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Alex Morgan absent from USWNT Paris Olympic roster as Hayes looks ahead

Alex Morgan celebrates the U.S. women's national team win over South Korea.
Photo Copyright Matt Krohn for USA TODAY Sports

New U.S. women’s national team head coach Emma Hayes has named her 18-player roster for the quickly approaching 2024 Paris Olympics, tapping a young and versatile squad for this summer’s competition. Notably absent is longtime USWNT mainstay Alex Morgan.

With 224 appearances for the USWNT and two World Cup titles, Paris would’ve marked Morgan’s fourth Olympic Games for the U.S. The veteran shared her disappointment on social media, but said she looks “forward to supporting this team and cheering them on alongside the rest of our country,” nonetheless.

Led instead by veterans Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Alyssa Naeher, and captain Lindsey Horan — the only four on the squad with more than 100 caps, three of whom will be making their third Olympic appearances — Hayes’ roster features just eight players from the 2020 Olympics as she looks to move the team in a new direction.

There are nine first-time Olympians on the squad that will seek its first gold since 2012. Paris’ final roster has an average age of 26.8, the USWNT’s youngest since 2008, while the average age of the team that competed in Tokyo when the Americans took bronze was 30.8.

The U.S. won its first two friendlies under Hayes’ stewardship earlier this month against South Korea as the new coach evaluated her options. The smaller Olympic roster size and a focus on the future forced the former Chelsea boss to put development and versatility, she said, at the forefront of her final roster decisions.

“One of the biggest things for me ever since I got the job was: I want to provide opportunities for less experienced players,” Hayes said when speaking to the media Wednesday after the roster was released. “There was such a big gap between the top experienced and the rest and we really have to bring that up … The last eight months has been about giving experiences to bridge that gap because there is a correlation between caps played and success in international tournaments. That was one factor; two was making sure we got enough diversity in terms of adaptability and variety within the squad.”

With turnaround between matches as tight as it is at an Olympics, Hayes said her selections were not just focused on her starting lineup. 

“You have to think about players that can come from the bench and make an impact,” she continued. “Then you have to think about what if we have to change something within the game? Do we have the variety to do that, to tactically make adjustments?”

In that spirit, Hayes named Dunn, who played midfield and defense for the USWNT before Hayes surprisingly moved her upfront earlier this month, to the forward line alongside 26-year-old Mallory Swanson, 23-year-old Sophia Smith, 22-year-old Trinity Rodman and 19-year-old Jaedyn Shaw. The trio of Swanson, Smith and Rodman put on a show for Hayes during the June international friendlies, making their places on the roster much less surprising than Morgan’s absence from it. 

Horan and Lavelle will lead a similarly youthful midfield of 20-year-old Korbin Albert, 24-year-old Catarina Macario and 25-year-old Sam Coffey. With less than 20 national team appearances apiece, the latter trio combined have less than half the caps of Lavelle (100) and a third of Horan’s 148.

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Hayes’ lineup on defense brings a bit more experience to the pitch in Tierna Davidson, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Casey Krueger, Jenna Nighswonger, and Emily Sonnett. Of the group, only one player, Nighswonger, has fewer than 30 caps. Hayes named Naeher, a staple in net for the USWNT who missed the June international window due to an injury, and Casey Murphy as goalkeepers.

“For me, it’s about winning games first and foremost — to win games of football, you’ve got to have the right balance in your squad,” Hayes said. “What I’ve seen so far from the players I’ve selected, I’m encouraged.”

In all, six National Women’s Soccer League clubs and four European clubs are represented on the roster. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell, uncapped midfielders Hal Hershfelt and Croix Bethune, and forward Lynn Williams were named as alternates. Campbell and Williams were both members of the 2020 Olympic team, while Hershfelt and Bethune were both called up to their first USWNT camp in June.

Next, the squad will start training on July 8 in New Jersey ahead of a pre-Olympic friendly against Mexico on July 13 at Red Bull Arena. The team will then travel to the nation’s capital for its official send-off match against Costa Rica at Audi Field on July 16 before beginning Olympic play on July 25. The Games’ opening ceremonies in Paris will take place on July 26, but the women’s soccer tournament will kick off the day prior when the USWNT opens Olympic play for Group B against Zambia in Nice, France. The squad will travel to Marseille for their second and third matches against heavyweights Germany and Australia on July 28 and July 31, respectively.

Outside of Group B, the other nine Olympic contenders include Canada, which will look to defend its title from Tokyo, as well as Brazil, host France, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria and Spain. Having competed in every Olympic women’s soccer tournament to date, this summer’s competition marks the USWNT’s eighth all-time appearance. The Americans are 24-4-7 all-time in Olympic competition.

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