On Monday, the U.S. women’s national team will embark on its mission to qualify for the 2023 FIFA World Cup.
The Concacaf qualifying tournament takes place in Monterrey, Mexico from July 4-18. The top four teams qualify for the World Cup, and the champion automatically advances to the 2024 Olympics as well.
In the group stage, the USWNT faces Haiti (July 4), Jamaica (July 7) and Mexico (July 11), while the other group has Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica and Haiti, ranked 51st and 60th in the world by FIFA, will both give the U.S. tough competition, but No. 26 Mexico is expected to be the USWNT’s most challenging opponent in the group stage.
All USWNT games can be streamed on Paramount+, where you can get free access until July 19 by using the offer code “GLORY.”
Last week, the U.S. played a two-game friendly series against Colombia in preparation for Concacaf, winning 3-0 on Saturday and 2-0 on Tuesday.
Here are three things to know heading into the tournament based on the USWNT’s most recent game action.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the second game against Colombia on Tuesday that the players already know what their starting lineup will look like in Mexico.
And for everyone else, “It’s not hard to predict who it’s going to be,” he said.
Chances are good that the lineup throughout the group stage will look very similar to last Saturday’s: Casey Murphy (GK), Emily Fox (FB), Alana Cook (CB), Becky Sauerbrunn (CB), Kelley O’Hara (FB), Andi Sullivan (M), Lindsey Horan (M), Rose Lavelle (M), Mallory Pugh (F), Ashley Hatch (F) and Sophia Smith (F).
Our XI today in Colorado 🇺🇸#USAvCOL x @Allstate Lineup Notes » https://t.co/MH7N3MG8yM pic.twitter.com/xvZuc1TzDy— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) June 25, 2022
Our XI today in Colorado 🇺🇸#USAvCOL x @Allstate Lineup Notes » https://t.co/MH7N3MG8yM pic.twitter.com/xvZuc1TzDy
If NWSL form factors into these decisions, then the biggest surprise will be to see Alex Morgan on the bench. She leads the league with 11 goals, three ahead of second-place finisher Sophia Smith and already surpassing last year’s Golden Boot champion, Ashley Hatch.
Pugh and Smith are all but certain to feature as two of the three starting forwards. Dynamic, fast, and strong on the dribble, the young attackers have had their spots solidified for months.
.@sophsssmith's second of the evening, and FIFTH of 2022! pic.twitter.com/WclxMx2T2w— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) June 26, 2022
.@sophsssmith's second of the evening, and FIFTH of 2022! pic.twitter.com/WclxMx2T2w
After Andonovski’s postgame comments Saturday, Hatch seems assured to start in the nine position.
“Ashley is here in camp and even starting the first game for a reason,” Andonovski told reporters. “She has goal-scoring abilities, she has a very good feeling for a goal, to find herself in good moments to score a goal. We think she’s going to get to play a lot and help us in the upcoming games.”
In the midfield, Andonovski alluded to Horan and Lavelle as starters. Although they each missed penalty kicks on Tuesday, Andonovski said they will continue to be the designated penalty takers because of their starting spots.
Defender Carson Pickett started Tuesday’s game and played all 90 minutes, but she was only on the 26-player squad for June and won’t be traveling to Mexico. Other left fullback Emily Fox started Saturday’s game, but was playing limited minutes in the series.
“The situation with Emily is very clear that she is a starter in the left back position and she has been proving that every camp she comes into,” Andonovski said.
Kelley O’Hara’s leadership has been important to Andonovski, as well as that of Becky Sauerbrunn, who served as captain on Saturday. Their past experience with the national team will help set the competitive bar on the field. Also in the back, Alana Cook and Casey Murphy have had consistently strong performances ever since becoming regulars at camp over six months ago. They’ll likely get the start as well.
The biggest question mark in the USWNT’s Concacaf roster is the No. 6 position. Andi Sullivan is the only defensive midfielder making the trip to Mexico, and she’s been dealing with a quad injury. She’ll be a starter in the tournament if healthy, but on Tuesday, she didn’t dress.
Jaelin Howell and Sam Coffey play at the six for their clubs, but did not see the field on Tuesday when Sullivan was out. Instead, Kristie Mewis and Lindsey Horan split the responsibilities in front of the backline. As midfielders who usually play higher, they’ll both likely have a slight learning curve at the position. There’s no doubt they’ll be able to adapt, but it’s notable that Andonovski decided to go with them over Howell, who has been participating in camps and acclimating to the international environment for months.
The USWNT was clearly ironing out tactics and chemistry in the two friendlies, which weren’t the prettiest of results, but the players have the talent to find ways to win even when things aren’t going according to plan. Both goals in the second match came from defenders. Sofia Huerta forced an own goal to put the U.S. on the board, and then Kelley O’Hara knocked one in from the top of the box near the end of the match.
Andonovski wasn’t worried that the forwards weren’t the ones to get the job done. It was difficult to get them open with five Colombian players surrounding them at all times, but the games served as a good test for Concacaf competition.
“Biggest takeaway is that we do have a very good team,” he said. “We found a way to score goals in different ways. Even though today, I would say, was not our best performance, we still managed to score goals.”
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.