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Roster Twists Common in World Cup-Olympics Cycle

Pia Sundhage’s roster for the 2012 London Olympics Could Include Some Tweaks from 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Team

© Robin Nordlund/U.S. Soccer

IN THE IMAGE: U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage

Because of the short time between cycles for the World Cup and Olympics in international women’s soccer, it is no surprise that there tends to be a high level of consistency and continuity in the rosters for both tournaments.

That’s not to say there haven’t been changes, especially due to the reduced roster size of the Olympic Team as compared to the World Cup Team, as well as injuries, a change of roles and of course the current form of the players. So as history has shown, there could be some changes to the U.S. roster between the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany and the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.

The USA is continuing its preparations for the Olympics with a May training camp in Princeton, N.J., and is in search of its third straight Olympic gold medal and fourth overall. The competition for the 18 rosters spots is fierce.

The bulk of the 2011 Women’s World Cup roster is expected to be in place for the Olympics, though based on recent competitions, there likely will be some role changes.

Forward Alex Morgan, for example, is proving her worth as a starter paired alongside Abby Wambach. During the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Morgan appeared five times – all off the bench. Also, since defender Ali Kreiger’s knee injury during the second match of Olympic qualifying against the Dominican Republic likely ended her Olympic chances, Sundhage has gone with several different defensive options to try to find the right mix on the back line.

Here is a look back at some of the previous changes during the USA’s one-year cycle from the Women’s World Cup to the Olympics:

1999 Women’s World Cup/2000 Olympics:
Number of players on 1999 Women’s World Cup roster: 20
Number of players on 2000 Olympics roster: 18
Players OUT from WWC – 6: Michelle Akers, M; Tracy Ducar, GK; Danielle Fotopoulos, F; Tiffany Roberts, M; Tisha Venturini, M; Saskia Webber, GK
Players IN for Olympics – 4: Michelle French, M; Siri Mullinix, GK; Nikki Serlenga, M; Danielle Slaton, D

U.S. legend Michelle Akers, at that time well into her battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was nevertheless a key 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup where she played in every match. Akers made it to the historic Women’s World Cup final against China, but then took a knock on the head from U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry as she tried to punch a ball clear, and had to leave the game. It turned out to be the last major match for the then-33-year-old Akers. She tried to make a run at the 2000 Olympic Team as new head coach April Heinrichs named her to the roster. But between the long-time battle with CFS and other assorted injuries, Akers made the difficult decision to announce her retirement on Aug. 24, 2000, just weeks before the Olympics. Midfielder/defender Michelle French – a former captain of the U.S. U-21 team – was selected to replace Akers on the roster.

The other significant change in this cycle was goalkeeper Siri Mullinix getting the starting nod in goal during the Olympics. Women’s World Cup hero Scurry, who memorably came up with an iconic save during the shootout against China that led to the USA’s second World Cup crown, fell out of favor after the World Cup and could not quite make up the distance before Sydney. She served as the backup to Mullinix and did not play in the tournament.

2003 Women’s World Cup/2004 Olympics:
Number of players on 2003 Women’s World Cup roster: 20
Number of players on 2004 Olympics roster: 18
Players OUT from WWC – 6: Kylie Bivens, D; Shannon MacMillan, F; Tiffeny Milbrett, F; Siri Mullinix, GK; Tiffany Roberts, M; Danielle Slaton, D
Players IN for Olympics – 4: Kristin Luckenbill, GK; Heather Mitts, D; Heather O’Reilly, F; Lindsay Tarpley, M

The 2004 Olympics was the swan song for legends Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain and this cycle turned out to be the quartet’s last set of international tournaments. With the famed 91ers still on board, the U.S. would take third at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup and win the gold in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

There were some minor changes between the two rosters, most notably the addition of 19-year-old forward Heather O’Reilly to the Olympic roster for her first world championship at the senior level. She was on track to participate in the 2003 World Cup, but she broke her leg in an exhibition match three months before the tournament and could not quite make it back to full fitness in time. This cycle also featured a goalkeeping roster decision with Heinrichs returning Scurry to the nets and she helped lead the USA to Olympic glory while 2002 WUSA Goalkeeper of the Year Kristin Luckenbill was the backup.

Of course, the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics were breakout tournaments for Abby Wambach, who led the USA in scoring at both events, setting the tone for a torrid scoring pace that she has kept up her entire career.

The 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup was the last world championship for U.S. legends Shannon MacMillan and Tiffeny Milbrett who combined for 165 career international goals. MacMillan never quite recovered from ACL surgery, despite her near-miraculous comeback to make the 2003 WWC squad and Milbrett stepped away from the international game for the Olympics after a brilliant career.

2007 Women’s World Cup/2008 Olympics:
Number of players on 2007 World Cup roster: 21
Number of players on 2008 Olympics roster: 18
Players OUT from WWC – 8: Marian Dalmy, D; Tina Ellertson, D; Marci Jobson, M; Kristine Lilly, M; D; Leslie Osborne, M; Briana Scurry, GK; Abby Wambach, F; Cat Whitehill, D
Players IN for Olympics – 5: Rachel Buehler, D; Lauren Cheney, F; Tobin Heath, M; Heather Mitts, D; Amy Rodriguez, F

Sundhage took the coaching helm at the end of 2007 after the Women’s World Cup, so she was working with, what was for her, an entirely new set of players. There was quite a bit of turnover from 2007 to 2008, which could have been partly due to a new coach, but injuries, retirements and pregnancies also played a part.

Following a third place-finish in at the Women’s World Cup in China, the Beijing Olympics was Sundhage’s first world championship competition as head coach for the United States. She went with Hope Solo and Nicole Barnhart as the goalkeeping tandem, and Scurry, at 36 years old, was the team’s alternate goalkeeper for the tournament.

Several noteworthy roster changes occurred from the 2007 Women’s World Cup as this World Cup-Olympics transition marked the most player movement in U.S. Women’s history. Eight 2007 World Cup players did not make the Olympic team, and five new Olympians joined the fray after not earning a World Cup roster spot the previous year.

Midfielder Kristine Lilly bowed out of the Olympics because of a pregnancy with her first daughter. Forward Abby Wambach broke her leg in the final match before Beijing and missed the 2008 Olympics. Leslie Osborne and Cat Whitehill also suffered injuries that knocked them out of contention for a spot on the roster. On a more positive note, defender Heather Mitts returned to the Olympics roster after missing the 2007 Women’s World Cup because of a knee injury and the Olympics marked the first world championship at the senior level for current stalwarts Rachel Buehler, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath and Amy Rodriguez.

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