The U.S. women's soccer team is getting some big-name players back from long absences for a two-game series against China in early June.
Tobin Heath leads the marquee, joining the national team for the first time since last September. The New Jersey-born creative winger has had multiple injuries over the last year and change but is finally back at full health. Since returning to the field for the NWSL's Portland Thorns in mid-April, Heath has one goal and two assists in seven games.
(Coincidentally, the news came on Heath's 30th birthday.)
Julie Ertz is back after missing the April games against Mexico due to a knee injury suffered during the SheBelieves Cup game in March. She spent Memorial Day in Chester with her husband Zach, watching the U.S. men's team's entertaining win over Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium.
Ertz's central midfield partner, Samantha Mewis, returns for the first time since suffering a knee injury in a November game at Canada. Her dynamism as a box-to-box player — including a rasping long-range shot — has been missed.
Christen Press also returns, though not from an injury. U.S. coach Jill Ellis dropped her from the Mexico series after Press refused to play for the Houston Dash, the team to which she was traded in a blockbuster three-way deal in January. Press has since signed on with Swedish club Göteborg, for which she played in 2012.
There are plenty of other familiar names, too, including Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe and Delran's Carli Lloyd.
Four players with no caps made the 24-woman squad: goalkeepers Casey Murphy and Abby Smith, and defender Merritt Mathias and Margaret Purce. That's a sign from Jill Ellis that the door is still open to earn consideration for next year's World Cup squad.
Ellis might also be putting some heat on incumbent goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. She has had some rough outings for the Chicago Red Stars recently, including giving up five goals to the Orlando Pride last weekend.
Murphy, a 22-year-old Rutgers product, plays at French club Montpellier. She was named to the French league's team of the season that just concluded. Smith, 24, has delivered four shutouts in nine games for the Utah Royals this year.
A major absence is midfield playmaker Rose Lavelle. She remains out as she continues a long rehab of a knee injury suffered in last June's game at Norway. She returned to action for her club team, the Washington Spirit, a week ago, but was deemed not ready yet for the national team.
Winger Mallory Pugh is also out after sustaining an injury playing for the Spirit over the weekend. The club hasn't yet detailed what the injury is.
The U.S. team's games against China will be June 7 at the Royals' home near Salt Lake City (9 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and Univision Deportes); and June 12 at the Cleveland Browns' FirstEnergy Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN2 and Univision Deportes).
Training camp starts Friday, which means the players will miss this weekend's NWSL games. There are four contests this weekend, including a Sky Blue home game against the Utah Royals. Sky Blue also has a home game on June 8 against the Washington Spirit. That's the only game during the national team game window.
Goalkeepers (4): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Casey Murphy (Montpellier, France), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Abby Smith (Utah Royals)
Defenders (6): Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Stanford University), Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars), Merritt Mathias (North Carolina Courage), Margaret Purce (Portland Thorns), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals)
Midfielders (7): Morgan Brian (Olympique Lyon, France), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), McCall Zerboni (North Carolina Courage)