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Vlatko Andonovski opts for top competitors, tactical flexibility for USWNT Olympic qualifying roster

The roster choices offer a first glance at what the USWNT will look like under Andonovski

United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski stands during introductions before an international friendly soccer match against Costa Rica, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Just three months into his spell as the United States women’s national team head coach, Vlatko Andonovski completed his most urgent task: selecting a roster for this month’s Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

It involved a series of choices that were noteworthy, which was expected — 28 players, including all 22 eligible World Cup winners, were invited to camp before eight were cut for the 20 player roster mandated by Concacaf. So far, it has proved to be Andonovski’s most revealing act as USWNT coach.

“Making this roster was highly competitive,” Andonovski said in a conference call Friday. “The players came in ready physically [and] mentally to compete for every roster spot, and at the end, the ones that I believe will give us a chance to be successful and will give us the best chance to qualify for the Olympics are the ones that made the roster.”

That meant Andonovski made room for midfielder Andi Sullivan and forward Lynn Williams, both players who showed strong form in the National Women’s Soccer League last year but did not go to the World Cup. Their inclusion speaks to their performances in camp, but also to Andonovski’s tactical plans for the USWNT.

Lynn Williams has something that probably not many players on this team [have],” Andonovski said. “If she plays at the nine, she’s a good complement to Carli [Lloyd]. … Lynn Williams is a little more an open field player where she’s able, with her speed and explosiveness, to get behind back lines so that will just add another weapon to the team.”

As for Sullivan, Andonovski said she allows him to use Julie Ertz’s versatility. Frequently a defensive midfielder for the national team, the head coach said Ertz has more opportunity to play at center back with Sullivan around.

That tactical flexibility is a priority for Andonovski heading into the qualifying tournament. He played coy on how exactly the team might line up during those matches, though that is partly by design.

We are going to be practicing a couple different formations,” Andonovski said. “As we move forward, it’ll pretty much be a game-to-game basis.”

Should the team qualify for the Summer Games in Tokyo, Andonovski will have to whittle his pool of players down even further to 18.

He remains open to the inclusion of multiple players who did not make it on the roster, including two of the youngest members of last year’s World Cup winning team, Tierna Davidson and Mallory Pugh. Davidson will miss the tournament while she recovers from an ankle injury and Andonovski remains committed to Pugh.

“It was competitive and she did well, but there were other players that I believe performed better than Mal,” Andonovski said of Pugh’s efforts during this camp. “Now, I want to be clear that she is very good, a very talented player. She performed well and she has a big future in front of her, so I’m pretty sure if she keeps on developing, going forward, she will be on this roster.”

To assist the forward in her development, Andonovski said Pugh will continue to train with the team despite not making the roster.

[To be] on this roster, she needs to be more consistent on a day-to-day [basis], which is extremely hard,” Andonovski said. “In fact, just because [of] her potential and how good she can be, I invited Mal to come and train with us even though she’s not on the roster because the coaching staff, we want to be able to be there for her. We want to provide the best opportunity for her to develop.”

A chance to compete at the Olympics is still available for several players in the pool, Andonovski said.

“I had a good conversation with most of them,” he said. “Bottom line is that there’s just some things that I felt like they can do better and definitely the opportunity’s there for them. … It’s on them and the club environment to help them reach their path.”

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