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USWNT roster bubble is shrinking ahead of 2023 World Cup

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 21: Taylor Kornieck #20 of the United States scores her goal and celebrates during a game between New Zealand and USWNT at Eden Park on January 21, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

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?

Goalkeepers

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.

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Crystal Dunn is fully back in the mix after giving birth to her son last May. (Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Defense

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.

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Andi Sullivan has been the linchpin of the USWNT midfield, while Kristie Mewis makes her case. (Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Midfield

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.

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Vlatko Andonovski has repeatedly praised Megan Rapinoe's leadership. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Attack

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.

Seattle Reign Stars Barnes, Fishlock Back New USL W League Team

usl w league ballard vice president tiffany mallick holding an official usl w ball
Joining May 2025, Seattle’s USL W team will be the sixth in the league’s Northwest division. (Ballard FC/YouTube)

On Tuesday, 25 Seattle-based sports and business professionals announced their investment in a new USL W League team operated by popular semi-pro USL League Two men’s side Ballard FC.

Headlined by Lauren Barnes (Seattle Reign), Jess Fishlock (Seattle Reign), Olivia Van der Jagt (Seattle Reign), and Sam Hiatt (Gotham FC), alongside Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Glider and Jen Barnes, owner of the women's sports-focused Rough & Tumble Pub, the yet-to-be-named Ballard squad will enter the pre-professional league next May.

Current Ballard FC president Sam Zisette will oversee both the men’s and women’s clubs, while vice president and seasoned athletic trainer Tiffany Mallick will shift her focus on the women's team.

"Our goal is to create better opportunities for young women to develop their skills on and off the field," said Reign captain Lauren Barnes in a team press release. "The path to professional soccer didn’t exist on the same scale while I was growing up, and I’m thrilled to be part of changing that for future players."

"Introducing a USL W League team to Ballard is a monumental step in advancing our organization and soccer community," added Zisette. "Ballard is a special place with an immense sense of pride, passionate spirit, and love for soccer. We can’t wait to see the community embrace this new team!"

Tampa Bay United Soccer Club
Launched in 2022, the USL W League now fields 80 teams across four conferences. (USL W League)

What is the USL?

The United Soccer League (USL), which organizes multiple US leagues across all divisions, has recently upped its commitment to the women's game.

In addition to the developmental USL W League — which started in 2022 and now fields 80 teams across four conferences plus three 2025 expansion teams, including Ballard — USL is set to launch the fully professional USL Super League next month.

With eight inaugural clubs (and plans to expand to 20 teams by 2026), the USL Super League will join the NWSL as the only other Division 1 women’s league in the country. But unlike the NWSL, the USL Super League will mirror the European schedule, operating from fall through spring with its official kickoff slated for August 17th.

As with USL W Ballard, the Super League also has some star power behind it. In May, WNBA All-Star rookie Angel Reese joined the ownership group of Washington's forthcoming DC Power FC.

USL W League finalists South Georgia Tormenta FC v Minnesota Aurora FC
The 2024 USL W League's semifinals kick off on Saturday, July 13th. (Jeremy Olson/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

USL W League gears up for postseason action

But before the USL Super League takes the pitch, their pre-professional counterparts will finish up their 2024 postseason run.

On Saturday, the USL W's four conference champions will square off in the league semifinals on Saturday, July 13th, with NC Courage U23 hosting Tennessee SC and the Colorado Storm facing Detroit City FC in Michigan. Winners from those two matches will then battle it out at the USL W League final on July 20th.

All USL W postseason action can be streamed live on SportsEngine Play.

Wilson, Clark Put Up Record-Breaking Numbers in Midweek WNBA Action

WNBA Las Vegas Aces A'ja Wilson blocks Nneka Ogwumike of the Seattle Storm
Las Vegas's A'ja Wilson added to her lengthy stat sheet on Wednesday. (Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images)

Around the WNBA, big-name players A'ja Wilson, Kahleah Copper, Caitlin Clark, and Angel Reese made good use of Wednesday's jam-packed five-game schedule, kicking off a pre-All-Star Weekend campaign that promises not to disappoint.

Aces' A'ja Wilson racks up a perfect 20/20

Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson was the star of the show yesterday, throwing down epic numbers in one of her most successful performances so far this season

Wilson registered a 24-point, 20-rebound double-double in the Aces’ 84-79 win over Seattle, marking the six-time All-Star's first-ever 20/20 game.

Storm guard Jewell Loyd’s 28 points led the game, but between Wilson’s numbers and fellow Ace Jackie Young’s 27 points, Vegas managed to leapfrog fifth-place Seattle to secure a fourth-place spot in the WNBA standings.

WNBA star Kahleah Copper of the Phoenix Mercury drives to the basket against the Dallas Wings
With 32 points, Mercury standout Kahleah Copper led the WNBA in scoring Wednesday. (Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

Top-ranked WNBA teams keep scoring

At the top of the table, the Liberty beat the Sun 71-68 to oust Connecticut from the pair's previous tie for first in the standings. 

2024 WNBA All-Star DeWanna Bonner’s 22 points led the Sun, while Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu sank 21 points alongside Breanna Stewart’s 18-point, 14-rebound double-double to extend New York's record to 18-4 on the season.

And in Phoenix, the Mercury dominated the last-place Wings 100-84 behind Kahleah Copper’s 32 points — the most drained by any player that day. Yet despite double-doubles from both Teaira McCowan and Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas fell to 5-18 on the season with the loss.

WNBA Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark shoots in a game against the Washington Mystics
WNBA rookie phenom Caitlin Clark dropped 29 points for Indiana on Wednesday. (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rookies Clark, Reese, and Cardoso put up numbers

Fever star Caitlin Clark owned Indiana's stat sheet yesterday with 29 points and 13 assists, becoming the first player in WNBA or NBA history to drop 25+ points, five rebounds, 10+ assists, five steals, and three blocks in a single game.

Clark's effort wasn't enough to hold off the otherwise struggling Mystics, however, who stunned the Fever 89-84 behind a monster 26 points from Ariel Atkins

Chicago's rookies joined forces to lift the Sky over the Dream 78-69, as Kamilla Cardoso added her own double-double to teammate Angel Reese’s record-extending 14th

This season, Reese and Cardoso have combined to average just under 20 rebounds per game so far this season. If that metric holds, they’ll make WNBA history with the highest average for any duo in a single season.

A 2024 WNBA All-Star banner hangs outside the Footprint Center
Only 15 regular season games remain before WNBA All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

What happens next for WNBA teams

With All-Star Weekend tipping off one week from today, only 15 regular season games remain before the WNBA's scheduled Olympic break.

Whether they currently sit in first or last place, all 12 teams will want to hit the ground running when play resumes on August 15th.

NBA 2K25 to Feature WNBA All-Star A’ja Wilson on Cover

NBA 2K25 WNBA Edition Cover starring A'ja Wilson
Five-time WNBA All-Star A'ja Wilson will feature on both the NBA 2K25 WNBA and the dual-league NBA 2K25 All-Star Edition covers. (NBA 2K25)

Today, NBA 2K25 announced back-to-back WNBA Champion, two-time WNBA MVP, and six-time WNBA All-Star A’ja Wilson as its latest cover athlete.

Las Vegas's newly minted all-time leading scorer, Wilson will grace the cover of the GameStop exclusive NBA 2K25 WNBA Edition. She will also be featured on the dual-league All-Star Edition alongside 2024 NBA Champion Jayson Tatum.

"Being featured on the NBA 2K25 cover is a big moment for me and a testament to the ever-growing fandom of the WNBA," said A’ja Wilson in Wednesday's press release. "Seeing more and more WNBA athletes scanned into NBA 2K25 to best capture the style and confidence of the league has been empowering, and I can't wait for fans to experience it in-game."

Wilson has had a standout season so far. The back-to-back reigning Defensive Player of the Year not only topped the Aces' all-time scoring list, but also leads the league in points per game with an average of 27 and sits second in average rebounds per game with 10.9. In May, she announced a signature shoe deal with Nike, and later this month, she'll be heading to Paris as a part of Team USA's 12-player Olympic 5×5 roster. It will be the 27-year-old's second time competing in the Summer Games.

"In a year that showcases competition at the highest level — and in a play style that is uniquely one’s own, we’re thrilled to share Jayson, A’ja, and Vince as the NBA 2K25 cover athletes" said Greg Thomas, president at 2K studio Visual Concepts. "The development team has delivered another innovative experience for basketball lovers, setting up NBA 2K25 to be the next icon in this long-standing dynasty."

nba 2k25 wnba cover star a'ja wilson
"Seeing more and more WNBA athletes scanned into NBA 2K25 to best capture the style and confidence of the league has been empowering," said Wilson. (NBA 2K25)

The New-Gen version of the video game is available on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Powered by enhanced ProPLAYTM technology, the release delivers the franchise’s most true-to-life basketball experience yet, offering players the ultimate control in how they dominate the competition in modes such as MyNBA, The W, and in The City.

According to the press release, the WNBA Edition will be available for $69.99 while the All-Star Edition will run $99.99. NBA 2K25 will be available on September 6th on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

NWSL Awards Race Heats Up Ahead of Olympic Break

Temwa Chawinga of the Kansas City Current runs with the ball in an NWSL game with the Portland Thorns
With 12 goals, Kansas City's Temwa Chawinga tops this year's NWSL Golden Boot race. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

As the NWSL heads into the Olympic break, it's time to take stock of the players currently in contention for individual accolades by season's end.

Only 10 regular season games remain after the league's August 23rd return, despite this season being four games longer than last year's campaign.

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda in action during a NWSL match against Seattle Reign
Orlando's Barbra Banda is a strong NWSL Golden Boot award contender. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NWSL Golden Boot award comes down to two

The league's Golden Boot frontrunners are well known, with Orlando's Barbra Banda and KC's Temwa Chawinga leading the pack.

At the moment, Chawinga has a slight edge on Banda even though both forwards are tied at 12 goals apiece: Chawinga has registered six assists to Banda's five, giving her the award's first tiebreaker. Banda, however, has racked up her goals in just 12 games, while Chawinga's tally has come over 16 games.

With 10 matches to go, Banda and Chawinga could be on pace to break former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr's 18-goal single-season record.

NWSL Washington Spirit's Croix Bethune celebrates her stoppage-time equalizer against San Diego Wave FC
Washington's Croix Bethune is in the running for both the Rookie of the Year and NWSL MVP awards (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

NWSL MVP award is still anyone's game

While Banda and Chawinga are certainly shoo-ins for this year's MVP conversation, a few other players also deserve some attention.

Rookie of the Year favorite Coix Bethune leads the league in assists with a staggering nine while sitting tied for seventh in goals scored with five. 

USWNT stars Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith should also be considered, as Rodman's passing and finishing continue to stand out while Smith's performance has resulted in 10 goals and six assists on the season.

NWSL goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger of NJ/NY Gotham FC stops the ball during a game against Bay FC
Late Gotham addition Ann-Katrin Berger might just snag the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award. (Karen Hickey/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Plenty of NWSL competition for defensive awards

Orlando and Gotham have the stoutest defenses in the league this year, with both Defender and Goalkeeper of the Year candidates in the mix.

Orlando defender Emily Sams has proven her versatility, playing outside back after entering the league as a center-back while also being called into her first USWNT camp.

Recently signed Gotham goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger might be behind in games played, but she's been statistically solid ever since joining the 2023 NWSL champions.

And don't count out two-time reigning Defender of the Year Naomi Girma, who has been consistently excellent even as San Diego's season has wavered.

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