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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.