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USWNT minutes tracker: What player trends can tell us about 2023

Sophia Smith, Rose Lavelle, Trinity Rodman, Lindsey Horan and Megan Rapinoe celebrate a goal against England in October. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Minutes played don’t tell you the full story of a roster, but with key players returning to the U.S. women’s national team from absence and injury in 2023, it’s worth reading the tea leaves on where players stand at the end of 2022.

Before diving into the end-of-year minute totals for individual players, let’s briefly look at overall numbers: Thirty-four different players made at least one game appearance in 2022. Some of those players had their years cut short due to injury, including Lynn Williams, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Catarina Macario, Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper.

A few changes to the USWNT schedule from a tournament year to a pre-tournament year should be taken into account when evaluating players’ minutes. The U.S. played 18 games in 2022, down from 24 in 2021 and up from nine in 2020. Trends from the last World Cup cycle also aren’t going to be equivalent this time around, in part because of fewer games due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a different coaching regime under Vlatko Andonovski.

The numbers, however, do paint part of the picture as the team inches toward final roster decisions in 2023, and there might be some patterns to glean from what players showed this year.

Heavy leanings

Andonovski is known as a rotator of players, almost to a fault, especially in tournaments with short turnarounds in between games. That approach, combined with unexpected injuries and absences, meant that no player came close to hitting the maximum 1,620 minutes total for the year, despite more consistent roster selections in the second half of the year.

Let’s take a look at the six players who crossed the 1,000-minute mark: Alana Cook, Sophia Smith, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Sofia Huerta and Mallory Pugh.

An overarching theme in 2022 was transitioning new players into greatly expanded roles. Only Rose Lavelle’s numbers shrank year over year — from 1,411 to 1,107 — mostly due to the U.S. playing fewer games. The midfielder’s durability in the last two years is remarkable, as she carries a veteran load and commits on both sides of the ball.

The other five top contributors saw massive minutes increases in 2022 after not making the Tokyo Olympic roster. Alana Cook took the biggest leap, playing 1,286 minutes in 15 games — the most out of any USWNT player — after playing just 270 minutes in 2021. Partnered with four different center-backs throughout the year, Cook played in every U.S. match after July 1, other than the team’s finale against Germany.

Sophia Smith, Andi Sullivan, Mallory Pugh and Sofia Huerta likewise played much heavier minutes this year. Smith jumped from 329 minutes to 1,192, Sullivan from 437 to 1,126, Pugh from 220 to 1,030, and Huerta from 131 to 1,074. It’s impossible to predict the future, but every players who crossed the 1,000-minute mark in 2018 made the 2019 World Cup roster. Lindsey Horan, Casey Murphy and Becky Sauerbrunn rounded out the top eleven in minutes played this year. Take that for what you will in this cycle.

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Naomi Girma became a steady presence in the USWNT backline in the second half of 2022 (Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Cycle to cycle

After winning bronze at the Olympics in 2021, the USWNT began its quest to get younger. Andonovski started integrating new faces into the roster during friendlies that December to quickly refresh the squad. But looking at 2022 compared to the previous cycle doesn’t necessarily support the idea that the U.S. has been throwing the kitchen sink at the player pool.

Andonovski gave minutes to 13 players with five or fewer caps in 2022, slightly down from the 15 new players Jill Ellis awarded caps to in 2018. More players getting looks doesn’t always guarantee new names sticking around. Only two of those 15 players in 2018 made the 2019 World Cup roster: Jessica McDonald and Tierna Davidson. Eight of those players did not receive caps in 2022, and five of those players saw their activity with the team limited to just 2018.

In 2022, newer players didn’t just make it on the field, but their playing time was consistent, extensive and included key games like World Cup qualifiers and top-level friendlies. Alana Cook came into 2022 with only four caps and then played the most minutes of anyone on the team. Goalkeeper Casey Murphy started nine of her 11 career caps in 2022, including against top FIFA competition and in the Concacaf W semifinal. Rookie Naomi Girma played 741 minutes in her first 10 career caps in 2022, and nine of those appearances came after June 1, including two full-90 appearances against Germany to close out the year.

Those struggling to break in

If Girma’s growing minutes tell the story of a player being fast-tracked toward a starting role, other players’ playing time indicates the difficulty in becoming part of the team’s core.

Kristie Mewis, for example, played in 15 of the team’s 18 games but only registered two starts. The Gotham FC midfielder’s most consistent playing time came early in the calendar year, when she put in 90-minute performances in two of the USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup games. But after June 1, Mewis didn’t play more than 45 minutes at once, coming in around the 60th minute during a number of Concacaf W games and serving as a very late-game substitute in the U.S.’s final match against Germany.

Andonovski relied heavily on Ashley Sanchez‘s creativity during the Concacaf W group stage, with the 23-year-old playing two 90-minute matches against Jamaica and Mexico. However, as the U.S. searched for its identity against top European sides to close out the year, Sanchez was relegated to coming off the bench, playing 10 and eight minutes as a spark off the bench against England and Germany, respectively. Her Washington Spirit teammate, Trinity Rodman, has been similarly relegated to short off-the-bench appearances, outside of one start against England (in which she scored a goal that was called back for offside by VAR review).

Other players who saw their minutes limited to bench appearances include Ashley Hatch, who looked prepared for a larger role after starting both matches against Australia at the end of 2021. Even with Alex Morgan not rejoining the squad until June, which coincided with Catarina Macario’s year-ending injury, Hatch started only two matches in 2022. Taylor Kornieck likewise looked like a favored option off the bench later in the year, but the forward has yet to start or accumulate a significant amount of minutes for the team despite being called in consistently since June.

Players will have opportunities during friendlies against New Zealand in January and at the 2023 SheBelieves Cup in February to make cases for themselves as others re-enter the fold, but a few players on the bubble might find themselves looking back at 2022 as a missed opportunity.

Check out the full rundown of every player’s caps and game minutes in 2022 below:

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Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

KC Current GM Camille Ashton Resigns

KC Current GM Camille Ashton
Former KC Current GM Camille Ashton left the undefeated organization early this week. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton has resigned, the club announced Wednesday.

The staffing shakeup comes as somewhat of a surprise after the Current started off the season undefeated under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski, sitting second in the NWSL standings through 10 games.

No further details were given about her departure, other than that the club "wishes her the best in her future endeavors."

"I am thankful for my time in Kansas City," Ashton said in a team statement. "It was important to me to dedicate my time and efforts to ensure a successful 2024 season by building the championship-caliber roster that's currently near the top of the table. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. I look forward to the next step in my personal and professional journey."

Ashton, who played in the league from 2014-17, helped rebuild the Current roster, including picking up then-free agent Debinha in 2023 — the biggest free agency signing of that offseason. This past offseason, she brought in international players Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto

But the club has also encountered some rough patches throughout Ashton's tenure. Following her daughter's dismissal from the Current last year, mother of 2023 draft pick Mykiaa Minniss also accused the club of mistreatment during the preseason. While both the league and NWSL Players Association looked into the comments, no formal reprimand or consequences were publicly issued.

Players like Lynn Williams, Alex Loera, and Cece Kizer voiced concerns over what they described as unexpected trades, with Kizer adding that there was "no conversation this could happen." Williams, meanwhile, was informed of her trade moments prior to its execution while she was in New Zealand with the USWNT.

"There could be a lot of debate about that on its own, but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league," Ashton told reporters earlier this year when quested about the Current's player trade procedures.

While the club made an NWSL championship appearance in 2022 — the year Ashton came on as general manager — the 2023 season kicked off with the team firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season and hours before a road game. 

At the time, the club cited "issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities" as the reasoning, though players were reportedly confused with the decision making.

Last October, the Current hired former UWSNT coach Vlatko Andonovski as head coach, in addition to giving him the title of "sporting director." Whether or not that role overlapped with Ashton’s responsibilities as general manager was cause for some speculation.

NWSL Honors UWSNT Great Lauren Holiday With Impact Award

Lauren Holiday at nwsl impact award event
USWNT legend Lauren Holiday has long been involved with social activism off the pitch. (NWSL)

The NWSL announced today that the annual civically focused Nationwide Community Impact Award would now be known as the Lauren Holiday Award in honor of the National Soccer Hall of Famer.

Since 2021, the award has recognized one NWSL player each season for their character and contributions to community service off the pitch, according to a league release. The winner of the newly retitled award receives $30,000 toward a charitable organization of their choice.

"The NWSL is proud to honor Lauren Holiday as the namesake of this award recognizing exemplary athletes and their commitment to service and activism," said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. "Lauren’s influential work in the community and her outstanding character both on and off the field epitomize the values we look to uphold and celebrate in the NWSL every day. 

"I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition than Lauren and look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this program has on our clubs and communities with her example guiding our efforts."

In a statement, Holiday said that throughout her career she has always "believed in the power of giving back and creating positive change." A two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup winner, and former NWSL MVP, Holiday founded the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund alongside husband and fellow professional athlete JRue Holiday.

The fund contributes to programs that combat systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Holiday has also long been an advocate for legislation to help close the racial inequality gap in maternal health.

"This award is a testament to the important work that athletes are doing to strengthen and uplift their communities every day and I am deeply humbled to take on its namesake," Holiday said. "I hope it inspires others to continue their efforts in making a lasting impact on the lives of those around them."

Waylaid Seattle Rookie Nika Mühl Makes WNBA Debut

seattle storm's nika muhl guarding indiana fever's caitlin clark
Mühl spent her first few pro minutes repeating her college assignment: guarding Caitlin Clark.(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

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