Morgan’s Olympic snub may not be Emma Hayes’s most contentious decision

<span>The US will open their Olympics campaign on 25 July against <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Zambia;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Zambia</a> in Nice.</span><span>Composite: ISI Photos/Getty Images; Getty Images</span>

Emma Hayes has named her first squad for a major tournament. With just 18 players permitted for the Olympic roster, the margins to get the call-up for Paris were slim, and with her selections, Hayes sent a clear signal.

This is a USWNT roster that fully embraces an emerging generation of talent. No veteran star was too venerated to be cut. Capitalizing on a months-long transition coordinated in tandem with assistant coach Twila Kilgore, Hayes named a squad that balances leadership with youth. Getting experience for that youth has been a priority for Hayes since she was named the new coach. Collaborating with Kilgore, who served as interim head coach before Hayes stepped up, on squad selection from London, she emphasized bringing fresh faces into the squad for the Concacaf W Gold Cup and SheBelieves Cup.

“One of the biggest things for me ever since I got the job, was I want to provide opportunities for less experienced players,” Hayes said on Wednesday. “The volume of players that haven’t played more than 30 caps was really, really noticeable for me. So the last eight months has been about giving experiences to bridge that gap, because there is a correlation between caps played and success at international tournaments.”

With an average age of 26.8, this is the youngest squad the USWNT has sent to the Olympics since 2008. It’s their fourth youngest Olympic squad all-time. In comparison, the bronze-medal winning side from Tokyo had an average age of 30. The average number of caps per player in this squad (58) is around half of that of the roster picked for Tokyo (111). The youngest player on the team is 19-year-old Jaedyn Shaw, who becomes the fifth youngest player ever named to a USWNT Olympic roster.

Still, there is plenty of experience in the ranks, including talented, young players who played in their first World Cup in 2023: Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma and Emily Fox among them.

Some longtime veterans have kept their place, too. Four have 100 appearances or more: Lindsey Horan (148), Crystal Dunn (147), Alyssa Naeher (104) and Rose Lavelle (100). Horan and Dunn have both already played in 10 Olympic matches. Horan, Dunn and Naeher will soon be three-time Olympians. But there’s a notable exclusion.

For the first time since 2008, the USWNT will go to a major tournament without Alex Morgan. “First off, I want to talk about what an amazing player and human Alex Morgan has been,” Hayes said. “I’ve only had one opportunity to work with her in the last camp. I saw first-hand not just her qualities, but her professionalism. Her record speaks for itself. It’s not easy making a decision that there’s only 16 outfield players and two goalkeepers on a roster of 18.”

Since her debut in 2010, Morgan has produced 123 goals and 53 assists in 224 appearances for the US. But after a dismal World Cup in which she failed to score, it seemed likely Morgan would be dropped six months ago. But after a late call-up to replace the injured Mia Fishel, Morgan reasserted herself as a leader and starting striker in the Concacaf W Gold Cup.

Competition at the forward position is fierce, though. Rodman, Smith, Shaw, Mal Swanson and Crystal Dunn are a formidable cast of names. Other forwards, like Smith or Cat Macario can also line-up as a striker. Plus, Morgan’s club form with the San Diego Wave has been on the decline. Given the small number of places, Morgan was always likely to be a casualty. But with new talent coming through, missing out on this summer could means it’s the end of the 34-year-old’s international career.

Still, the most contentious decision in Hayes’s squad – with fans, at least, may be the inclusion of 20-year-old PSG midfielder Korbin Albert, who apologized this year for social media activity seen as critical of the LGBTQ community, and celebrating Megan Rapinoe’s career-ending injury. When she was subbed in before crowds in Georgia and Ohio shortly afterwards, she did so to a mix of boos.

“Korbin making the team is on merit in terms of what she offers for us in the midfield positions. I think she’s demonstrated in Gold Cup that she can play a lot of games in quick succession. There’s no denying there’s been a lot of work that’s been going on in the background to work with Korbin,” said Hayes. “And, as I’ve expressed on a couple of occasions, I think it’s really important that everybody in this team understands the importance of not just being tolerant and respectful and understanding the things that are going to matter to us all, that Korbin has had to learn. My experiences with her has been [that] she’s a young person who’s understood fully the implications of her social media activity … I can say, first-hand, having spent a limited time with Korbin, she really is a lovely person and someone who really values the most important things.”

It’s unlikely Albert’s inclusion will cause friction in the squad: she has already been included in the team since her social media comments, and fiercely competitive players will put aside any personal differences – during a tournament at least – in order to win. The more likely dissent will come from sections of the USWNT’s fanbase, and there has already been pushback on social media.

Elsewhere, positional flexibility has been prioritized over specialists. In a short competition with tight turnaround times, that matters. It also lends itself to shifting tactics between games, something Hayes hinted she may rely on in France. One of the five forwards, Dunn, is a remarkable talent who can align anywhere on the pitch. For years, Dunn was repurposed as a left-back for the national team, though she’s long preferred to be further up the field. In Hayes’ second match in charge, she started Dunn as a forward. It took her 13 minutes to score.

“I think the biggest factor is there’s 16 outfield players to play a lot of games,” Hayes said. “So having a roster that could adapt is essential. Having players on the roster that you know could play more than one position mattered with squad depth.”

Other notable exclusions include 17-year-old Lily Yohannes, who became the third-youngest goalscorer in USWNT history when she scored 10 minutes into her debut this June. The Virginia-born midfielder has made waves at Ajax this season and is also eligible to play for the Netherlands. According to Hayes, Yohannes hasn’t yet made a decision over who she will represent at international level. “Lily was a consideration for this roster,” Hayes said. “But yes, at this moment, Lily hasn’t made a decision about her future, and I support that.”

The hurdle of naming the roster has been crossed, but other difficulties lie ahead. One of them is simply hoping everyone stays healthy. In the scenario where somebody is injured, four alternates have been named in Lynn Williams, Jane Campbell, Hal Hershfelt and Croix Bethune. As with the core squad, there’s a of experience and fresh talent, emblematic of Hayes’ broader approach. All four will travel to France with the team.

Expectations in Paris, as ever, will be high. Hayes has had little time to work with her squad but she’s named that’s built to win gold this summer with an eye already on the 2027 World Cup.

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