By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – The U.S. women’s soccer team unveiled a 20-strong roster headlined by Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe for the Olympic qualifying tournament on Friday, as the four-time World Cup winners aim to reach their seventh consecutive Games.
Team co-captain Lloyd will feature in her fourth consecutive Olympic qualifying event later this month alongside national team mainstays Rapinoe, winner of the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at last year’s World Cup, Tobin Heath and Becky Sauerbrunn.
Absent from the list is Alex Morgan, who is pregnant. The striker, who scored six goals in last year’s World Cup, has previously said she hopes to play at the Tokyo Olympics even though the Games take place just three months after she is due to give birth to her first child in April.
“We have a balanced roster with versatile players and of course they have a lot of experience in important games,” said head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
“This is a team that understands that you have to be aggressive and unpredictable in how you create scoring chances but also knows how to be smart on defence at the same time.”
Andonovski heaped praise on Lloyd, telling reporters she brought a mix of experience and high performance to the team.
“Her mentality in training was absolutely incredible, it was a true example of (what) a pro competing for a national team is (supposed) to look like,” Andonovski said.
“She was first on the field, last off the field and she performed at her best every minute she spent on the field.”
Andonovski said there was no reason should the 37-year-old should not start matches if she maintained her high standards, after serving as a ‘super-sub’ at the last World Cup under former head coach Jill Ellis.
Twenty-one-year olds Tierna Davidson and Mallory Pugh, two of the World Cup roster’s youngest players, did not make the cut, with the former still feeling the sting of an ankle injury and the latter struggling with consistency, Andonovski said.
“It was competitive and she did well. But there were other players that I believed performed better than Mal (Pugh),” he said. “She has a big future… I’m pretty sure if she keeps on developing going forward, she will be on this roster.”
Two players who made the cut, forward Lynn Williams and midfielder Andi Sullivan, were not on the 2019 World Cup roster.
Williams, who plays for North Carolina Courage, scored 12 goals last season, making her the second-top scorer in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2019.
While 20 players were named to the qualifying tournament squad, only 18 will be allowed to compete in Tokyo should the United States qualify for the Olympics.
Hosts Japan and World Cup finalists the Netherlands have already booked a spot at the Summer Games, with Britain, Sweden, Brazil and New Zealand also qualifying.
The U.S. will play their first match in the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament against Haiti on Jan. 28.
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Pravin Char and Ken Ferris)