The U.S. women’s national team has wrapped up its final international window before the 2023 World Cup roster is named. Between now and June, players are hard at work with their club teams both in the NWSL and abroad.
USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski has made it clear that game minutes matter for roster selection, and he has been actively watching NWSL games, most recently catching two matches in the Pacific Northwest this past weekend.
As player performances and returns from absence become clearer, it’s time for a second stab at projecting Andonovski’s 23-player squad that will make the trip to New Zealand to try to repeat as World Cup champions.
On the roster: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, Adrianna Franch
First player out: Aubrey Kingsbury
The USWNT goalkeeping position seemed all but wrapped up going into April, but a few NWSL performances have thrown just a shred of doubt into the mix. Naeher and Franch have each had touchy moments for their clubs in recent weeks. Franch wasn’t selected to start for Kansas City in their 2-0 win over the Orlando Pride this weekend, with backup keeper Cassie Miller getting the nod in her place. Also over the weekend, Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars allowed five goals against OL Reign on just five shots on goal.
There’s enough evidence piling up to make U.S. fans slightly nervous, but probably not enough to sway Andonovski from his pre-determined trio of goalkeepers, all of whom have necessary experience at the international level. Casey Murphy, though, might have a clearer road to competing for serious minutes rather than serving primarily as Naeher’s backup if she begins to look like the clear frontrunner in form.
On the roster: Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook, Naomi Girma, Tierna Davidson, Emily Fox, Crystal Dunn, Kelley O’Hara
First players out: Sofia Huerta, Emily Sonnett, Casey Krueger
Determining who makes the USWNT defense for this year’s World Cup is as much a numbers game as it is a reflection of individual quality. If the U.S. takes seven attackers, they can roster only seven defenders, meaning they can’t provide cover for every position on the backline. If Andonovski wants four center backs along for the ride, that limits his ability to have a relevant backup for every outside back and vice versa.
There are some things we know. Andonovski has indicated his current preferred starting defense is made up of Becky Sauerbrunn and Naomi Girma in the central defense, with Emily Fox and Crystal Dunn on the outside. That leaves others fighting for rotation spots. Tierna Davidson provides flexibility as a center-back/outside-back hybrid, and Alana Cook has gotten too many minutes in the team’s system to be dropped now. The question then lies on the outside, where the U.S. will surely need to rotate throughout the tournament.
The biggest question mark is whether Kelley O’Hara or Casey Krueger has displaced Sofia Huerta, a crossing extraordinaire in the attack but a player who could struggle defensively against top competition. O’Hara’s has steadily built her fitness back up to full 90-minute performances for Gotham in the early going of the NWSL season, and her experience could win out in crunch time. Emily Sonnett has been playing defensive midfield for OL Reign this season, indicating she might not currently have a foothold in the U.S. defense.
On the roster: Julie Ertz, Andi Sullivan, Ashley Sanchez, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Kristie Mewis
First players out: Taylor Kornieck, Sam Coffey
Fans have long desired two clear defensive midfield candidates to make sure the USWNT midfield is as balanced as possible at the World Cup, and it seems their prayers have been answered. The USWNT is now likely to take two No. 6s in New Zealand, but they are not the two anybody expected. Julie Ertz’s return has flipped the team’s midfield dynamic on its head, with the 31-year-old providing a solid counter-option to Andi Sullivan depending on the team’s opponent.
The good news of Ertz’s return does spell trouble for other midfielders who have been auditioning for various roles, including Taylor Kornieck, who may end up on the outside looking in. Ashley Sanchez doesn’t provide as much versatility, but she’s clearly Rose Lavelle’s attacking midfield backup when the veteran isn’t available. And Kristie Mewis’ major tournament experience might be enough to secure her spot as the final midfielder on the plane to New Zealand.
On the roster: Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith, Lynn Williams, Megan Rapinoe, Catarina Macario, Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson
First players out: Ashley Hatch, Midge Purce
With Mallory Swanson now sidelined with a serious knee injury, the U.S. has once again had to scramble to make sure all elements of the attack are covered by players with international experience. The good news is that the winger position is one of the USWNT’s deepest, with quality forwards still likely to just miss out on a trip to the World Cup.
Andonovski called teen phenom Alyssa Thompson up in the wake of Swanson’s injury, appearing to place her higher on the depth chart than Gotham winger Midge Purce. Thompson is still a work in progress, but she plays off Sophia Smith well positionally and has a defensive motor the team could need in a close knockout game. Megan Rapinoe has shown her quality on set pieces hasn’t abated in the latter stages of her career, likely becoming a candidate to help play left wing by committee in Swanson’s absence. Lynn Williams, a player built for Andonovski’s system, has also only solidified her place with an excellent run of form in the NWSL.
The other unknowable factor in the final attacking decision for the U.S. is the status of Catarina Macario, whose timeline for a return to competitive play gets slimmer by the day. Macario has fewer than five matches left in her club season with Olympique Lyon and hasn’t yet indicated a return to full training.
Ashley Hatch, meanwhile, has continued to perform in NWSL, scoring three goals in four games. Despite that, the Spirit forward hasn’t seemed to make much progress in playing time with the U.S. At this moment, I’m still betting on Macario’s promise over Hatch’s known qualities, though the balance between the two players shifts further toward Hatch with every passing day.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.