After the elation of a thrilling World Cup win a year ago, the United States women’s national team will now look to cement itself yet further as the premier side in the world at the 2016 Olympics. Not only will the U.S. be aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back major tournaments but it will be going for a remarkable fourth straight gold medal.
The action begins for the U.S. on Aug. 3, when taking on New Zealand, before facing further group matches against France and Colombia. Before that, though, Ellis faced the tough assignment on Tuesday of selecting a roster of just 18 names, down from the 23 who went to the World Cup. Here are the players who will be going for gold in Brazil.
Hope Solo (Seattle Reign): The 34-year-old may have had more than her fair share of controversies off the field, but on it she continues to enshrine her legacy as the greatest goalkeeper in the history of women’s soccer. On Saturday she recorded her 100th shutout in a friendly win over South Africa. There is no question she remains the U.S. No. 1.
Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars): With the reduced squad size meaning the selection of only two goalkeepers, Naeher got the nod over Ashlyn Harris to back up Solo having started twice in 2016, recording a shutout on both occasions.
Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars): One of the stars of the 2015 World Cup, despite giving up a penalty in the semifinals against Germany, the 24-year-old center-back with the Chicago Red Stars will now head to an Olympic Games for the first time.
Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City): It was the partnership of Johnston and Sauerbrunn at the center of defense that proved so vital in the U.S. team’s World Cup win, when going 540 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. The pair will again be the bedrock of the team in Rio.
Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns): Another member of the heralded World Cup defense, Klingenberg, now 27, has made the left-back slot her own with a succession of wonderfully consistent performances up and down the flank.
Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit): Another key component of the backline in Canada, Krieger remains an astute, reliable defender in the right-back slot. She may, though, spend at least the start of the Olympic tournament watching on from the sidelines.
Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC): In recent months, Ellis has preferred O’Hara to Krieger in the right-back role. Also adept at playing further forward, the 27-year-old offers more attacking threat than Krieger, which could certainly be a plus in matches where the U.S. is tasked with breaking down defensive-minded opposition. O’Hara demonstrated that attacking ability when scoring off the bench in the 2015 World Cup semifinal against Germany.
Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers): A non-playing member of the 2015 World Cup, Engen’s experience appears to have given her the advantage over Emily Sonnet for the backup center-back spot on the roster. Engen, 28, has 35 caps to nine for the 22-year-old Sonnet.
Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash): Named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year for her exploits in 2015, Lloyd will captain the team in Rio following the retirement of Abby Wambach. And the 33-year-old, who famously scored a sensational first-half hat-trick in the World Cup final against Japan, will now be going for her third Olympic gold, having scored in the final in both 2008 and 2012.
Morgan Brian (Houston Dash): Perhaps Lloyd wouldn’t have managed the astonishing feats she produced in the closing stages of the World Cup had it not been for Brian. The youngest member of the World Cup squad, the now 23-year-old Brian came into the starting lineup for the last three games of the tournament and played a key role in central midfield, linking the play together. She has since gone onto prove herself an indispensable member of the team, winning the Golden Ball in Concacaf Olympic qualifying.
Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns): The third member of a midfielder trio likely to start in Rio, Horan made her debut for the U.S. in 2013, but it wasn’t until October last year that she returned to the squad. And the 22-year-old, who eschewed the usual route through college by signing on as a professional with French club Paris Saint-Germany at 18, has made her second chance with the national team count.
Allie Long (Portland Thorns): The 28-year-old’s chance to have a meaningful career with the national team looked to have passed when, despite a fine season with the Portland Thorns, she was left out of the January camp. But her perseverance paid off and when she earned a shot at replacing the injured Brian against Colombia in April, she took full advantage by scoring twice.
Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns): One of the most gifted U.S. players on the ball, Heath is capable of doing at least one thing a game to get fans on their feet. The versatile Portland Thorns player will be aiming to garner a place in whatever attacking configuration Ellis picks for Rio.
Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign): A key creative force for the U.S., Rapinoe’s Olympic hopes were thrown into major jeopardy seven months ago when she tore her ACL ahead of an exhibition match in Hawaii. The 31-year-old has not played since, but has now returned to training and coach Jill Ellis appears sufficiently convinced of her fitness.
Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride): Morgan’s performances at the World Cup last year, when she was coming back from injury and gained minutes and fitness as the tournament progressed, should act as a motivator for Rapinoe. The 27-year-old, with 11 goals to her name for the U.S. in 2016, will have fond memories of the Olympics, having scored a dramatic winning goal in extra time of a thrilling semifinal against Canada in 2012.
Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit): A controversial omission for the roster for the 2015 World Cup, Dunn has certainly made up for that disappointment in the time since. Her 13 goals since returning to the fray for the Victory Tour last fall meant her selection for the Olympics was inevitable.
Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars): Having attended the last Olympics as an alternate, Press will now go to Brazil as a key member of the squad, having scored 33 goals in her 69 caps since making her debut in 2013. A starter in four of the team’s last six matches heading to Rio, the 27-year-old, who can play wide or through the middle, will be hoping for a chance to make a major impact.
Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado): Still just 18 years old, Pugh’s introduction to the U.S. women’s national team has been nothing short of remarkable, making her impossible to leave out for the Olympics. Her debut came when still aged 17, in January, and she made an immediate mark, scoring in a victory over the Republic of Ireland. In 13 total appearances she has two goals and eight assists. Her pace and movement could make her a surprise star in Rio.