Lloyd, Rapinoe, Morgan headline U.S. Olympic women’s soccer roster

England v USA: Semi Final - 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France
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For U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) head coach Vlatko Andonovski, figuring out which 18 players would make the U.S. Olympic roster for Tokyo has been an all-consuming experience.

“It’s probably easier to tell you how often I don’t think about it,” Andonovski said earlier this month. “It’s always in the back of your mind.”

At the Tokyo Olympics, the USWNT will aim to return to the top of the Olympic podium. The 2016 Rio Games marked the first time that the U.S. failed to win an Olympic medal since women’s soccer made its Olympic debut in 1996.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is also aiming to become the first nation to follow a World Cup title with Olympic gold, albeit with an extra year in between given the one-year postponement of the Olympics.

On Wednesday morning, Andonovski was finally able to reveal the 18 players selected for the U.S. women’s soccer team for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.


The U.S. women’s soccer roster for the Tokyo Olympics

GOALKEEPERS

Adrianna Franch

Tokyo will be the Olympic debut of Adrianna Franch, who is likely to serve as backup goalie behind Naeher at the Games. Franch, who plays professionally for Portland Thorns FC, will be the first women’s soccer player from Kansas to represent the U.S. at the Olympics.

Alyssa Naeher

Alyssa Naeher was on the U.S. roster for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but didn’t see any minutes on the pitch. That won’t be the case in Japan. Since 2016, Naeher has become the USWNT’s starting goalie, highlighted by her World Cup-winning performance in 2019.

ALSO IN OLYMPIC ROSTER NEWS: Steffens and Johnson headline U.S. women’s water polo roster for Tokyo Olympics


DEFENDERS

Abby Dahlkemper

Center back Abby Dahlkemper, who signed a professional contract with Manchester City earlier this year, will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Tierna Davidson

The Tokyo Olympics will also mark the Olympic debut of Tierna Davidson, who at age 22, is the youngest player on the U.S. roster. (She also held the distinction of youngest player on the roster at the 2019 World Cup.) Davidson was born in September 1998, a full two years after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where the U.S. won the inaugural gold medal in women’s soccer.

(Note: Even if Davidson had been alive in 1996, she wouldn’t have been able to watch the USWNT win Olympic gold. That’s because only a few minutes of the game aired on TV. Ahead of this summer’s Tokyo Games, Peacock will be airing that 1996 women’s soccer gold medal game in full.)

Crystal Dunn

Crystal Dunn made her Olympic debut in Rio after being the last player cut from the 2015 World Cup roster. Five years later, Dunn is one of the most consistent players on the pitch. “She brings a lot of versatility,” NBC Olympics soccer analyst Danielle Slaton told On Her Turf earlier this month. “Crystal Dunn can pretty much play any position except for goalkeeper.”

Kelley O’Hara

Kelley O’Hara, who typically gets the start at right back, will be making her third Olympic appearance in Tokyo.

Becky Sauerbrunn

U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn will be making her third Olympic appearance in Tokyo. At the 2012 London Games, Sauerbrunn played in three matches off the bench. She has since become one of the consistent center backs.

Sauerbrunn, who plays professionally for Portland Thorns FC, is the second-most capped player (186) on this year’s Olympic roster (behind only Carli Lloyd).

Emily Sonnett

Emily Sonnett, a member of the 2019 World Cup championship team, will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo. Sonnett was considered one of the bubble players for this year’s Olympic roster, but ultimately got the nod.


MIDFIELDERS

Julie Ertz

Julie Ertz, who made her Olympic debut in Rio, is currently returning from an MCL injury that kept her out of the USWNT summer series earlier this month. Andonovski says she is expected to be ready to play when the Olympics begin next month.

Lindsey Horan

The Tokyo Games will mark Lindsey Horan’s second Olympic appearance. Horan saw limited time on the pitch at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but has since become a regular starter in the midfield.

Rose Lavelle

Rose Lavelle will be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo. Lavelle made a big impact in her World Cup debut in 2019, playing six games and scoring three goals, including one in the final against the Netherlands.

Kristie Mewis

Kristie Mewis is the only member of the Tokyo Olympic roster that watched the U.S. win the 2019 World Cup from the stands. Her inclusion on this roster marks a truly incredible comeback story.

Kristie – who is older than sister Sam by 20 months – was the first Mewis sister to be named to the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT), making her debut in 2013. But Sam was never far behind. The 2014 Algarve Cup marked the first time both Mewis sisters competed together for the USWNT. And until 2020, it was the only time both Mewis sisters competed together for the USWNT.

While Sam developed into a national team mainstay, Kristie stopped receiving invitations to camp, and was then sidelined from her professional team (Houston Dash) by an ACL tear in 2018.

In November 2020, Kristie received her first national team training camp invite in years, and made the most of it, securing a roster spot on the USWNT for her first major international tournament.

“For Kristie, she’s a product of the NWSL,” Andonovski said on Wednesday afternoon following the roster announcement. “She played extremely well in the league in the last year or so.”

Sam Mewis

The Tokyo Olympics will mark Sam Mewis’s second major international tournament (after making her World Cup debut in 2019) and first with “S. Mewis” on the back of her jersey. Sam ended 2020 by being named USWNT player of the year.


FORWARDS

Tobin Heath

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Tobin Heath, who is currently coming back from a knee injury, will be making her fourth Olympic appearance in Tokyo (tying a USWNT record held by Christie Pearce Rampone).

When healthy, Heath “provides something that no other woman on this roster provides: her flair, her creativity, and her soccer IQ,” Slaton explained earlier this month.

Carli Lloyd

Don’t bet against Carli Lloyd. “It’s like betting against Tom Brady or LeBron James. You just don’t do it.” Slaton joked.

Lloyd is a prolific scorer, and certainly isn’t slowing down as she gets older.

In her Olympic debut in 2008, Lloyd scored the winning goal in the U.S. team’s 1-0 overtime victory against Brazil.

Four years later, she scored both goals in the U.S. team’s 2-1 win over Japan at the 2012 London Olympics.

Along with Heath, Lloyd will tie the record for most Olympic appearances by a USWNT player (4). She also leads the team in caps (304) by a huge margin. Sauerbrunn, the second most-capped player, has 186.

Lloyd, who turns 39 on July 16, will be the oldest player to represent the U.S. in women’s soccer at the Olympics.

Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan will be making her third Olympic appearance in Tokyo, and first as a mom. She gave birth to daughter Charlie in May 2020. In Tokyo, Morgan will become the fifth USWNT player to make an Olympic roster after giving birth.

While Morgan never ruled out trying to make the U.S. Olympic team before the Games were postponed, she was certainly aided by the one-year delay. Morgan returned to competition in fall 2020 (playing limited minutes for Tottenham). She has since returned to top form in her appearances with the USWNT and professionally with the Orlando Pride.

RELATED: Meet the moms who have qualified for the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics

Christen Press

The Tokyo Games will mark Christen Press’s second Olympic appearance. She will enter the Games with 147 caps (sixth most on this year’s Olympic roster).

Megan Rapinoe

The Tokyo Games will mark Rapinoe’s third Olympic appearance. At the 2016 Rio Games, she was coming back from an ACL tear and wasn’t in top form. She proved her resilience at the 2019 World Cup, where in addition to leading the U.S. to its fourth World Cup title in history, she also won the Golden Boot (most goals scored) and Golden Ball (best player) awards.

“She is somebody who steps up in the big moments and I think she’s got a chip on her shoulder from Rio, where she wasn’t able to participate in the way that she would have liked,” Slaton explained.


THE ALTERNATES

The USWNT will travel to Japan with four alternates: goalkeeper Jane Campbell, defender Casey Krueger, midfielder Catarina Macario and forward Lynn Williams.

One of the biggest surprises is Margaret “Midge” Purce not being included as an alternate. While Purce wasn’t considered a lock to make the 18-player roster, her versatility as both a forward and defender makes her exclusion perplexing.


This story will continue to be updated. 

RELATED: U.S. Olympic soccer roster for Tokyo led by Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC defensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

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Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC defensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

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Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

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When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC defensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

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“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

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