Megan Rapinoe is headed to the Rio 2016 Olympics next month after tearing her right ACL in December. The news, long expected, was confirmed on Tuesday when United States women’s national team coach Jill Ellis announced her 18-player roster for the Olympics, where the 2015 World Cup champion U.S. team will look to claim an unprecedented fourth straight gold medal.
Ellis’ roster includes 11 Olympic debutantes, a stark contrast to the team which won last year’s World Cup as the oldest team in the tournament.
There was little drama surrounding the roster beyond Rapinoe, but even that news was foreshadowed. Her inclusion bumped out fellow veteran midfielder Heather O’Reilly, a 31-year-old winger who has been a part of the three previous Olympic gold-medal winning teams and who has been a fixture on the team for the past 14 years.
O’Reilly was named one of the four alternates.
Whitney Engen beat out 22-year-old Emily Sonnett for the back-up center back role. And Alyssa Naeher officially eclipsed Ashlyn Harris as the No. 2 goalkeeper behind Hope Solo. Naeher is on the 18-player roster. Harris and Sonnett join O’Reilly and Sam Mewis as alternates.
The U.S. women kick off the tournament on August 3 against world No. 17 New Zealand, followed by group games against No. 3 France and No. 24 Colombia.
Rapinoe’s inclusion in the roster comes only seven months after she tore her right ACL – the third ACL tear of her career. That took place in Hawaii on Dec. 4 in a training session ahead of a World Cup victory tour match which the U.S. boycotted due to what they deemed unsatisfactory artificial turf at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium. Rapinoe was injured on a grass training field.
She said from the start that she would not rush back at the detriment of her health, but that she wanted to try to play in the Olympics. Ellis said all along that she would be holding a spot for Rapinoe, should the midfielder, who turned 31 last week, get healthy in time.
“I always talk about seeing players in the pressure cooker, but for some players you know what you’re going to get,” Ellis told me in late January. “And some it’s a little bit of exploring what you could potentially have. With Rapinoe, with the talented player that she is, I think if there is a player that can return – because she’s been through it (a torn ACL) twice before, unfortunately – I have not in any way, shape or form factored her out (for the Olympics).”
[The Lowdown: Thoughts on the USWNT vs NWSL]
Rapinoe is yet to play a competitive match this year and only returned to full-contact training this past week, where she picked up injuries to her quad and calf during the week. The U.S. has one more scheduled competitive match ahead of the Olympics, the sendoff match against Costa Rica on July 22 in Kansas City. Rapinoe’s fitness comes into particular focus with the smaller Olympic roster – the World Cup allows for 23 players on each team – and the three-day turnarounds presented by the condensed (18-day) tournament.
Other veterans on Ellis’ roster include World Cup hero Carli Lloyd and co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Hope Solo, who recorded her 100th international shutout on Saturday against South Africa. Lloyd played her first competitive minutes on Saturday since spraining her MCL in late April, coming on to start the second half. She told media postgame that she is 100 percent healthy.
Among the players making their Olympic debuts is 18-year-old Mallory Pugh, who didn’t earn her first senior international cap until January – scoring in her first game – but has played in 13 of the team’s 14 games this year, starting nine of them and tallying seven assists to go with two goals.
Crystal Dunn, the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League MVP, is also on the Olympic team and a likely starter one year after being the last player cut from the 23-player World Cup squad.
Several of the team’s marquee names over the past decade are missing from the team due to retirement. World-leading goal-scorer Abby Wambach retired in December, following the same such decisions from Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny. Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux are pregnant. Christie Rampone, the longtime captain who turned 41 last month, withdrew her name from consideration for the team in May, citing a lack of fitness level for the international level. That effectively ended her competitive international career; she still plays for Sky Blue FC in the NWSL.
The entire U.S. Olympic roster is as follows:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (6): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)