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Snubs and surprises from USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster reveal

Ashley Hatch was a surprise exclusion from the USWNT roster after appearing with the team consistently over the past year. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images)

In some ways, U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski has one of the toughest jobs in women’s soccer, especially when it comes to the decisions he has to make about his roster construction. The USWNT’s depth has been tested due to unexpected injuries, and Andonovski nonetheless has had to leave a number of very talented players home from the 2023 World Cup.

There are a few players on the bubble not dealing with injury who very likely could have made the USWNT 2023 World Cup roster. These are the biggest surprises and snubs from the team’s roster reveal Wednesday.

Ashley Hatch, forward

It feels like a harsh rite of passage in a way for a player to, through no fault of their own, find themselves on the very edge of a USWNT World Cup roster after months spent in camp with the team. In 2015, that player was Crystal Dunn; in 2019, it was Casey Krueger; and this year, it is Washington Spirit center forward Ashley Hatch.

Hatch wasn’t beaten out by any one player, but rather by a concept shift and more pressing issues elsewhere on the pitch. Rose Lavelle’s lingering injuries made way for Savannah DeMelo earning a surprise spot, while Becky Sauerbrunn’s absence might pull Julie Ertz away from the midfield. A spot had to be sacrificed, and Andonovski felt he had enough cover from players who can start both centrally and on the wings to eliminate the backup center-forward role entirely. It’s difficult to argue against the way Andonovski has shifted things to make numbers work throughout the roster, but the loss of Hatch could alter the attack even further.

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Sam Coffey had a standout 2022 rookie season for her club team and the USWNT. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell, midfielders

Andonovski moved away from developing Howell and Coffey into 2023 World Cup defensive midfielders months ago, making their exclusion less of a surprise as it is an ongoing frustration. Coffey has the distributive skills and sophisticated spacing of a veteran far beyond her years, and Howell is the kind of disruptor USWNT fans are used to in the position.

Together, they’d make the perfect addition to the USWNT’s midfield numbers. Individually, they have been left to develop further with their club teams rather than within the U.S.’s punishing system that requires players to cover a significant amount of ground, have an elite defensive presence and distribute the ball.

Tierna Davidson, defender

Davidson fell prey to timing in many ways, as her return from an ACL injury coincided with her club, the Chicago Red Stars, struggling mightily on the pitch. Chicago has changed its formation multiple times while Davidson has tried to get her confidence and timing back in both a three- and a four-back system.

The result became a defense that couldn’t stop leaking goals, and while club issues were not enough to keep entrenched goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off the World Cup roster, Davidson never got a chance to resume the elite play she had been known for.

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Casey Krueger also missed out on the USWNT's 2019 World Cup roster. (Bill Barrett/USSF/Getty Images)

Casey Krueger, defender

Davidson’s Red Star teammate, Casey Krueger, hasn’t seen her personal form dip despite Chicago’s issues, but multiple small decisions Andonovski faced likely kept her off a World Cup roster once again. Krueger has been fit and effective on both sides of the ball this season and is still one of the best American 1v1 defenders in the world. She can also play center back when asked to, possessing the type of versatility the U.S. usually prioritizes.

But after controversially being the last player off the plane in 2019, Krueger doesn’t have World Cup experience, and the loss of Sauerbrunn likely had Andonovski looking for someone who had been in that position before. He opted for crossing specialist Sofia Huerta to break down low blocks, and longtime veteran Kelley O’Hara to offset the defense’s experience gap despite dealing with a few lingering injuries herself.

AD Franch, goalkeeper

Franch has won a World Cup and an Olympic bronze medal with the USWNT, and she had worked her way back into consistent camps through stellar performances in 2022. But Franch’s form hasn’t been quite the same in 2023 as Kansas City deals with defensive injuries, leading to the 32-year-old being benched in favor of Cassie Miller.

The U.S. has a long history of expecting goalkeepers to have different levels of form for club and country with how many variables can exist in a club environment — Alyssa Naeher being a primary example. But Franch’s inability to get back on the field, combined with the excellent form of Aubrey Kingsbury, was just enough to push Andonovski into a late switch for his third goalkeeper spot.

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

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrives in DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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