Matildas Big Board: Tony Gustavsson’s Olympic-sized headache

The Paris Olympics are just over 100 days away and Australia, with qualification now secure and their group opponents locked in, have continued their preparations with a 2-0 win over Mexico.

This April window has been underscored by injuries galore for Tony Gustavsson’s side, the effects of which are felt throughout this edition of the Matildas Big Board. But injuries aren’t the only reason we will see some changes from the last edition.

– Subscribe to ESPN’s Women’s Football Podcast: The Far Post

Since we last checked in, the Matildas have witnessed some glorious returns to the national team and some true bolts from the blue. These, combined with the stellar efforts of some perennial Matildas, particularly against Mexico, have created some interesting movement.

As always, this Big Board will operate per the same rules as last time and answer the question of who would make an 18-player squad if the Olympics had been pushed forward and the team needed to be now, with form, injury, and versatility all coming into the equation.

Who is stepping up? Who will make the final 18-player squad? And who will be unlucky to miss out? Let’s find out.

THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Teagan Micah, Mackenzie Arnold
Defenders: Ellie Carpenter, Charlotte Grant, Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley, Clare Polkinghorne, Kaitlyn Torpey
Midfielders: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Tameka Yallop, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Amy Sayer
Forwards: Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, Michelle Heyman, Cortnee Vine

GOALKEEPERS

Locks: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah

The goalkeeping duo remains unchanged from the last Big Board, with Arnold the No. 1 and Micah the back-up. West Ham United skipper Arnold in particular continues to show her class, coming up big when called upon against Mexico.

In the conversation: Jada Whyman

Whyman will head into yet another finals campaign with Sydney FC ensuring she remains the next cab off the rank, goalkeeper wise.

Bolters: Lydia Williams, Chloe Lincoln

Injury means that Matildas veteran Williams is still in the bolters category, while Canberra United custodian Lincoln makes a first appearance after a strong season in the A-League Women and an even stronger showing with the Young Matildas who finished third at the Under-20 Women’s Asian Cup and qualified for the Under-20 Women’s World Cup later this year.

DEFENDERS

Locks: Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley, Charli Grant, Kaitlyn Torpey, Ellie Carpenter, Clare Polkinghorne

Clare Hunt‘s foot injury has disrupted the status quo in the backline. For the Mexico friendly, Aivi Luik‘s injury meant the Matildas were down to two natural centre-backs. The choice was made to shift Catley centrally alongside Kennedy, with Torpey slotting into left-back and Carpenter on the right.

Torpey is the odd name out on paper but has never looked out of place on the pitch. She has made an irrepressible case to be included in the final 18 after a stellar start to her national team career and a big move to San Diego Wave in the NWSL. While she is listed here as a defender, Torpey’s ability to be used as a genuine option up the park, as she was against Uzbekistan, makes her a genuine utility.

Grant provides full-back cover for both flanks while Polkinghorne is a required reserve option at centre-back and a natural leader.

In the conversation: Aivi Luik, Clare Hunt, Winonah Heatley

Luik and Hunt drop to the in the conversation bracket due to their respective injuries while Heatley makes an appearance after receiving a recall to the national team environment after strong form in Denmark.

Bolters: Charlie Rule, Courtney Nevin

Injuries kept this duo out of the most recent camp and are further down the pecking order due to the rise of Torpey and the fact that Gustavsson can only call-up 18 players for the Olympics.

MIDFIELDERS

Locks: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Emily van Egmond, Amy Sayer, Tameka Yallop, Clare Wheeler

Much like no one needed reminding of what Carpenter brought to the Matildas when she went down with her ACL injury in 2022, no one needed reminding of what Gorry brings to this side following her absence due to ankle surgery.

A Gorry-less Matildas felt a little offbeat in the centre of the park against Mexico and it became even more obvious that the West Ham dynamo is the equivalent of having two players running the show in the midfield.

Gustavsson continued with one half of his usual midfield duo in Cooney-Cross and partnered her with Van Egmond. Both players looked more settled in the second half, thanks in no small part to the introduction of Wheeler, who got some much called for game time against Mexico.

Sayer and Yallop round out the midfield selections thanks to their versatility.

In the conversation: Alex Chidiac

As expected, Chidiac has basically returned to full flight with Melbourne Victory and will look to help the team push their way deep into the A-League Women finals series. She is always on the cusp of inclusion thanks to her combination of technical skill and tenacity.

Bolters: Rachel Lowe, Chloe Logarzo

Lowe retains her spot in this category while Logarzo rounds out the bolter options but will need to overcome an injury before she can be elevated into the conversation.

FORWARDS

Locks: Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, Michelle Heyman, Cortnee Vine

Foord sparkled against Mexico with a fine goal and an assist and continued to show her ability to combine with all those around her. Raso also offered up a bit of individual brilliance, made all the more impressive by her lack of game time at Real Madrid and reports of an exit at season’s end.

Fowler is reaping the benefits of extended game time at Manchester City, while Vine has had a clean bill of health and played her way back into this Matildas setup. Heyman, while quiet against Mexico, remains a strong option up top. How she handles this down time between the end of her A-League Women’s season — Canberra didn’t make the finals — and a potential Olympics berth will be crucial.

In the conversation: Sharn Freier

A genuine bolt from the blue, not many expected 22-year-old Brisbane Roar forward Freier to be one of the names called into camp to replace the first lot of injured Matildas. She clearly did something to impress Gustavsson and the coaching staff during the training week by earning her debut in the dying minutes of the match against Mexico.

Bolters: Emily Gielnik

Gielnik experienced the high of a recall into the Matildas squad and the low of sustaining a calf niggle in the space of about a week. Her form for Melbourne Victory means she is a bolter.