The U.S. women’s national team exited the Concacaf W Championship group stage with a clean sheet through three victories but plenty of questions.
USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski used the team’s three group-stage matches in the World Cup qualifying tournament to maximize rotation and player looks. With the knockout stages ahead, roster speculation is running rampant, with certain players making their case while others still have more to prove.
The USWNT will take the pitch again at 7 p.m. ET Thursday for a semifinal match against Costa Rica.
The starting goalkeeper role appears to be up for grabs, with the race down to veteran Alyssa Naeher and up-and-comer Casey Murphy.
Murphy got the starting nod against Mexico after Naeher played in the USWNT’s Jamaica matchup, adding to speculation about who holds the USWNT’s starting goalkeeper position. Andonovski has said he wants to give Murphy experience — she also started the opener against Haiti — as the coaching staff is well aware of what Naeher can do.
The race for starting goalie will likely come down to Naeher’s experience and proven success at big tournaments versus Murphy’s upside and potential.
Andonovski has yet to settle on a core defensive unit, but certain players have made their cases for places in the starting lineup.
Emily Fox looks to have locked up her place as the starting left back. Though the Racing Louisville defender missed the team’s last group-stage matchup against Mexico due to COVID-19 protocol, Fox’s starting spot doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy. Andonovski has spoken about Fox’s impressive one-on-one defensive capabilities and ability to spark the USWNT’s attack from the flanks.
On the other side of the pitch, Kelley O’Hara and Sofia Huerta are the final two players in contention for the right-back role. Following the group stage’s trio of games, O’Hara seems to have upped her stock with a goal and a series of solid performances. Huerta, however, has shown her ability to make plays from the flanks, launching quality services into the box.
The center-back duo of Alana Cook and Becky Sauerbrunn looked to be Andonovski’s starting pick ahead of the Concacaf W Championship, but a breakout performance from Naomi Girma may have complicated that choice. The San Diego Wave defender hasn’t put a foot wrong this tournament, shutting down opponents’ attack while distributing quality balls up the pitch.
A shining quality of Naomi Girma is her ability to set the attack with long-range accuracy or dribble out of pressure. This is the type of incisive pass the #USWNT needs more of. It's paying off already.pic.twitter.com/tcrdPC4CqQ— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) July 7, 2022
A shining quality of Naomi Girma is her ability to set the attack with long-range accuracy or dribble out of pressure. This is the type of incisive pass the #USWNT needs more of. It's paying off already.pic.twitter.com/tcrdPC4CqQ
The midfield is the area of the roster with the most questions. After Julie Ertz’s injury and maternity leave, the USWNT has struggled to fill the defensive midfield position. Andi Sullivan is the apparent heir to Ertz, but has yet to find her footing during Concacaf competition as she comes back after a season plagued by injury. Andonovski has toyed with playing Lindsey Horan and Kristie Mewis in the No. 6 position, but neither looks to be a natural fit, as both are attacking-minded players.
Sam Coffey, midfielder for the Portland Thorns, has been called into Concacaf after forward Ashley Hatch suffered a tournament-ending injury, perhaps acknowledging the lack of depth in the defensive midfield position.
Rose Lavelle and Ashley Sanchez have proved their ability to inject creativity into the USWNT’s attack, with the duo overloading and exposing opponents’ defenses when on the pitch together. Depending on the opponent, and their defensive lift, Sanchez may be able to sneak into the starting lineup in the future.
For now, however, Andonovski appears to be committed to a Sullivan, Lavelle and Horan midfield.
KRISTIE IN THE 89TH 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸pic.twitter.com/8RhSJz4pXJ— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) July 12, 2022
KRISTIE IN THE 89TH 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸pic.twitter.com/8RhSJz4pXJ
The USWNT’s attack is the deepest point on the team’s roster, but the starting lineup is essentially locked in. Andonovski has made it clear Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh are his two starting wingers, while Alex Morgan has earned her No. 9 spot with a stellar season for club and country.
Hatch got quality minutes before exiting Concacaf early with an injury but failed to make her case as the starting No. 9, especially when put next to an in-form Morgan.
Margaret Purce has also dazzled in Mexico, perhaps solidifying her place as the second-in-line on the right flank. Trinity Rodman, the NWSL Rookie of the Year, hasn’t seen too many minutes in Mexico, making Megan Rapinoe the apparent relief winger on the left side of the pitch.