With a little more than 50 days until the Women's World Cup launches in Canada, U.S. women's national team coach Jill Ellis decided it was time to name her final 23 players. Tuesday's announcement wasn't surprising given that Ellis has been consistent with 25 players in the past three call-ins. But getting the final roster now is most welcome for players who would otherwise be fretting for the final months over whether they would escape the ax.
Five takeaways from the announced 23-player roster:
1. Jaw-dropping longevity
Christie Rampone is going to her fifth consecutive World Cup. In 2014, Rampone became just the second player in world history -- joining Kristine Lilly -- to reach 300 caps, and like Lilly, your jaw drops in awe at Rampone's longevity.
Some injuries (back and then knee) have sidelined Rampone recently, but she will play a critical piece of the puzzle as the only player on this roster who has won a World Cup. Plus, Rampone -- who will turn 40 during the competition -- brings a wealth of experience and calm to the back line in any situation, no matter how big the game.
2. What a difference a month makes
Julie Johnston seized on an opening in the center back position with both Rampone and Whitney Engen injured in March at the Algarve Cup. A month ago, Johnston was a young player who was fighting just to solidify her spot in the final 23. She not only got the starting nod in March, she looks to be keeping that place even as players come back healthy in April.
I would not be surprised to see Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn as the starting center back duo in the World Cup for the United States.
3. Boxx became a must-have
Shannon Boxx is another player who made an incredible late charge, and the 37-year-old is now headed to her fourth World Cup. Many thought she would simply run out of time trying to get fit again post-injury and pregnancy (not to mention her ongoing battle with lupus). But Boxx refused to listen to those who didn't think she could make it.
Boxx told me in January that she just wanted to make one more run at a World Cup for the game she loved. "What is the worst Jill can say to me? 'Sorry, you didn't make it,' " Boxx said. "Well, at least I know I tried."
Ellis, in fact, did not say that, and had much more to offer on Boxx's inclusion.
"Shannon Boxx has made a remarkable turnaround from her form in December to April," Ellis told me recently. "We played her in the closed-door game versus New Zealand last week and she played 90 minutes, scored a goal, and went box to box. It was remarkable."
And given the team's need for a strong defensive holding center midfielder, a resurgent Boxx became a must-have. She can now play the role of closing out games in the final 30 minutes.
4. Sensing a theme
Amy Rodriguez and Lori Chalupny were two more late bloomers in the process. Chalupny's late arrival was for reasons out of her control, but Rodriguez had been long written off post-pregnancy.
Thanks to the NWSL, both players continued to excel and impress. Rodriguez was considered a "maybe" not long ago, and now similar to Johnston, is vying for a starting spot. Depth is a nice problem to have.
5. The surprise
Crystal Dunn being cut surprised me, but given her lack of playing time under Ellis, the omission might have been inevitable.
Still, this is a young player with tremendous upside who just needs a little more time. There will be more World Cups (yes, plural) that Dunn will play and star in -- I am sure of it. Plus, she brings an infectious positive spirit that won't be tempered. She's too much of a fighter. She'll be back.
In 55 days, the U.S. women play Australia in their World Cup opener. Injury, of course, could change this roster. But for now, from the players' standpoint, it's nice for them to know where they are almost two months out. There's no wasted energy on worrying and stress. Just focus on getting it done. Pressure is a privilege.