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USWNT leans on depth as ACL injuries mount in women’s soccer

Christen Press has been sidelined with an ACL injury since June but should return in early 2023. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images for Angel City FC)

From Christen Press to Alexia Putellas, from Beth Mead to Vivianne Miedema, ACL injuries have ravaged women’s soccer ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

Yet even with injuries to Press and other stars, the U.S. women’s national team enters 2023 in stronger position than much of its World Cup competition thanks to the depth of its roster — and the recovery timelines for some of its injured players.

Miedema became the latest international star to tear a knee ligament. She went down with a left leg injury in Arsenal’s Champions League match against Lyon last Thursday, and she announced Monday that she had ruptured her ACL and would miss the World Cup.

Her injury comes as a blow to the Netherlands. The 2019 runners-up will face off against the USWNT in the group stage next summer, a task made more daunting with their all-time leading scorer on the bench.

She joins a long list of top players to suffer ACL injuries in 2022, among them:

The USWNT has had several players sidelined with ACL injuries as well. Press’ injury came in an Angel City FC match in June, and Catarina Macario’s came in a Lyon match later that month. Tierna Davidson tore her ACL in March while training with the Chicago Red Stars.

Despite the injuries, the USWNT has maintained its world No. 1 ranking. The team lost three games in a row for the first time since 1993, which is cause for concern, but the key injuries to other national teams could boost the odds for the defending World Cup champions.

While the USWNT had to deal with an injury list that only seemed to grow throughout the year, younger players gained valuable experience ahead of next summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Sophia Smith has stepped up in the absence of players like Macario and Press. Her minutes and production increased from 2021 to 2022, as she jumped from one goal in 329 minutes to a team-leading 11 in 1,192. Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan also made triumphant returns after spending some time on the outside looking in.

All the while, players like Naomi Girma, Taylor Kornieck and Trinity Rodman earned valuable minutes and helped to showcase the future of the squad.

Plus, because the USWNT’s ACL injuries occurred in the first half of 2022, those players could return to the national team well ahead of the 2023 World Cup, which kicks off in July.

Davidson has returned to training with VfL Wolfsburg. Macario is expected to return in February, as is Press, who per her Instagram account appears to be making strides in her recovery.

If Macario, Press and Davidson — or any number of other injured players — return to the USWNT in early 2023, they’ll find themselves competing for minutes with players who carved out roles in 2022.

And while the USWNT still has plenty of polishing left to do ahead of the World Cup, their increased depth could set the team up for a deep run.