After months of speculation, international friendlies and NWSL games, the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup roster is almost here.
The U.S. has gotten tough injury news, welcome returns and questions surrounding player form during the most recent audition phase, leaving head coach Vlatko Andonovski without clear head-to-head performances on which to base his final decisions. Andonovski has to balance international experience, positional needs and current mentality when making his final selections, and history tells us he’ll favor consistency over everything else.
With all of these factors in mind, here is what I think the final USWNT roster for the 2023 World Cup will look like.
In: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, Aubrey Kingsbury
On the bubble: AD Franch
For the first time in 2023, there appears to have been enough of a shift in the USWNT’s goalkeeping outlook that we might see a change to Andonovski’s final roster. Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy and Adrianna Franch — the trio that closed out 2022 for the U.S. — have each had mercurial performances in the NWSL this season, raising questions of form going into the World Cup.
Murphy has been the most consistent of the current pool, and Naeher has looked more like herself in recent weeks after a rough start to Chicago’s season. But Franch is still having trouble getting on the field, after being dropped in favor of former backup Cassie Miller, and has not excelled in limited appearances. Aubrey Kingsbury has been very steady for the Washington Spirit and has extensive experience in camp with the USWNT. Andonovski could make a last-minute shift to the hot hand for the third keeper role.
In: Naomi Girma, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook, Emily Fox, Crystal Dunn, Casey Krueger, Emily Sonnett
On the bubble: Tierna Davidson, Sofia Huerta, Kelley O’Hara
With the USWNT’s projected starting group of Girma, Sauerbrunn, Fox and Dunn all healthy heading into the roster announcement, the adjustments Andonovski might make are at the margins of the defense. Alana Cook’s experience with the U.S. system gives her an edge over high NWSL performers like the Spirit’s Sam Staab. Cook has been solid for OL Reign this season, and her comfort level at the international level is difficult to replicate.
The final utility center-back role will likely come down to Emily Sonnett and Tierna Davidson, both of whom have had touchy NWSL seasons thus far. Sonnett has taken on a holding midfield role for OL Reign, without playing many minutes at her preferred center-back position. Davidson has been a regular defensive starter for Chicago but has had trouble alongside the rest of the Red Stars’ defense, which has given up a league-leading 23 goals in 10 games.
Outside back/center-back hybrid Casey Krueger has maintained her personal standard despite Chicago’s struggles and is my sleeper candidate for the final backup outside-back role. Her inclusion would mean Andonovski has placed an emphasis on 1v1 skills over the crossing ability of Sofia Huerta, who has been steady in 2023. The other player competing for that spot, Kelley O’Hara, recently picked up another small injury, raising more questions about her durability.
In: Julie Ertz, Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis, Ashley Sanchez
On the bubble: Taylor Kornieck, Sam Coffey, Savannah DeMelo
Rose Lavelle hasn’t played in the NWSL since injuring her knee in mid-April, causing concern among the U.S. fanbase. Still, she hasn’t been officially ruled out from consideration, and she’s a player the USWNT would rely upon in tandem with Ashley Sanchez for creative playmaking in the middle of the pitch.
Julie Ertz also has gotten less playing time in her NWSL return than might have been originally hoped for. The USWNT will likely have to play her alongside presumed starter Andi Sullivan to get the most out of the 31-year-old defensive midfielder. But like with so many other positions, ambiguity in fitness and form around players Andonovski clearly favors has not stopped the U.S. head coach from taking chances in the past, and I expect very little change to the USWNT midfield prior to their first game in New Zealand.
Ertz and Sullivan are the team’s defensive midfield options, Horan and Mewis will play more connecting box-to-box roles, and Sanchez and Lavelle will be asked to provide a creative spark. If any of those players end up not being available, Taylor Kornieck and Sam Coffey will be waiting in the wings.
In: Lynn Williams, Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith, Megan Rapinoe, Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, Alyssa Thompson
On the bubble: Jaedyn Shaw, Midge Purce
With Catarina Macario officially removing herself from consideration for the World Cup as she continues to recover from an ACL injury, the question marks on the frontline come down to attacking philosophy. Does Macario’s absence solidify Ashley Hatch’s place as a center-forward backup, or does Andonovski cut the backup role entirely in favor of adding a different winger or creative midfielder? Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Lynn Williams have all spent time in the central attack and have the ability to make switches mid-game.
Hatch has been quietly effective in the NWSL this season and can rotate in the necessary minutes to make sure Alex Morgan can give her legs a break in the group stages. Alyssa Thompson would also give the U.S. additional winger rotation options on the left side with Rodman and Megan Rapinoe, whose ability in dead-ball situations and World Cup experience should earn her a place on the roster.
The injuries to Macario and Mallory Swanson create space for most of the obvious bubble players on the USWNT frontline, with NWSL standout Jaedyn Shaw and Gotham FC forward Midge Purce likely the first few missing out. Purce has been in and out of USWNT camp in the last calendar year. Recently, she’s been dealing with injuries that have kept her off the pitch during the crucial weeks leading up to the final roster decision.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.