goalkeepers while usual #3 Jane Campbell will stay with Houston. Smith made a bit of a splash when she finally got a whole season under her belt with the Boston Breakers; her abilities might have been somewhat obscured by playing on a team that struggled at the bottom of the table, but it was evident enough that she had a lot of the major pieces necessary to be a big presence in goal. But now that Smith has moved to the Utah Royals, who picked her in the Breakers dispersal draft, she’s actually been struggling. From mixed decision making to some outright flubs, Smith has not been the steadiest presence in goal so far this season. Perhaps the switch from an under-siege mindset to the relative luxury of having a Becky-Sauerbrunn led defense in front of you has made Smith a little less vigilant, or perhaps it’s the adjustment to a new team, or a natural dip off of her average as can happen to any athlete. Still, potential for Smith as a GK with good positioning, shotstopping ability, and distribution must have been enough to convince Ellis to continue evaluating Smith after calling her up a handful of times in 2017.

Casey Murphy was drafted by Sky Blue FC in the 2018 NWSL college draft, but instead went to Montpellier in France. Given how much Ellis and USSF tend to emphasize wanting to pull from NWSL, bringing in Murphy from across the Atlantic is a good sign that the WNT coaching staff wants to take this opportunity to do some evaluation outside the usual suspects.

Finally: Amy Rodriguez. A-Rod returned to the field for the Utah Royals after an ACL tear last season. The question here is whether Ellis will see anything new in Rodriguez worth bringing in a forward with one goal and one assist in seven NWSL games. Rodriguez is almost universally beloved by fans and can produce canny, inspired moments as a forward, but her scoring is irregular and there are plenty of young talents in the pool.

Some of this roster was inevitable as players like Ertz, Heath, and Mewis got healthy again. The goalkeeper shakeup is minor, but has potential, although we’ll see if either Smith or Murphy actually gets a cap. Mathias, Purce, and Zerboni are intriguing additions, but once again, one wonders if they’ll stick or if Ellis is experimenting with options while players like Pugh and O’Hara are out.


Game 1
Thursday, June 7, 9 PM ET
Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

Game 2
Tuesday, June 12, 7 PM ET
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio