When the U.S. WNT take to the Soldier Field pitch in Chicago Saturday afternoon against South Africa in the team’s penultimate pre-Olympic warm-up match it will immediately be clear that all is not well between the American players and the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The New York Times has reported, backed up by the players on social media, that the players will wear tee-shirts and temporary tattoos bearing the message “Equal Play Equal Pay.” That message will also be trumpeted by the players on social media, for example on twitter under the handle #equalplayforequalpay.
With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement running through the end of 2016 the social media campaign is the only real protest option available to the players following a court ruling last month that the players could not go on strike. Now as Rio approaches it will be up to coach Jill Ellis and the team’s leaders to keep the group focused as it chases Gold for the third time in a row.
Historically the U.S. WNT has demonstrated a remarkable ability to block out distractions, think Hope Solo’s legal troubles prior to the 2015 World Cup, but when the Yanks coughed up a late lead in a 3-3 tie with a young Japanese side on June 2nd that ability to focus was called into question.
Three days later the Americans righted the ship with a 2-0 win calming nerves ahead of this two-game set, with Costa Rica up next on July 22, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Ellis has her work cut out for her as she trims this roster from the 24 players invited to camp down to the Olympic roster limit of 18. Only two goalkeepers will make the 18, and Ellis recently expressed her confidence that either Ashlyn Harris or Alyssa Naeher would do the job should Solo find herself unavailable.
Co-Captain and FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd is back from her recent injury and ready to go but Megan Rapinoe is just in camp to be evaluated. Ellis is clearly hoping that the dangerous winger can show that she is healthy enough to claim a precious Olympic roster spot.
With the four forwards on the 24 player roster expected to travel, Ellis will drop either Harris or Naeher and five more players from the nine defenders and eight midfielders in the group.
Defenders on the bubble are Whitney Engen, Emily Sonnett, Jaelene Hinkle, and Gina Lewandowski. Rapinoe is on the team if she is healthy, or relatively close, if not there is one more position available for Heather O’Reilly, Allie Long, and Samantha Mewis to battle over.
Ellis’ head may be turned by a big effort in these last two matches, or even in training and she also may have called some players in for cover in case of injury.
Hinkle and Lewandowski look to be contesting one fullback spot, as Engen and Sonnett vie to backup Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston at central defense. In the midfield, Long and Mewis could be an either or, but not both, proposition while Heather O’Reilly seems to be on the outside looking in.
The one sure thing about this group is that Ellis will disappoint some very talented players while still bringing a packed squad to Rio.
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)