The United States has their roster for this summer's Women's World Cup. The 23-player team is essentially exactly as expected, led by stars Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo, and surrounding them with a largely veteran group that has been with the squad for years.
FIFA rule do not require teams to submit their rosters until the end of next month, but the U.S. didn't care. They had their team and wanted to name it so they could get focused on preparing for the summer tournament.
The biggest surprise on the team is the inclusion of Shannon Boxx. The 37-year-old has nearly 200 caps, but had gone more than two years without an international appearance until she played three times for the U.S. in March. Boxx gave birth to a child and also battled injuries, resulting in her absence from the team, but with such a late return to international soccer and little playing time since, it didn't look like she'd make her fourth World Cup team.
Because Boxx made the team, it likely pushed Crystal Dunn or Rachel Van Hollebeke out. The pair looked to be competing for the last spot on the team, but manager Jill Ellis opted for another midfielder instead of a defender, like Van Hollebeke. The desire for midfield depth was the reason given for Boxx rejoining the team a couple months ago and it looks like that reasoning decided the last World Cup spot too. Her experience also played a huge role too, even if many believe that Dunn is the better player in the midfield, not to mention her ability to play fullback too.
All in all, this is generally the team most people expected Ellis to choose. The team is deep up front, with Morgan leading the way, Sydney Leroux, Christen Press an Amy Rodriguez in the mix and the U.S. trying to get every last bit they can out of Wambach.
Lloyd and Holiday anchor the midfield, while Morgan Brian gives them another central option and some combination of Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and an out-of-position Press rounding things out. Heather O'Reilly is also in the team, but she and the bench are best friends, for reasons unknown to most.
At the back, captain Christie Rampone is dependable when fit, while Becky Sauerbrunn is the best of the bunch. Julie Johnston continues her rapid ascent and probably should start -- we'll see if that happens -- and Whitney Engen is the final option. There are several options at fullback, most notably Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg, with Solo the backstop in goal.
Nothing about the first 20, or even 22 players is surprising. It is what Ellus has leaned on for the better part of a year now. The U.S. manager has had a relatively small player pool, moving her core players to different positions as a way of experimenting more than bringing in new players. That made the roster announcement generally predictable, but the decision to stick with those who got the U.S. here provides as much reason for concern as comfort.
The team has struggled since Ellis took over, but she always said she had a longer view of wanting to be good at the World Cup, not so much crushing teams a year before. Still, the poor performances are anything but comforting an Ellis has come under fire for her setup, using players like Holiday out of position and an inability to build a team that can play the ball on the ground through a talented midfield instead of relying on their strength and speed up top for long balls.
A good performance against New Zealand in their last friendly gave some hope that the Americans are on the right track, but it was one match against a poor opponent. It's still too early to say they have turned a corner and are ready to compete at the highest level. A trio of friendlies next month will probably be a better indicator of where this team is heading into the World Cup as they try to win the tournament for the first time since 1999.
We know this team. We know it well. So does Ellis. The U.S. is going to the World Cup with a familiar group of players. They're a group that has won Olympic gold medals and are immensely talented, able to stack up on paper against any team in the world. They're also a group that has underwhelmed of late, but they're certainly capable of being crowned world champions this summer. Hopefully they do, and these 23 players go down in U.S. Soccer lore.
Goalkeepers: Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
Defenders: Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
Midfielders: Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
Forwards: Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (unattached)