It’s the end of the calendar year for the U.S. women’s national team, with 2022 performances all wrapped up in a bow. Naturally, that also means it’s time for end-of-year report cards to evaluate how each player did in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup.
Again, a quick set of criteria: Despite the team’s first three-game losing streak in decades, the U.S. lost only three games total in 2022. A failing grade would indicate a player is wildly unprepared for the game at this level, which is not something we saw from the group playing the lion’s share of minutes this year. Likewise, an A+ indicates a player with all-star, team-on-their-back, best-in-the-world status.
Throughout this series, which will grade players by position, I’m going to avoid those who didn’t get minutes in 2022 and those who have missed significant time due to injury.
So far, we’ve graded the goalkeepers, outside backs, center-backs, defensive midfielders and attacking midfielders. Now, let’s take a look at the winger position.
Sophia Smith is my personal pick for USWNT Player of the Year in 2022. She scored 11 goals, played over 1,000 minutes and comfortably filled roles on the wing and occasionally at center forward. Her most consistent playing time came on the right side of the pitch, and the 22-year-old showed off new facets to her game when given more consistent opportunities. Smith is an obvious goal-scoring talent, but her versatility in space might still be underrated. She can drop back to help defensively, slide into the midfield to receive the ball and overlap with her teammates to exploit pockets of space as they open up.
Only compared to Smith does Pugh come in at a lower grade. If Smith was a force on the right in 2022, Pugh became her counterpart on the left. Pugh often leaves one or two obvious chances on the board, but they are noticeable because she creates them with such consistency. She paired well with Catarina Macario early in the year and was greatly missed during the USWNT’s two-game trip to Europe in October. In the final match of the year, she had perhaps her most comprehensive performance, driving the team forward with her constant energy and scoring the game-winning goal against Germany.
The greatest knock against Rodman is that we didn’t get to see nearly as much of her as we would have hoped. The 20-year-old played in 10 matches in 2022, with her most notable performance coming in the USWNT’s 2-1 loss to England in October. Rodman is a more connective player than she gets credit for, with a good sense of when to drop into the midfield for service. She scored an equalizer at Wembley off a scintillating full-team sequence that was controversially ruled offside. The way coach Vlatko Andonovski used her primarily as a late-game substitute underplays her readiness for the international level.
Purce was left off the U.S. rosters late in the calendar year due to Gotham FC’s NWSL struggles, perhaps unfairly. The USWNT is packed at winger, making roster decisions particularly difficult, but Purce did bring a spark off the bench in 2022 that served a valuable purpose. She sealed a Concacaf W win against Haiti with a goal earned through sheer tenacity. Purce has the competitiveness and intelligence of a World Champion-level player, but so often in the 27-year-old’s international career, she’s ended up the odd player out of a crowded position.
It’s difficult to properly rate Rapinoe at this point in her career, since her strengths and limitations are so well-known. She’s one of the team’s key leaders, bridging the gap between the older generation of USWNT rosters and the new. She’s a killer in dead-ball situations, including on crucial penalty kicks, and she still can whip in a cross better than most. But when she plays significant minutes consecutively, she can leave the outside back behind her isolated in defense and isn’t always on the same page as the rest of the frontline when the U.S. moves quickly in transition. She’s perfect for her current role as intended, but Pugh’s absence in October underlined the USWNT’s vulnerability on the left if they have to rely on depth.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.