With only a few games left before the U.S. women’s national team takes off for the 2023 World Cup in New Zealand, the final roster is slowly taking shape.
The USWNT has been dealing with the absence of a number of key contributors due to injury, making it difficult to foresee exactly which players might be pushed to the roster bubble in the next few months. But the team’s approach to the SheBelieves Cup this past week has offered some insight into head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s thinking.
If the U.S. were getting on the plane to New Zealand today, who would Andonovski select to the 23-player roster, tasked with defending the team’s 2019 World Cup win? Here is the first edition of our mock World Cup roster.
Locks: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, Adrianna Franch
First players out: Aubrey Kingsbury, Jane Campbell, Bella Bixby
This position is fairly straightforward: Naeher and Murphy are the USWNT’s No. 1 and No. 2 goalkeepers, and Franch’s recent form should earn her the spot at No 3. NWSL action could sway that decision if Kingsbury, Campbell or Bixby start the season out strong, but Franch would have to slip in form to make room for any changes.
Locks: Naomi Girma, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Emily Sonnett, Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox
First players out: Tierna Davidson, Kelley O’Hara, Casey Krueger
The first players out in this scenario could absolutely make their way to the World Cup, but the lack of recent game tape from Davidson, O’Hara and Krueger makes it difficult to select them if the tournament started today.
The player most vulnerable to being overtaken by someone coming back from injury is Emily Sonnett. The 29-year-old has played both center back and outside back for the U.S. in recent international windows, with Andonovski not committing her to either position. Davidson has similar versatility and might be considered a more stable presence on the backline.
O’Hara and Krueger are experienced defenders who will have an opportunity to push for the spot currently held by Sofia Heurta at right back. If O’Hara is fit, she’ll be on the plane, but she simply needs to show she can handle the workload. Krueger is probably one step further out, but she could get a look at April camp.
Locks: Lindsey Horan, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Catarina Macario, Kristie Mewis, Ashley Sanchez, Taylor Kornieck
First players out: Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell, Morgan Gautrat
The U.S. midfield is a complicated project, with Andonovski packing the roster with players who fill similar roles for their club teams as Lindsey Horan, who has appeared undroppable from the starting lineup in recent games. Andi Sullivan will likely be relied upon heavily in the defensive midfield, aided by a combination of Horan, Kristie Mewis and Taylor Kornieck.
Andonovski has said recently that he considers Catarina Macario to be an attacking midfielder, but the 23-year-old can also play at the point of the team’s new 4-2-3-1 formation. She’s the one player who has a seat on the plane to New Zealand regardless of fitness, though she’s very close to making her national team return after tearing her ACL last June.
The three players just outside the roster bubble are all defensive midfielders, as Andonovski doesn’t appear to have a true backup No. 6 in his plans. Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell are both up and coming at the position, perhaps tabbed for tournaments in the future. Morgan Gautrat is an experienced holding midfielder at both the club and international level, but she hasn’t gotten much time with the U.S. while coming back from injury in 2022.
Locks: Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Lynn Williams, Sophia Smith, Mallory Swanson, Trinity Rodman
First players out: Midge Purce, Christen Press, Ashley Hatch, Alyssa Thompson
Whether Macario is listed as a midfielder or a center forward will influence how many players are taken at each position, but her presence will influence the frontline selections no matter how she is designated. Ashley Hatch has served as the backup to Alex Morgan in Macario’s absence but will likely be the odd player out when Morgan and Macario are healthy at the same time.
Midge Purce and Christen Press both suffer from the USWNT’s incredible depth at the winger position. Purce hasn’t gotten significant time at the SheBelieves Cup, with Trinity Rodman and Lynn Williams getting starts at right wing. Rodman is an exciting connecting winger with a high ceiling, and Williams is arguably the player most integral to making Andonovski’s defensive press work.
Press is simply in a race against time, as she works her way back from an ACL injury that cut her 2022 season short with Angel City. The two left wingers in front of her are Rapinoe and Swanson, though the starting job will almost certainly go to Swanson if she’s fit. If Press can hit the ground running in March, she deserves consideration to return to the team in April. But if she has any setbacks in her recovery, she might run out of opportunities to make it back to the international stage in 2023.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.