The U.S. women’s national soccer team experienced a changing of the guard for their two-game friendly series against Australia this past week, winning 3-0 on Saturday and drawing 1-1 on Tuesday.
The young roster included 13 players with 10 caps or fewer. Forward Sophia Smith (10 caps) and goalkeeper Bella Bixby (zero caps) were the only two players who didn’t see the field after they were placed in concussion protocol.
The Australia friendlies gave USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski a chance to evaluate the less experienced players in a high-pressure environment. Not all of them are coming back, but every veteran should be on notice as the competition for roster and lineup spots ramps up. The team’s next camp is in January, and Andonovsi said he’s already told some of the new players they are invited to attend.
Of the players who were in Australia, here are a few whose stock is trending up, trending down and staying the same based on their performances.
GK Casey Murphy
After two stellar debuts, goalkeeper Casey Murphy has skyrocketed into the conversation for the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster. She preserved a shutout in the first game, saving at least three tough shots in the final stretch of the first half when her midfielders and backline gave the Matildas too much space in dangerous areas. Her efforts in the second match were no different. She made her best save in the 21st minute, diving to the low right corner to knock the ball off the post and away from traffic. Through a barricade of defenders and forwards, the North Carolina Courage keeper could barely even see the bullet of a shot flying in from outside the 18-yard box. Her poise and ability to make game-saving stops should earn her even more opportunities in 2022.
.@CaseyMurph... SHEESH. pic.twitter.com/iickU1jotS— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) November 30, 2021
.@CaseyMurph... SHEESH. pic.twitter.com/iickU1jotS
D Emily Fox
Emily Fox played much better on Tuesday than she did Saturday. In an epic matchup with Australian winger Hayley Raso, the left fullback was more aggressive and confident when making tackles and dribbling up the field. Most impressive was her ability to carry the ball out of pressure, even through three opposing players at a time. Many players would look to pass out of their defensive third in those instances, but Fox has more options because of her speed. To make the World Cup roster, she’ll need to work on taking care of the ball in the attacking zone. The 23-year-old often makes incredible runs up the wing, just like she did with Racing Louisville FC during the NWSL season, only to give the ball away with a bad pass or touch past the end line.
F Midge Purce
NWSL Best XI member Midge Purce stayed consistent from the first match to the second. Not only did she get two assists in two games, but they were almost identical: hard, accurate passes from the end line to the player at the spot, first to Rose Lavelle and next to Hatch. Purce uses her 1v1 skills and off-ball intuition to get herself into those positions. She worked well defensively in the middle of the park with right fullback Sofia Huerta to help the U.S. maintain possession. Andonovski loves versatility, and Purce has it.
F Ashley Hatch
With two goals in her first two starts (a 50 percent caps-to-scoring ratio over three total caps), Ashley Hatch is technically the best finisher on the current squad. What’s tricky about Hatch, though, is she isn’t a consistent 90-minute, or even 70-minute, player. She gets quick bursts of energy that result in goals but isn’t known for her distribution or setups in the attack. Hatch played the majority of both games against Australia. That will change when Catarina Macario returns to training camp. The 22-year-old has the knack for goal and the well-roundedness Andonovski likes in his starters.
D Alana Cook
Alana Cook is as reliable as they come at center back. Even against Australia’s man-marking, she consistently threaded difficult balls to her teammates and read Australia’s forward runs, which is no small task for a player getting her third and fourth caps against a quality international team. It’s especially difficult to mark Sam Kerr, but Cook frustrated the world-class goal scorer in both games and even beat her in a key 1v1 situation.
GK Jane Campbell
Jane Campbell came into this camp as the leader of the goalkeeping trio, carrying seven caps over Bella Bixby and Casey Murphy’s zero. Though she hasn’t appeared much for the USWNT, Campbell has been a consistent backup keeper for the team, traveling to the Tokyo Olympics this past summer as the third string. Given how well Murphy played in Australia, Campbell’s backup spot with the team could be in jeopardy once Alyssa Naeher returns from injury.
D Becky Sauerbrunn
It was surprising not to see the veteran get more playing time against Australia considering she’s the most-capped player on the roster with 199 appearances. Lindsey Horan wore the armband for the two friendlies even though Sauerbrunn has been captain for most of this year. She only came onto the pitch in the last few minutes of both games when the USWNT shifted to a five-player backline. It’s highly unlikely Sauerbrunn will be cut from the team before she retires, but she certainly has a position to protect since Andonovski seems to be in the process of rebuilding his defense.
F Ashley Sanchez
Andonovski called up Ashley Sanchez as the only inexperienced midfielder to travel with the team to Australia. The USWNT’s midfield is steady and is the toughest area for a newcomer to crack right now. Sanchez is a hungry player who received her first two caps in Australia, but she isn’t yet at a point in her career where she can force Andonovski’s hand over the midfield mainstays.
M Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Andi Sullivan
The three who got the most playing time in the midfield over the past two games didn’t do anything to garner high praise, but the experience they brought to a young team, connecting the defensive lines with the attack, was critical to the USWNT’s success.
Rose Lavelle is one of the best midfielders in the world because of her creativity and technical abilities, and she rarely makes a poor decision on the ball, even under heavy pressure at the top of an opponent’s box. Horan, though not as strong of a dribbler as Lavelle is, sets the balance with good ball distribution and defensive work and isn’t afraid to plough through opponents. Reading the field, she was able to change her positioning and strategy as soon as she felt the Matildas were getting too comfortable. Andi Sullivan’s impact in Australia was quieter, but the USWNT also didn’t use her six position enough to their advantage when they had possession.
Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.