Last week, US Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis announced her 23-player roster for the upcoming April friendlies against Colombia. As per usual, Dash midfielders Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian will once again represent Houston on the international stage, while respectfully forward Kealia Ohai will not.
The biggest development to come out of the roster announcement and much to the chagrin of many #USWNT supporters on Twitter was the selection of Portland Thorns FC midfielder Allie Long, the most polarizing figure in the NWSL.
Entering her fourth season in the league, Long is well used to being criticized by fans. The connection between Ohai and Long isn't apparent from a quick glance. While their age and playing styles contrast the two gifted Tar Heel alumni share a common struggle. A further look into Long's journey to achieve a permanent residence on the US roster could help outline the uncertainty in Ohai's international future.
In her campaign to represent the United States on the international stage, the 28-year-old has symbolized patience, season after season improving on the weaker aspects of her game. However, despite her growth and constant presence in her club's success, for one reason or another Portland has continued to fall short of their title aspirations and she's been unable to have a steady pattern with US Soccer.
With the absence of Alex Morgan, the upcoming season is poised to be one of change for Long, yet her preseason call-up speaks to more of the same in her career.
Her brief history with the national team has been staggered with injury and disappointment. After being unable to play in her first selection due to a knee injury, she earned her way back in 2014, the culmination of a four year development process. Long's most recent international appearance came last January, when Ellis selected her to the 29-player training camp roster in preparation for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Ohai’s international progression is one that's been obstructed by a small group of forwards, who happen to be some of the best in the world. The reason Morgan, Christen Press, Carli Lloyd and a few others, are ranked above her in the American player pool is the result of the United States dominance in women’s soccer and is not a unique case based on position.
The issue facing Ohai and every senior national team hopeful is the same, a scarcity of opportunity. There’s a general uncertainty that exists when competing for international spots, it's a competition amongst the best of the best and yet even great players are left out.
However, there's an uncommon lingering unsteadiness in the lead-up to major roster announcements, a situation Ellis has created with her inconsistency. The choice of Long, a veteran NWSL player, sparks debate in an examination into the overall well-being of the league system and whether it has been effective in developing players for US Soccer. Last month, Seattle Reign FC defender and 2015 NWSL Best XI selection Lauren Barnes received her first call-up to the senior national team. However, she didn’t play in her short stint and didn't receive a second call-up.
If the common ideology "great league play breeds international success" exists, then what's preventing successful NWSL players like Barnes and Long from having staying power with Ellis? And why is Ohai continuously on the outside looking in?
In the past, a dominant midfield core had successfully derailed Long's US aspirations. It appears the retirements of Lauren Holiday, Lori Chalupny, Shannon Boxx, and Megan Rapinoe's ACL injury have changed Ellis' mind and played a key role in her return.
But yet, the absence of forwards Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux (both due to pregnancy), hasn't given way to an Ohai selection. Instead, Ellis has doubled down on her search for youth up-front and once again overlooked the Dash forward to select another 17-year-old in Ashley Sanchez to pair with Mallory Pugh.
As a counter-argument to the mixed criticism and 140 character instant reactions, Long's selection should be viewed as a monumental decision for Ellis. A choice with the power to rewrite or solidify her inconsistencies in the selection process. A narrative which has plagued her throughout her tenure as head coach.