Alex Morgan, Tierna Davidson and Mallory Swanson know Emma Hayes’ USWNT Olympic team will be difficult to make

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – For generations, the U.S. women’s soccer team has been the hardest national team in sports to make. And even though the program has fallen from its former heights, it is still the reigning champion in that regard.

No other country has such a large established pool of players to choose from, not even from other powerhouses such as England, France and reigning World Cup champions Spain. Not every American player can match the talent of their rivals these days, but those countries still can’t match that talent on sheer scale.

They keep coming here, too, thanks to the NWSL’s long-awaited embrace of precollege players and its expansion. More players in the league means more competition for golden tickets on the sport’s biggest stage.

This summer brings another factor. While the World Cup squads consist of 23 players, the Olympics remain stable at 18 players, plus four alternates who travel in case of injuries. FIFA and the IOC even reversed their allowance in 2021, with substitutes eligible for a matchday squad of 18 players. (They claimed at the time that this was due to the pandemic, but it was a good idea anyway.)

” READ MORE: Emma Hayes begins her USWNT tenure with an impressive 4-0 win over South Korea

So it goes without saying that this year’s U.S. Olympic women’s team may be the toughest to make in the program’s venerated history: nine World Cups since 1991, and what will be the eighth Olympics since the Games added women’s soccer in 1996.

The players know it too.

‘What are you signing for’

“That’s what makes the U.S. national team so competitive and one of the most competitive teams in the world,” said midfielder and captain Lindsey Horan. “Our player pool is insane, and I see that with some of the new, less experienced players coming into camp now.

Not all of them wanted to talk about it and understandably took things one game at a time. But it’s certainly on their minds at the national team’s final meeting before Hayes picks the Olympic team. Conversations with many of them in recent days have made that clear.

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“I think there is a lot of unknown for us as players about what Emma wants in terms of personnel, and what positions you could strengthen versus the positions (where) you could take one less player,” said centre-back Tierna Davidson. who narrowly missed out on the World Cup team last year after making the 2019 World Cup and the 2021 Olympics.

“Eighteen players is just not a lot to complete a large number of football squads, so it’s certainly a lot of unknowns for us,” Davidson continued. “But that’s what you sign up for when you’re in this environment.”

She certainly did her bit on Saturday, with a great performance in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to South Korea. The 25-year-old kept the shutout on one end, scored double-headed goals off corners on the other, and drew plenty of praise from Hayes afterward.

Winger Mallory Swanson did not make the roster for the 2021 Olympics after going to the 2016 Games and the 2019 World Cup. She then missed last year’s World Cup under even more painful circumstances: three months before the tournament she suffered a ruptured patellar tendon.

“You can never take a day for granted,” she said after her own two-goal outing, both precise finishes. “So I’m really just taking everything day by day, and just super grateful to be back.”

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The big questions

Tuesday’s rematch against South Korea in St. Paul, Minnesota, will be the last chance for American players to make an impact on the court. The official deadline for submitting the Olympic selection is July 3, 10 days before the Red Bull Arena hosts the first of two farewell matches against Mexico.

Who will make it and who won’t? This month’s selection offers clues, but not a complete picture.

Due to Alyssa Naeher’s injuries, we do not know who the starting goalkeeper is. Hayes named Crystal Dunn as a forward this month – and even more surprisingly played her on the right flank on Saturday – but admitted a few days earlier that this was due to ‘knowing I already know what she can do as a left-back’.

Will Dunn remain part of the forward unit? If so, what cascading impact could that have on the rest of the star-studded firepower?

The volume on those questions grew as loud as the roar of hometown heroes Swanson and Sophia Smith when they played striker Saturday as veteran superstar Alex Morgan watched from the bench.

” READ MORE: Emma Hayes begins her U.S. team debut with the final selection before choosing the Olympic team

There were already quiet questions about whether Morgan might not make the Olympic team. Smith, Swanson and Catarina Macario have been in excellent form of late for their clubs – the Portland Thorns, Chicago Red Stars and England’s Chelsea respectively – while Morgan is yet to score for the San Diego Wave this year. (She has one assist; for the US she has two goals and one assist.)

The pressure on Morgan

Morgan’s absence Saturday would have been one of the biggest talking points had Hayes not brushed it off by revealing it was a precautionary measure due to a pelvic problem on game day.

“We shouldn’t make a big deal out of it,” Hayes said, classically noting that it’s a topic mothers should consider. “This is an important issue to raise… We women who have had children need to focus on keeping our pelvic floor agile.”

So the mother of six-year-old Harry Hayes and the mother of four-year-old Charlie Morgan had a chat and worked things out, coincidentally while the kids were hanging out together at the team hotel.

“I told her yesterday that I’m not going to take any chances today because I want her fresh on Tuesday,” Hayes said Saturday.

” READ MORE: After more than two decades of waiting, Emma Hayes’ dream of becoming manager of the USWNT has come true

We’ll see then what happens on Tuesday. Morgan will be under pressure to deliver results. The highest scoring mother in American history has answered the bell many times and now must do so again.

“I just see the depth increasing,” the 34-year-old said just before Friday’s practice started. “I think it’s just a very healthy competitive environment, regardless of whether you’re 16 or I am.”

Even Horan, who Hayes has emphatically confirmed will keep the captaincy on her books, believes she is not officially there yet.

“It would be an absolute honor to be in this selection; a third time at the Olympics would be incredible for me,” she said. “This is so difficult. With an eighteen-man squad you can’t take anything for granted.”

If she isn’t, you can bet no one is.

” READ MORE: Emma Hayes is friends with Dawn Staley. How did that happen?