The U.S. women’s team won’t be holding public auditions. It’s not The Voice.
But, clearly, the opportunity is greater now than it’s been in a long time for relatively unknown players to make their mark.
The 28-member roster that Jill Ellis put together for the final four games of the Victory Tour included eight players who were not on the American team that won the 2015 World Cup.
Put another way, almost 30 percent of the current team wasn’t in uniform just five months ago in Canada.
And all of these newcomers are under 24. (Conversely, the four U.S. players who’ve retired since the World Cup — Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny, Lauren Holiday, and Abby Wambach — are an average of 33 years old. And they could be joined by 40-year-old Christie Rampone before next summer’s Rio Olympics.)
The eight new kids, in alphabetical order, are:
• Danielle Colaprico, 22
• Crystal Dunn, 23
• Jaelene Hinkle, 22
• Lindsey Horan, 21
• Rose Lavelle, 20
• Stephanie McCaffrey, 22
• Samantha Mewis, 23
• Emily Sonnett, 22
U.S. coach Jill Ellis didn’t just call these youngsters up for something to do. She’s looking in earnest at reinvigorating her team, which was the oldest of 24 entrants in the World Cup.
A few of the newcomers have had an impact already.
Dunn, all but a lock to make the Olympic team, appeared in eight games this year (seven on the Victory Tour) and started in six. The National Women’s Soccer League MVP and scoring champ had four goals and three assists for the U.S. team.
Lindsey Horan may be a contender for the Rio roster as well, though she’ll need to answer lingering questions about her conditioning. The American ex-pat — she skipped college to sign with Paris Saint-Germaine out of high school — had a goal and three assists in four appearances this year with Team USA. She’s a smart, strong, dependable presence up and down the pitch.
In auditioning new talent, Ellis isn’t just looking for players who can win Olympic gold eight months from now; she hopes to start shaping the team that will represent the United States for years to come.
“When you look at the Olympics next year, I think you can go one of two routes,” she told The Guardian.
“You can look at it as a standalone event. Or you can look at as the next major event before the next World Cup. We want to do very well at the Olympics, but the other part of it is looking at players who could be there for the next World Cup.”
When she was hired, she didn’t have the luxury of thinking about the future. She had to worry about getting ready for a World Cup.
Her predecessor, Tom Sermanni, was unexpectedly canned in April 2014, just 15 months into the job.
Ellis was appointed on May 16, 2014. The qualifying tournament for the 2015 World Cup was only five months away.
“When I first got hired, all my focus was just on the World Cup,” she told The Guardian. “I really didn’t look beyond picking a team.”
As she looks ahead now, she’s placing a premium on versatility. Olympic rosters are limited to 18 players, down from 23 for the World Cup. Those who can play multiple positions — like Dunn and Horan, Christen Press and Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath and Kelley O’Hara, maybe Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg — have an advantage over those of more limited range.
Holiday was a natural forward — she led the NWSL in scoring in 2013 — but she could play anywhere in the midfield.
Rapinoe, an attacking mid, is a quirky, creative passer, but her willingness (and ability) to shoot from just about anywhere in the final third draws defenders away from the net, creating space for shooters like Dunn, Press, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd to maneuver.
Rapinoe will be back, but probably not before the Olympics.
And it could take Ellis a very long while to find anyone who excels at as many aspects of the game as Holiday did.