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USWNT roster battles: Biggest lineup questions ahead of 2023 World Cup

Sofia Huerta and Naomi Girma will be fighting for roster spots next year. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S Women’s National Team is riding high after taking home the Concacaf W Championship trophy Monday, defeating Canada 1-0 in the tournament’s final.

The team’s fruitful Concacaf run qualifies the USWNT for the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics. While the USWNT’s victory marks the first step in the squad’s major tournament cycle, questions still remain.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski used the competition to evaluate up-and-coming talent, leaving many to speculate about the USWNT’s roster moving forward. With a series of key players missing qualifying due to injury and maternity leave, questions surround personnel shifts in the year leading up to the Australia- and New Zealand-hosted World Cup.

The Biggest Lineup questions ahead of the 2023 World Cup:


The contest for the USWNT’s starting goalkeeper position appears to have narrowed to North Carolina Courage star Casey Murphy and veteran Alyssa Naeher.

Murphy got the starting nod for three of the Concacaf matchups, but critically, Naeher earned the start in the tournament’s final against Canada. The 34-year-old provided a reliable presence in goal for the USWNT, maintaining the squad’s clean sheet and helping clinch the United States an Olympic berth.

Murphy, who logged three shutouts, looked less assured in her appearance against Costa Rica, with apparent communication breakdowns prompting several miscues out of the back.

With Naeher yet to make a misstep, the starting goalkeeper role will come down to Murphy’s upside and potential weighed against the Red Star’s proven ability in big games.


The USWNT’s back line has been plagued by injury and absences leading up to the Concacaf W Championship, with center backs Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper battling injury and outside back Crystal Dunn out after welcoming her first child.

In their place, Naomi Girma and Alana Cook have made a name for themselves in the central defender position alongside captain Becky Sauerbrunn. Girma, in particular, had a breakout tournament, showcasing her ball disruption and one-v-one defensive talents.

On the flanks, Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta also got crucial minutes on the pitch. Despite missing two games due to COVID-19 protocol, Fox made a strong case as the team’s starting left back. A true defender with talent on the ball and comfortable getting up the pitch, Fox appears to have locked up a roster spot on the backline.

Huerta showed what she can bring to the defensive unit as well, dominating the flank with a series of quality services into the box. The OL Reign defender split some minutes with veteran Kelley O’Hara. Both are still in the running for a starting spot on the right side.


Andonovski’s midfield has perhaps the most question marks of any USWNT position group.

The squad has struggled in Julie Ertz’s absence, with the midfielder out due to pregnancy after already suffering an injury prior to her maternity leave. The defensive midfield position has proved challenging to fill, with Andi Sullivan still finding her footing at the No. 6 role.

Star Sam Mewis, who was critical to the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup win, has also been sidelined due to injury. Due to the lack of depth, Horan found herself playing a lot of minutes with a tapped leg, looking less than 100 percent healthy.

The silver lining, however, is the absences gave opportunities to players like Ashley Sanchez, who showed off her creative flair and attacking capabilities. Sanchez, perhaps more than any other rookie midfielder, proved her value to the USWNT, offering a playing style few others do on the pitch.


Ahead of the Concacaf W Championship, it was an open question how the USWNT would fair without star Catarina Macario after the 22-year-old tore her ACL playing with her club team Lyon.

Alex Morgan, however, stepped up, reclaiming her place as the starter in the No. 9 role, scoring the game-winning goal in the United States’ final against Canada and earning Golden Boot honors. An exciting development could occur on the front line if Macario heals in time for the World Cup and Morgan continues her goal-scoring tear for club and country, posing a potentially tricky decision to Andonovski.

On the outside of the pitch, Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh are leaving the Concacaf W Championship as the surest locks on the USWNT starting lineup. Andonovski is high on what Smith and Pugh are capable of on the flanks, with the young forwards showing their work ethic off the ball during qualifying.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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