As the U.S. women’s national team approaches the SheBelieves Cup this month, the clock is ticking for players on the bubble to make an impact before head coach Vlatko Andonovski names his 23-player roster for the 2023 World Cup.
It’s difficult to predict both fitness and form before July, and there will be players who make their returns and others who will become unavailable in the upcoming months. But Andonovski has been honing a small group for months rather than casting a wide net.
The coach’s roster has remained mostly the same over the course of multiple international windows, which begs the question: Just how close is the SheBelieves roster to the group that will travel to New Zealand in July?
The SheBelieves roster includes the same three goalkeepers from both the November and January rosters: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy and Adrianna Franch.
Naeher and Murphy have been alternating starting roles since the beginning of 2022, though Naeher has started in bigger matches like the Concacaf W Final against Canada. Andonovski has prioritized Murphy’s development, and she now has more appearances in a U.S. jersey than Franch despite only joining the team after the Tokyo Olympics.
Frankly, there doesn’t appear to be much variance in the cards here. Naeher and Murphy are clearly being built up as the No. 1 and No. 2 goalkeepers going into the World Cup, leaving a roster battle for No. 3, which is primarily a training role. Franch leapfrogged Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury for the third spot after a stellar NWSL season, but she has yet to see the field in the four friendly matchups she’s been available for since November.
If league and training form carry into roster selections this summer, there will likely still be room for Kingsbury or the other two keepers most recently in USWNT camp, Bella Bixby and Jane Campbell. If they impress enough and Franch’s performances dip, one of them could sneak onto the roster. Outside of that small caveat, this position is just about wrapped up.
The U.S. backline also hasn’t seen much change in recent months, even after losing one of the roster’s more intriguing players for the SheBelieves Cup. Kansas City’s Hailie Mace had been brought in as an emergency replacement for Emily Fox at times in 2022, and she also got a look in January camp. Mace missed out on the SheBelieves roster, most likely because of other players who have returned from absences.
After giving birth to her son last year, Crystal Dunn has been slowly building minutes at left back since November and should be at her most fit when games resume in February. Fox found herself in concussion protocol at different points in 2022 but appears to be on the mend herself. Sofia Huerta has also gotten consistent starts at right back, especially when the team takes an attacking-minded approach.
In terms of outside-back depth, Andonovski seems to be relying on combinations that have worked in the past instead of new faces. Emily Sonnett is back with the team, and though she played center back in one match against New Zealand, she’s been used for her versatility in the past. The team also awaits the return of veteran right back Kelley O’Hara, who Andonovski estimated should be available in April.
In the central defense, the U.S. has a fierce battle for roster spots simply based on who is healthy and performing. Naomi Girma has looked undroppable, Becky Sauerbrunn is both a veteran presence and a steady hand on the backline, and Alana Cook was the glue that held things together in 2022. Tierna Davidson is also nearing a full return, giving the U.S. four quality options (in addition to Sonnett). Andonovski might have to cut one of the players he already has available, with little room for new faces.
Despite the issues they had against top competition in 2022, the U.S. midfield appears mostly set going into the final World Cup preparation. Andi Sullivan is clearly the preferred choice in the defensive midfield, while Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle have consistently filled out connecting and attacking roles. Taylor Kornieck and Kristie Mewis have been brought in for late-game minutes, and Ashley Sanchez is a creative spark. Outside of those roles, there hasn’t been much rotation.
Andonovski confirmed that Sam Mewis will not be available for the World Cup due to injury and also said it’s unlikely that Julie Ertz will return to the sport in time for the tournament. Instead of investing more in young defensive midfielders Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell, Andonovski has focused on building chemistry between Sullivan and the players in front of her. Coffey didn’t play any minutes in the USWNT’s two games against New Zealand in January, and did not make the roster for SheBelieves. Howell hasn’t been with the team since October, when she replaced Kornieck due to injury.
When Catarina Macario returns from her ACL recovery, it’s unclear whether she’ll be listed as an attacking midfielder. Andonovski’s recent personnel choices indicate he’d rather rely on a consistent midfield trio rather than go all-in on perfecting the position’s depth.
Megan Rapinoe is once again fit and back on the USWNT roster after a lingering injury kept her out of camp in November and January. Andonovski has praised Rapinoe as a key piece of the team’s locker-room culture, and there’s arguably no player in today’s game better from the penalty spot.
In adding Rapinoe, Andonovski made cuts to the midfield and defense, which might indicate a priority toward getting the attacking mix right. The U.S. took seven forwards to the 2019 World Cup. It was considered a top-heavy decision at the time, but it also gave the team some wiggle room when Rapinoe became limited later in the tournament with a hamstring injury.
Andonovski still has a few decisions to make on the frontline, but as with other positions, his logic appears rooted in players returning from injury. Andonovski is still reluctant to rule anyone out of the future player pool — recently citing the wealth of experience both Christen Press and Tobin Heath could bring to the team — but his roster selections have told a different story.
Rather than replacing injured stars like Sophia Smith with talent like Mia Fishel, who has yet to get into camp with the first team, Andonovski brought back Midge Purce and eventually Rapinoe. Purce appears to be one of the players who’s closest to battling for a World Cup spot, having dropped off the roster late in 2022 but returning in 2023 with a renewed sense of intensity. Lynn Williams had a strong showing against New Zealand in her first game minutes since last February, and Trinity Rodman has instincts on the wing that stick out even among a talented player pool. Alex Morgan has also further solidified her place at center forward in Macario’s absence, providing strong hold-up play and veteran leadership.
Macario’s return looms over the central attack, and Andonovski will have to decide if there’s room for both the 23-year-old and Ashley Hatch. He will also eventually have to decide which wingers he wants backing up the assumed starting duo of Smith and Mallory Swanson. The USWNT’s attack is arguably its deepest position, and at least one world-class player is going to be staying home as a result.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.