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Ellis explains SheBelieves Cup roster changes

Jill Ellis has officially named her 23-player SheBelieves Cup roster. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)
Jill Ellis has officially named her 23-player SheBelieves Cup roster. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Jill Ellis has officially named her 23-player SheBelieves Cup roster. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

On Friday afternoon, Jill Ellis released the United States women’s national team’s updated 23-player roster for the SheBelieves Cup. Originally Ellis called 25 players into the USWNT, which kicked off on February 20 in Orlando, with the intention of cutting two players before the tournament begins next week.

However, Ellis has cut not two players but three–Sarah Killion, Meghan Klingenberg and Amy Rodriguez–from the roster, while naming Jessica McDonald to the tournament roster. She has also named 16-year-old Brianna Pinto to the roster in another attempt to infuse the team with young talent.

According to Ellis, neither Klinbenberg nor Rodriguez are back up to complete match fitness after spending time away from the team because of injury and pregnancy respectively.

“For Meghan, the message was ‘you’re not quite ready’. She’s been battling an injury, she’s been out from all physical activity for a long time and I certainly wanted to bring her in and have a look at her and see where she’s at, but Meghan and I both understand that right now she’s not ready to jump into that intense 90-minute environment. She’s working her way back and the Thorns will be a great platform where she can build herself back up,” Ellis said in an interview published by U.S. Soccer.

“With Amy, again, making sure we give these players an evaluation is important. I think A-Rod in truth, is further ahead of where I thought she’d be after a year off. Not only is Amy playing her way back, but she is also processing a lot of new information from the end of the World Cup until now. The messaging was similar, keep progressing and return to your club environment and be ready to get after it in your pre-season.”

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Sarah Killion is the only uncapped player to be cut. Killion was first called into the national team by Tom Sermanni for the 2014 Algarve Cup but never saw the field. In January, Ellis invited her into training camp a day after the camp roster was announced. When Killion was called back up for the SheBelieves training camp, it appeared she may have secured her spot in the national team player pool. However, Ellis suggested that it was Killion’s speed and pace that prevented her from making the tournament roster.

“What I said to Sarah was that I was specifically looking at players that play her position, and digging a little deeper into that process meant taking another look at her,” Ellis said. “She is definitely someone we will continue to monitor. Sharpening up her speed of play is going to be a focus for her, but for sure, being in this environment has helped her understand the demands and pace of the international level.”

Despite not being called into the tournament camp, McDonald was added to the official tournament roster. Ellis said that was because she wanted to keep camp numbers low while being able to evaluate players like Rodriguez, but the need for another central forward to add depth to the tournament roster resulted in Ellis calling on the reigning NWSL champion-winning forward.

“Jess is 90-minutes fit and she is a player that can give us a spark off the bench. Evaluating where A-Rod was at this point, and with the reality that Alex [Morgan] took a knock in France, it made it important that we have coverage in that central position. We have Lynn [Williams], [Christen] Press and Alex as pure 9s, and we felt that we needed another central player that could provide that for us,” Ellis explained.

The reference to Alex Morgan suffering from a “knock” might be alarming to some fans, especially in light of Morgan missing Olympique Lyonnais’ last two matches. However, Morgan missed those matches due to illness, while the knock is said to be a minor ankle injury likely sustained during training. Neither she nor Crystal Dunn has been in camp with the USWNT as of yet, but both will join the team this weekend.

{RELATED: All four SheBelieves Cup rosters announced}

Pinto’s inclusion on the roster means the teenager could receive her first cap with the senior national team against a top 5 opponent. The midfielder recently played with the U-17 women’s national team in the Women’s World Cup and despite the team’s early exit from that tournament, Pinto’s play was enough to earn her a call-up to the senior team in January and again for the pre-SheBelieves camp in Orlando. Because of her improvements during both camps, Andi Sullivan being unavailable after tearing her ACL during the NCAA tournament and Ellis’ continued dedication to playing Allie Long on the back line, Pinto was named to the roster to play in the true 6 position.

“What I see in her is someone that already from a January Camp until now is getting more comfortable, is answering questions in meetings and asking questions on the field. She’s someone that is fully engaged, and in the match against the boys, she showed she is a player who wants the ball, and those are some special qualities. Giving her the exposure and experience of being in SheBelieves, which is a big tournament, is a massive investment.”

The SheBelieves Cup begins on Wednesday, March 1 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Penn. where England takes on France before the U.S. faces Germany. The tournament then moves to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on Saturday, March 4 with France and Germany playing before the U.S. and England compete. The tournament concludes on Tuesday, March 7 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., where Germany takes on England and the U.S. facing France.

UNITED STATES ROSTER BY POSITION

Goalkeepers (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (7): Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (9): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Brianna Pinto (CASL)

Forwards (6): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea Ladies FC), Jessica McDonald (North Carolina Coursge), Alex Morgan (Olympique Lyonnais), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)

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