USWNT Olympic roster prediction after Emma Hayes' long-awaited arrival (2024)

And just like that, Emma Hayes’ crash course is complete. The USWNT played its final two friendlies before the Olympics, defeating South Korea 4-0 on Saturday and 3-0 on Tuesday. This was the only chance the team’s new head coach had to see players up close before she must select her 18-player Olympic roster.


Hayes joked that she was still learning names throughout the first week of training, but she’ll need to memorize the ones she’ll be trusting in the summer’s business end.

A pair of friendlies against South Korea allowed Hayes to assess her selected players in similar circ*mstances, something she saw as beneficial compared to facing two completely different foes.

“I think playing the same opponent is great from a tactical perspective because it allows us to share with the team the added adaptations you can make,” Hayes said on Monday. “Having studied what they do, sometimes the implementation of those adaptations, you can’t do all at once, so being able to chunk it from game one to game two is really, really great. But also, to drop things in during the game, which I was doing in the second half the other day, was so much fun.

“That’s where I like to come alive as a coach, to be able to say, ‘remember those things I mentioned, but we didn’t train? They’re happening. Can you execute them?’. And then the team executes them. Then we see it, we review it, we reflect on it, then we put it in action again in training, then we put in action in the game. For me, that’s a plus.”

While 180 minutes is hardly a robust sample size in most cases, that unique back-to-back format did give her a chance to size up her players with fewer differing variables beyond her control.

So, who made their case for inclusion and who projects to be left off the 18-player roster? Here are our current thoughts.

The Athletic’s Olympic squad right now:

Goalkeepers (2): Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy

Defenders (6): Tierna Davidson, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Casey Krueger, Jenna Nighswonger, Emily Sonnett

Midfielders (5): Sam Coffey, Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Catarina Macario

Forwards (5): Alex Morgan, Trinity Rodman, Jaedyn Shaw, Sophia Smith, Mallory Swanson

The one change we’ve made since our 2.0 prediction is bringing defender Casey Krueger back into the mix thanks to her ability to play left back, right back or center back, replacing Abby Dahlkemper.

Our projected XIs

The three of us mostly align on what we expect to see from a starting XI in France.

Here’s our projected XI: Alyssa Naeher, Tierna Davidson (CB), Emily Fox (RB), Naomi Girma (CB), Jenna Nighswonger (LB), Sam Coffey (6), Lindsey Horan (8), Catarina Macario (10), Trinity Rodman (RW), Sophia Smith (ST), Mallory Swanson (LW)

The toughest call (for Jeff, anyway) was about the midfield’s chief playmaker. Lavelle is a veteran, now among the most-capped members of the pool, and remains a consistent source of chance-creation when she’s healthy. Her built-in chemistry with the forward line also can’t be understated. On Monday, she talked about how she “doesn’t have to think much” about Swanson’s movement in particular when reflecting on her assist on Saturday.

Two complications stand against Lavelle. First, she hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a sustained period since 2022, making her tough to depend on in such a grueling tournament format. Second, Hayes knows very little about most of her new players — but not Macario, who she recruited to Chelsea last year. Few roles are more important than a midfield’s chief playmaker and having a trusted player in that spot could be invaluable for a coach who’s building this in mid-flight. With that in mind, being the first midfielder off the bench could be a chance for Lavelle to flip games on their head against tired opponents.

USWNT Olympic roster prediction after Emma Hayes' long-awaited arrival (1)

Lavelle and Macario during a friendly against Paraguay in 2021 (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Our alternates

Steph: Aubrey Kingsbury, Sam Staab, Andi Sullivan, Lynn Williams

I think one important, unquantifiable factor is just how seriously everyone is taking the Olympics. Of course everyone wants to win; no one is going to say no to a gold medal. But given the timeline of bringing in Hayes, it has felt like there’s less pressure from U.S. Soccer to win big right away and more emphasis on transitioning the team’s core players and setting them up for longer-term success through 2027. That could change the equation of who essentially is next in line.


Some, like Williams and Sullivan, are more reliable “break glass in case of emergency” players. Someone like Staab is more of a developmental nod, a player who would have got at least group-stage time in a 23-player roster. And I think this is going to tip the scale on any surprises, ultimately — we don’t know what the balance is between wanting to rely more on veteran presence in a tricky transitional period versus taking advantage of that very period to introduce change. So you’d get a Croix Bethune instead of a Williams as an alternate, and so on, but at some point, you just have to make a final guess.

Meg: Aubrey Kingsbury, Sam Staab, Korbin Albert, Lynn Williams

Korbin Albert is undeniably part of the USWNT’s plans right now and moving forward — the question is who you’d take out of the current midfield to get her into the final 18 and I don’t really see any of those names not going unless something goes terribly sideways in the next few weeks. When I was working up my 18 for our shared doc, I was joking I’d add Crystal Dunn into her own positional category because she could end up in any of these buckets except for goalkeepers. I think Albert would be a lock if this were a 23-player roster, but the joys of a final 18 strike again, unless Hayes makes a bold call and decides she’s willing to drop to five defenders to have a stacked midfield.

Jeff: Jane Campbell, Sam Staab, Korbin Albert, Lynn Williams

My toughest omission from the 18 was Staab. She’s famously durable, as the currently minted NWSL record-holder for most consecutive starts. She’s dependable at the back, capably reading an attack’s movement and stopping sequences before things get too grim —any Red Stars fan will tell you that much. Arguably most valuable is her ability to break lines with her distribution, a trait that only Girma possessed among the center backs on last summer’s World Cup roster.

USWNT Olympic roster prediction after Emma Hayes' long-awaited arrival (2)

Ultimately, the positional versatility and veteran status of both Krueger and Sonnett vaulted them ahead of Staab — for now. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she factors for starts in rotation with Davidson for the duration of this World Cup cycle. The other change from me is having Jane Campbell on standby in goal after she started Hayes’ first match.

What did we learn from 180 minutes of Emma Hayes?

Starting with goalkeepers, while Jane Campbell and Casey Murphy picked up starts in Colorado and Minnesota respectively, it still feels pretty safe to assume that Alyssa Naeher is the team’s No. 1 — missing only due to injury right now.


“I know exactly who Alyssa Naeher is,” Hayes said after the first game against South Korea. “Been an established world-class goalkeeper for a number of years. An injury prevented her from being here. If she wasn’t injured, she for sure would be in this camp.”

Murphy has been the presumptive heir to Naeher for a while now and her big save on Ji So-Yun’s free kick in the 30th minute helped cement her spot in the 18 even further.

.@CaseyMurph using every inch of that wingspan to keep the early lead 🚫

— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) June 5, 2024

After last year’s World Cup, it’s a relief to have a more settled center back pairing in Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson. Center backs tend to be an area where teams minimize rotation during tournaments, so cementing that partnership before the heat and grind of the Olympics could be the difference-maker.

Girma affirmed that she and Davidson have been building that connection. “We have a set of principles and anyone can fill that role,” she said before the second friendly against South Korea. “But I do think when you have that personal connection and you get to know each other’s tendencies, it’s easier to play together and you know what communication they like to hear or they know what feedback I like to hear. So I think that’s been really nice.”

Hayes also praised the duo after the first friendly, calling them “two exceptionally gifted football minds.”

The USWNT has a lot of options in the midfield right now, with Lavelle being the proven entity as Jeff mentioned above, but Macario also getting minutes as the No. 10 after we’ve already seen Jaedyn Shaw in that role recently, too.

Hayes obviously knows Macario best at this point, noting herself she’s gotten a better understanding of her abilities thanks to being her club coach at Chelsea. “I know how she operates in the pockets. She can draw players in, she can escape pressure, she’s quite a press-resistant player, links really well,” Hayes said.


After being electric in both the W Gold Cup and SheBelieves Cup, Shaw struggled to make much of an impact going forward in these two friendlies. It’s important to avoid recency bias and a couple of good performances in the NWSL could erase these two games from the memory bank. Still, that first impression under Hayes’ guidance and the simultaneous availability of Lavelle and Macario could make Shaw (whose best role is also as the No. 10) a tough omission from the 18 if another winger or midfielder is preferred.

Dunn is an option for midfield as well, but it was a startling break from the norm to see her listed among the forwards rather than her longtime makeshift home among the defenders. On Tuesday, Dunn lined up at right wing, allowing her the freedom to send in crosses from her stronger foot while operating in the half-space in build-up. As her back post finish in the first half emphasized, the reassignment to a more familiar role could unlock a side of her game that fans have long clamored to see.

Dunn didn’t have to wait long to make the most of her advanced role, running the right flank during a well-worked U.S. counter attack to get on the end of a cross from Jenna Nighswonger.

Crystal Dunn gets us started in Minnesota! #USWNT x @vw

— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) June 5, 2024

If Hayes truly sees the forward line as Dunn’s new home, it could complicate selection status for Alex Morgan — although the goal wouldn’t have happened without some sharp facilitation in build-up from Morgan. Still, it was a quiet camp for the veteran striker and one that could open the door for alternatives who offer greater positional flexibility.

With a new coach looking to begin a new era and a small Olympic squad to work with, we could see some surprises.

(Top photo: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

USWNT Olympic roster prediction after Emma Hayes' long-awaited arrival (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Merrill Bechtelar CPA

Last Updated:

Views: 5365

Rating: 5 / 5 (70 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Merrill Bechtelar CPA

Birthday: 1996-05-19

Address: Apt. 114 873 White Lodge, Libbyfurt, CA 93006

Phone: +5983010455207

Job: Legacy Representative

Hobby: Blacksmithing, Urban exploration, Sudoku, Slacklining, Creative writing, Community, Letterboxing

Introduction: My name is Merrill Bechtelar CPA, I am a clean, agreeable, glorious, magnificent, witty, enchanting, comfortable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.