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USWNT roster breakdown: Youth movement takes over defense

(Jenny Chuang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team backline for World Cup qualifying will look a lot different than the defensive lineup for the Tokyo Olympics and 2019 World Cup.

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski’s latest 23-player roster features a youthful group of defenders, signaling a changing of the guard.

Like much of the roster, the defense has been plagued by injury and absence, with center backs Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson both sidelined with injuries and Crystal Dunn out on maternity leave.

Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn will return as veteran defensive anchors, but the question of who will stand next to Sauerbrunn in the center of the pitch looms large.

Alana Cook appears to be the heir apparent for the center back role, with just nine caps to Sauerbrunn’s 202. At 25 years old, Cook already has international experience, competing with Paris Saint-Germain for the first three years of her professional career.

In her second season with NWSL club OL Reign, Cook has come into her own, helping her team to the least number of goals conceded per match at 0.8 and a league-leading four clean sheets.

Naomi Girma is the only other central defender on the roster, with a single national team cap. Emily Sonnett is capable of playing the position, but Andonovski has been vocal about the Washington star staying on the wings for the USWNT.

There are fresh faces on the flank as well, with Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta joining O’Hara out wide.

Andonovski has been quick to praise Fox, telling the Equalizer in late 2021, “She’s one of the most comfortable defenders that I’ve ever seen under pressure.”

The Louisville defender is also confident in getting up the field to overload the attack, a defining characteristic of the modern USWNT outside back.

Sofia Huerta is similarly attack-minded, known to whip in some of the highest quality services in the NWSL. Her chemistry with fellow OL Reign teammate Rose Lavelle is also notable, making the 29-year-old a contender for a starting spot.

How Andonvski will set up his backline is still up for speculation, but he will likely look to solidify a starting lineup quickly to give time for the players to gel. At this point, Sauerbrunn looks like the only sure starter as the team gears up for June camp.