Should USA Olympic roster spots favor veterans like Morgan, Taurasi? Our experts debate (2024)

The Athletic has launched a series of sports debates in which two writers break down a specific topic. In this soccer-basketball crossover edition, Meg Linehan and Chantel Jennings debate the roster decisions made for the USWNT and Team USA women’s basketball.

The rosters for the USWNT and Team USA women’s basketball team have been finalized for the Olympic Games, and there is a pretty significant split between the two. The women’s basketball team — selected by a six-member committee — didn’t bring a current or recent WNBA rookie (unlike past Olympic cycles), instead skewing older. The youngest players on the team are 26-year-olds Sabrina Ionescu and Jackie Young, and the 12-player roster includes 42-year-old Diana Taurasi, who will be competing in her sixth Olympics. Meanwhile, the USWNT roster, selected by coach Emma Hayes, took another approach, leaving its most notable vet — 35-year-old Alex Morgan, who would’ve been appearing in her fourth Olympic games — off the 18-player roster (as well as out of the four named alternates) and calling in just four players with at least 100 caps.

So, these roster differences beg the question: To vet? Or not to vet?

Should USA Olympic roster spots favor veterans like Morgan, Taurasi? Our experts debate (1)

Jennings: I know the roster selection processes for these teams are completely separate, but I have to say, especially after Team USA included Taurasi, I was pretty shocked to not see Alex Morgan on the USWNT roster. Was I just out of touch with what was happening under Emma Hayes’ leadership?

Linehan: The Alex Morgan Debate™ has been brewing for a while, but there’s some context that’s important to understand why her omission was even a possibility (beyond her NWSL form with the San Diego Wave, which Jeff and I wrote about at length here). The Olympic roster for the women’s tournament is limited to 18 players, which is absolutely brutal. For the World Cup, you can bring 23 players (three goalkeepers and 20 field players), but at the Olympics, it’s down to two keepers and 16 field players. At the World Cup, teams definitely have space for bringing a veteran for leadership or vibes. It’s not the case here.

At the same time, Hayes made a big decision that I don’t think we would have seen from previous USWNT head coaches.

Today, I’m disappointed about not having the opportunity to represent our country on the Olympic stage. This will always be a tournament that is close to my heart and I take immense pride any time I put on the crest.

In less than a month, I look forward to supporting this team… pic.twitter.com/NAXmQnNN8B

— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) June 26, 2024


Jennings: Yes, the big difference here is roster size. If Team USA’s roster was limited to eight players for the Olympics (which is the same mathematical ratio for field/court players versus bench as what soccer has), I don’t think Taurasi would be on that team.

Side note: It is pretty wild that USWNT and Team USA bring the same number of subs to the Olympics even with differences in terms of how coaches can substitute players.

So then, I guess the question is … how much is the recent past vs. Olympic past an indicator of Olympic success? Morgan has six Olympic goals. No one on the USWNT team has more than one. We’ve seen her rise to the occasion before and that hasn’t happened in 2024, but how do you balance the last few months against the last decade?

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Linehan: Olympic past feels like it needs some sort of complex formula that provides some sort of insight into future output but also the intangibles, which are much harder to measure. And for Morgan, it’s impossible to not immediately think of the USA versus Canada semifinal in the 2012 Games, not just an instant classic (at least on the American side), but one of her most iconic games ever. It’s a perfect example of heart versus brain now: Your heart tells you Morgan has to be on this roster because she’s proven herself at the highest levels, she knows everything there is to know about how this tournament works, of course, she’d come up with something late in a game. But then your brain considers recent form and the rest of the forward pool, and it becomes harder to justify a pick based on those intangibles.

Then again, I’ve talked to a whole bunch of Olympians from across various sports who have all been massive advocates for bringing the big-name vet to help close out wins. So there has to be something there, right?

Jennings: Ah, yes, head versus heart. The basis of every Olympic roster and great Netflix rom-com. I can’t wait for the instant holiday classic about Vanessa Hudgens being both a princess AND a national team director preparing for her first roster reveal. (Netflix: Call me.)

Anyway …

I certainly think there’s something there regarding veterans who can be a steady presence in tense moments — even if they’re not playing heavy minutes. I didn’t put a ton of stock into Team USA’s player rotation during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgium this past February since neither Chelsea Gray nor A’ja Wilson were there, but I think it’s fair to look at Taurasi’s minutes there versus other players. She started the first game against Belgium but played less than 17 minutes. She didn’t play in the second game against Nigeria and then played about 12 ½ minutes against Senegal.

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Most Olympic team coaches don’t run nine deep with equal minutes. Coach Cheryl Reeve likely will have a six- to seven-player rotation with another one or two who contribute. I don’t know if Taurasi is necessarily in that group, but if the team needs a clutch 3 or a go-ahead shot, there’s not a player on the Team USA roster who doesn’t think DT can provide that.

So here’s my question to you: Given that I think the 11 other players on Team USA would trust Taurasi to take a late-game shot or potential game-winner, wouldn’t the 18 players on the USWNT feel the same way about Morgan and potential penalty shootout?

Linehan: I think they would! But they’re not making the roster. It feels like another echo of the ongoing issues the USWNT has had with balancing veteran talent with the upcoming kids. (I say “kids,” as a geriatric millennial.) Do you see a similar problem on the basketball side?

Should USA Olympic roster spots favor veterans like Morgan, Taurasi? Our experts debate (2)

Ionescu’s earned her first five-on-five Olympic inclusion this year. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Jennings: Meg, as a fellow geriatric millennial, I kindly say: Get off my lawn.

That’s definitely one issue I see with the Team USA roster. One of the hallmarks during this seven gold-medal run is that each has included a recent rookie. Those players usually (but not always) spend their first Olympics taking notes as they prepare to become the foundation of future Olympic rosters. I hardly count Ionescu or Jackie Young, the youngest players on the roster, in that group even though this will be their first Olympic appearance for five-on-five. (Young has a gold medal from Tokyo in 3×3.)

Unless Team USA intends to transition the 3×3 team into its Olympic training grounds for future five-on-five rosters, I do wonder about the lack of youth on this roster. I genuinely believed either Aliyah Boston or Caitlin Clark would be on the Paris roster, and yet, both will be stateside.

But let’s get to the brass tacks. You put together rosters to give yourself the best shot to win it all. With the 18 players assembled, has Emma Hayes put together that team?

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Linehan: I’m going to cheat so hard right now: yes and no.

Jennings: That’s the Olympic spirit?

Linehan: Yes, I think she put together a roster that is about as strong as she could have managed that also feels like the natural conclusion of what we’ve seen on the field since the 2023 World Cup exit. The reason I’m hesitating is because though the goal is still to win, Hayes has signaled time and again that she also has larger goals in mind beyond this tournament. She outright said last week that she felt younger players weren’t being developed with enough big tournament experience. She refuses to address the result of the actual tournament whenever she’s asked about what color of medal the team is bringing home (which, fair enough!). The players very much want to win the Olympics, and though it’s certainly a possibility, the USWNT’s position as default favorite is long gone.

The USWNT doesn’t really have a rookie that has gotten the media attention that Clark has earned either — I’d argue the closest candidate is Jaedyn Shaw, who made the roster (the right call from where I’m sitting).

From my viewpoint, Team USA still has the vibe of “you better win this and you are expected to win this” from the public, right? Does winning have to take priority over development, or can you really have it all?

Jennings: Internally, externally — the expectation is gold, an eighth straight to be exact. I joked (but also didn’t joke) recently with Reeve that she has stepped into the only job in the world in which utter and complete failure is being second-best in the world. Yikes.

Honestly, this Olympic cycle does both of those things (even if it’s not super obvious). This group gives Team USA the inside lane to gold and signals a strong message about committing to Team USA throughout the quads. I can’t tell you how many times Jennifer Rizzotti, the team’s selection committee chair, talked about the importance of showing up to camp and saying “yes” when a camp or tournament offer went out to players.

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Every player on the Team USA roster was a regular in camps over the last few years (when healthy), and that isn’t going to be lost on players who potentially said no to invites or didn’t commit as much during this last quad. That gives Team USA’s future a bump thanks to some less-than-subliminal messaging.

GO DEEPERU.S. women's basketball Olympic roster breakdown: Experience leads hunt for another gold

Linehan: To swing us back into the question of “to vet or not to vet,” I’ll admit, I fully expected Morgan to be on the USWNT roster based on the norms of the team and the usual approach to the four-year cycle that concludes with the Olympics. To consider another Olympic team in Brazil, they’re bringing their legend, Marta, now 38 years old. But Marta also made that decision an easy one for Brazil’s technical staff — she’s looked reinvigorated in the Orlando Pride’s undefeated start to the season, scoring four goals, adding an assist and playing a key role in the midfield.

Should USA Olympic roster spots favor veterans like Morgan, Taurasi? Our experts debate (4)

This summer’s tournament will be Marta’s final Olympic Games. (Photo by William West, Getty Images)

The USWNT won’t be without veterans either — just their most famous one, and the only one who has won a gold medal. But players like Crystal Dunn and Alyssa Naeher can help provide those steady vibes the team might need from a veteran, and this will be a key test for captain Lindsey Horan to stand on her own two feet as the team’s emotional leader.

Jennings: Team USA has made its choice (to vet), and I must say, it’s a much easier decision when you’ve got seven spots on the bench in addition to five on the floor. This conversation would look much different if Team USA had only eight spots in total. But, that’s not where we are.

I don’t disagree with the inclusion of Taurasi, but I wonder if the lack of a rookie will have an impact down the line. In four weeks, we’ll start to get some answers (and in another four years, we’ll get the next wave of answers).

Linehan: We’re really in the same boat on the soccer side. The Olympic roster is the first decision of many on the road to the 2027 World Cup in Brazil. Hayes looks like a genius if the USWNT wins gold, but expectations seem different on the soccer side considering she’s just taken over the team. The long history of dominance for both teams provides an extra wrinkle across the board, but Team USA has it a lot worse this summer. This is supposed to be fun, I think.

Jennings: Yay, sports?

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; Photos of Diana Taurasi and Alex Morgan: Gregory Shamus / Getty, Sean M. Haffey / Getty)

Should USA Olympic roster spots favor veterans like Morgan, Taurasi? Our experts debate (2024)

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