For Jill Ellis, the last week has been both the most difficult and most enjoyable of the four years leading up to next month’s Women’s World Cup in France.
Over the last several days Ellis, coach of the U.S. women’s national team, has had to call more than 30 players, telling some they have a seat on the plane to Europe and telling others they didn’t make the cut.
“All of them are incredibly special. But especially some of the first-timers,” Ellis said Thursday of those conversations. “There’s so many players you just know, their first World Cup, how hard they’ve worked, where they are in their careers.
“All the other stuff is definitely worth it when you get to make a call that’s a dream come true for some of them. I’m humbled by that ability just to make those calls.”
Most of the players have gotten the call before. Twelve of the 23 women named to the team for France are holdovers from the one that won the title four years ago in Canada and seven have played in multiple World Cups.
Topping that list is Carli Lloyd, whose hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the 2015 final spurred the U.S. to a 5-2 win over Japan. Lloyd will be participating in her fourth World Cup while Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are all going for the third time.
Krieger was a surprise selection since she has played just once for the U.S. over the past two years. Among the omissions is former UCLA midfielder McCall Zerboni of Camarillo and the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL. Zerboni was trying to make her first World Cup roster at 32.
Her club teammate Samantha Mewis, who also played at UCLA, was named to her first World Cup team as was Tierna Davidson who, at 20, is the youngest defender to make a U.S. women’s World Cup team.
The average age is 28, same as the 2015 team, and the roster has a combined 94 World Cup caps.
“On this roster, based on this cycle, no one’s going to melt in this pressure-cooker,” Ellis said. “World Cups aren’t moments to invest in players. World Cups are about winning. So experience for any coach is going to weigh heavy in some of these decisions for sure.”
The U.S. begins its three-match “Send-Off Series” on May 12 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where it will play South Africa. It will follow that with friendlies against New Zealand on May 16 in St. Louis and Mexico on May 26 in Harrison, N.J.
The World Cup kicks off June 7 with host France playing South Korea in Paris. The U.S. plays its first group-stage game June 11 against Thailand in Reims.
The U.S. roster, with professional team in parentheses:
Goalkeepers: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
Midfielders: Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Reign FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
Forwards: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals FC), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC).