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Going for Gold: Who will make the U.S. Olympic roster?

Who will represent the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Olympics? (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Who will represent the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Olympics? (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The U.S. women’s national team has two friendlies and less than 40 days between now and the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Jill Ellis has said on previous occasions that she would announce the roster in early July. As the announcement gets closer and closer it is time to talk about who will be on that 18-player roster and who will stay home.

Here is a look at who I think will represent the U.S. at the Olympics:

Goalkeepers: Hope Solo, Alyssa Naeher

Defenders: Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Kelley O’Hara, Ali Krieger, Whitney Engen

Midfielders/Forwards: Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Mallory Pugh, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, Christen Press

[LAULETTA: The USWNT vs. NWSL debate – talking points as players exit league early for Rio]

And here are some explanations:

Goalkeepers

Hope Solo will patrol the net for the U.S. just as she has done at the last five major tournaments. As for her backup, both Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris have had good 2016 NWSL campaigns and have very similar statistics, but Naeher edges out Harris. Since the World Cup, Ellis has given the nod to Naeher more often than Harris in the few times Solo has been on the bench, which tips the scales toward Naeher.

Defenders

It seems the U.S. is set with a starting backline of Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg and Kelley O’Hara. Ali Krieger is the team’s clear option as the first defender off the bench. She is both experienced and versatile with two World Cups under her belt and experience at both outside back and center back.

One of the tougher calls on the roster is between Whitney Engen and Emily Sonnett, but Engen’s experience over Sonnett, who just debuted for the U.S. in 2015, is the deciding factor in giving her the spot.

Midfielders/Forwards

I decided to combine the midfielders and forwards because of the versatility of many of the players in consideration here. There is a good chance that many of these players will play as both a midfielder and forward during the tournament.

Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Christen Press are locks to make the team given their experience and performances in the past year. Lindsey Horan, Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh and Allie Long have shown more than enough to secure their first appearances in a major tournament.

The final spot on the roster goes to Megan Rapinoe, who is recovering from ACL surgery in December. Rapinoe was named to the U.S. roster for the July 9 match against South Africa. She will not play in the match, but will be with the team for training and evaluation. Although she will not be playing for the U.S., this is an important step for Rapinoe in her rehab and a necessary one if she is going to go to Rio.

Given her experience and importance to the national team in past tournaments, I think Rapinoe will make the team barring a setback while she is with the national team. Although it may be a risk for Ellis to bring Rapinoe if she is not at full fitness, she has been one of the best players on the team for years and would be a very difficult person for Ellis to leave at home.

Rapinoe’s inclusion would be at the expense of midfielders Heather O’Reilly and Samantha Mewis. While both players can bring a lot to the table, neither could affect the team in the way that Rapinoe’s presence does. At this point in her career, O’Reilly has been leapfrogged by too many younger players to warrant a selection on just an 18-player roster. On the other end, Mewis is an upcoming player who will likely appear in major tournaments for the U.S., but is not quite ready to do so this summer.

[MORE: USWNT gets new Olympic kit with ‘platinum’ sleeves]

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