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Essential USWNT: These stars could make or break World Cup chances

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(Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

Which one player is the most essential to the success of the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup?

Each month since September 2022, Just Women’s Sports has made the argument for a different member of the USWNT. Heading into the upcoming roster drop, that gives us 10 players who could make or break the team’s chances in Australia and New Zealand.

With one month to go until the World Cup, which players will have the biggest impact for the USWNT?


World Cup newcomers

Naomi Girma, 23, defender

After nearly sweeping the NWSL’s end-of-season awards as a rookie in 2022 – which included winning rookie and defender of the year and finishing as an MVP finalist – Girma has picked up right where she left off to begin 2023. And this summer at the World Cup, she’ll have the chance to prove herself on the world stage.

Sophia Smith, 22, forward

The reigning NWSL MVP scored 14 goals in the 2022 season, and she scored almost that many for the USWNT. Smith’s 11 goals in 2022 made her the youngest player to lead the team in scoring in a calendar year since Mia Hamm did it as a 21-year-old in 1993.

Lynn Williams, 30, forward

If Williams seems more like a World Cup veteran than a newcomer, that speaks to how indispensable she has become for the USWNT since the 2021 Olympics — even after missing most 0f 2022 with a hamstring injury. Her first goal of 2023 came just seven minutes into her first game back with the USWNT in January, and she has nine goals this year across all competitions.


Invaluable veterans

Crystal Dunn, 30, defender

With versatility as her self-proclaimed “superpower,”  Dunn can do it all for the USWNT. She starts for the team as an outside back, but her natural position is midfield, and you can tell in her creative ball movement.

Alex Morgan, 33, forward

A staple for the U.S. women’s national team for more than a decade, Morgan ranks fifth in USWNT history in goals and 1oth in assists. She was left off the roster for five camps from October 2021 through April 2022, but she used the absence as a challenge. Morgan enters the World Cup as the favorite to start at center forward.


Fitness questions

Julie Ertz, 31, midfielder

Several players could be key not just for their play but also for exactly how much they can play. Take Ertz, who made a surprise return in April for her first USWNT camp since August 2021. She played a full 90 minutes for Angel City FC on June 10, but she has been in and out of the lineup since April while working her way back to fitness after the birth of her son last August.

Rose Lavelle, 28, midfielder

Since injuring her knee in an April friendly against Ireland, Lavelle has not played a single minute. She has missed OL Reign’s last 12 across all competitions. The 2019 World Cup served as a breakout moment for the midfielder, and if she can recapture even a piece of that glory in 2023, the USWNT will be better for it.


Major absences

Becky Sauerbrunn, 38, defender

Absent players can leave their own impact on the lineup, and Sauerbrunn’s reported absence represents a huge blow to the USWNT backline. The 38-year-old returned from a nagging foot injury on June 3 for the Portland Thorns, playing 24 minutes in her first action since April 22. But she missed their June 11 match, and then came the report that the USWNT captain would not make the trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Catarina Macario, 23, midfielder

The rising star “won’t be physically ready for selection” to the USWNT as she continues to recover from an ACL tear, she revealed in May. The midfield has lacked depth in the absence of a player Andonovski has called the “future of the team.”

Mallory Swanson, 25, forward

After a 2021 Olympic snub, Swanson started 2023 in the best form of her career, with five goals in seven USWNT matches through the first two months of the year. In April, though, she tore the patellar tendon in her left knee during a friendly against Ireland. Even with the USWNT’s depth at the forward position, Swanson’s absence is a significant blow.