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World Cup notes: USWNT faces ‘one of hardest’ groups, Andonovski says

(Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The U.S. women’s national team faces “one of the hardest” groups at the 2023 World Cup, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Tuesday.

Andonovski and USWNT players addressed reporters Tuesday in California ahead of the training camp for the upcoming tournament, which kicks off on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand. And they have their work cut out for them, at least in the view of the head coach.

The USWNT faces a tough test in Group E, which includes 2019 runner-up Netherlands, Portugal and Vietnam, “three different types of teams” with varied philosophies and styles, Andonovski said. Yet the two-time defending World Cup champions enter with sky-high expectations.

“Would I be happy with anything short of a third straight win? No! Absolutely not,” he said. “Our goal is to win the World Cup, there’s no question about it.”

Andonovski also addressed a number of questions, from which player will serve as captain to the possibility of Crystal Dunn in the midfield. Just Women’s Sports has a roundup of the news and notes as training begins.

Who is the next USWNT captain?

Longtime captain Becky Sauerbrunn is missing the World Cup due to a lingering foot injury, which leaves a big hole for the team to fill.

Yet while the next captain has been selected, Andonovski did not reveal the choice Tuesday. While he had intended to inform players of the selection upon their arrival in California, flight delays postponed the announcement.

One likely choice is Lindsey Horan, who has served as the co-captain to Sauerbrunn in recent years, often taking on the captain’s armband in Sauerbrunn’s absence.

“She gets to lead this team out at a World Cup and to really appreciate what that means, in the course of your career,” Sauerbrunn said of Horan on a recent episode of Snacks. “Like, that’s such a crazy, cool accomplishment.”

Will the USWNT use one starting goalkeeper or a rotation?

Andonovski plans to choose a No. 1 goalkeeper to make most of the starts at the World Cup, though a second goalkeeper might take the reins for one group-stage game, he said Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to keep the rhythm of our No. 1,” he said. But one game for the No. 2 keeper in the group stage could help the team in case of injury. At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, starter Alyssa Naeher went down with a knee injury in the semifinals, so backup AD Franch saw her first minutes of the tournament in the semifinals and the bronze-medal match.

Naeher is the presumptive No. 1 as training camp begins, with Casey Murphy and Aubrey Kingsbury also on the roster.

Will Crystal Dunn play in the midfield?

Dunn shines at midfield for the Portland Thorns, but the 30-year-old is a starting defender for the national team. And while she wasn’t holding out hope for a midfield appearance at the World Cup, as she told “Diaspora United” in May, she may yet get her shot, Andonovski said Tuesday.

The team does not “want to exclude the possibility of her playing in the midfield if that’s what the team needs,” he told reporters.

“Crystal is one of the best players overall in the world, and the fact that she can play midfielder on Sunday and left back on Wednesday, that just speaks to the quality player she is,” he said.

When Andonovski announced the roster last week, he also floated the possibility of playing midfielder Julie Ertz at center-back. Ertz is a midfield mainstay for the USWNT but also has played center-back on the international stage.

How much should USWNT players pack for the World Cup?

Alyssa Thompson called Horan to ask her advice on what to pack. Yet despite playing in the 2019 World Cup in France, Horan did not know what to tell her 18-year-old teammate.

“She wanted to know essentials for packing for the World Cup and I had no idea what to tell her,” Horan said.

Megan Rapinoe, who will be playing in her fourth World Cup for the USWNT, offered a solution: “Bring it all!”