Jill Ellis announced her complete 23-player World Cup roster yesterday. There was an appropriate amount of pomp, which bodes well for how Fox Soccer plans to handle its broadcast of the World Cup this summer. What does not bode well, at least for the long term, is that everyone with an internet connection and a working familiarity with the team was able to predict the roster with approximately 95.6% accuracy.
The actual deadline for World Cup rosters is May 25, or "ten working days before the opening match." Before that, teams are allowed to submit 35-player provisional rosters to FIFA. Jill Ellis skipped right over that process, ostensibly to put players' minds at ease so they could focus on the beginning of the NWSL season. It also allowed her to cut her roster from 25 to 23, hardly having to trim any fat at all from her already super-lean cut. The USWNT roster is the venison of rosters.
But why shouldn't it be the glorious, well-marbled porterhouse of rosters? This is a nation with a huge population and a federation that funds its women's team relatively well, at least compared to other women's programs. Were there really not 10 other players who could conceivably have a shot at the World Cup Roster?
In January, Ellis held a 21-day training camp at the National Training Center in Carson and named a 29-player roster, later adding the Breakers' own Steph McCaffrey to bring it up to 30. Of the players on that roster, all 23 current World Cup players were invited. The seven who didn't make the World Cup roster were Nicole Barnhart, Crystal Dunn, Rachel Van Hollebeke, Allie Long, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis, and McCaffrey.
Barnhart has been phased out of the national team roster, starting last year when she played through much of her season with FC Kansas City while carrying an injury. Dunn and Van Hollebeke were both just cut from the World Cup roster, a move predicted by most of the internet for several months now. Kristie Mewis hasn't had the run of form recently to justify a callup. Sam Mewis and McCaffrey are both rookies, though Sam Mewis has plenty of YNT experience and a few senior team caps under her belt. Allie Long is the only real outlier, and not by much considering her last cap was August 2014 against Switzerland.
An argument could be made that the World Cup roster has actually been set since CONCACAF qualifying in October last year. The only player outside the 25 under consideration to get any playing time at all since September 18 is Samantha Mewis, subbing in at the 79' on December 14 against Brazil. In all of 2014, the players outside the 25 who saw playing time in the 24 games the USWNT played were Stephanie Cox, Erika Tymrak, Kristie Mewis, Samantha Mewis, Jill Loyden, Sarah Hagen, and Allie Long. Keep in mind also that Tom Sermanni was the head coach until April 6, 2014, and both Tymrak's and Hagen's caps came under him.
Hagen saw a combined 17 minutes during the 2014 Algarve tournament. Loyden retired to focus on raising her son. The Mewises (Mewii?) were effectively dropped after that Algarve, with Sam Mewis getting 11 minutes in December. Tymrak got one cap, a 68' sub against Russia in February which the US won 7-0. Long and Cox actually saw decent time in a handful of caps each, but again, both were gone before CONCACAF qualifying.
What this ends up looking like then is that Jill Ellis didn't have 35 player names to submit in the first place. She could have padded out that list with fringe players, throwing in the Mewis sisters, Allie Long, perhaps Yael Averbuch and Tymrak, with Barnhart thrown in as a fourth goalkeeper, but she would know, and so would we, that they were not going to make that roster. Why give anyone false hope? Why labor under false pretenses? Name the roster and let everyone get on about their business. Fair enough.
The problem with not having 35 names to submit is that it means either there aren't 35 possible World-Cup caliber players in the whole of the United States player pool, or that coaching staff weren't looking at the entire possible player pool despite having a domestic league at their fingertips. Both situations are problematic.
What is indisputable is that for the past six months, ostensibly a time when there should be fierce competition for World Cup spots, the roster has been virtually static. The final roster has been known to a large degree of certainty since October of last year, barring injury. Is that a sign of the exceptionalism of the 25 players who were competing, or an indication of stagnation in the player pool? We'll never know because Ellis never gave anyone else a real chance. We didn't get to see if any other players measured up to the standard because they never saw time on the pitch, even though Ellis had the time.
So this is the roster the United States is taking to Canada, for better or worse. It's not a bad roster. Of the players available, it's probably the best possible roster, though you could maybe argue for Crystal Dunn's inclusion instead of, say, Shannon Boxx. The problem lies in the "players available" part. Some players stay too long, while younger players are either overlooked or not phased in soon enough, yielding situations like Hope Solo, 167 caps, Ashlyn Harris, six caps, Alyssa Naeher, one cap.
It's far too late to do anything about it for this cycle. There may not even be much turnover going into the Olympics. But for 2019, there really is no excuse not to see at least a moderate influx of new names and faces, young players who have been seasoned by a year or two in NWSL, or players who have been lurking at the fringes, waiting for their chance. In a true meritocracy, a chance is all a player needs.