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USWNT roster: Toughest World Cup decisions at every position

Sophia Smith and the USWNT will kick off their World Cup journey on July 21 against Vietnam. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team released its roster for two November friendlies against Germany on Monday. While the 24-player squad is similar to the group that’s taken the field for the U.S. in the past year, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said this week that the roster could look different in three to five months.

As the team prepares for the 2023 FIFA World Cup, Andonovski has been calling in players who have little to no experience on the national team. A handful of veterans from the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup and 2021 Olympic squads are injured, creating opportunities for Andonovski to evaluate other talent. Many of those new players have taken full advantage of the year to prove they belong.

With all the changes, though, have come challenges with establishing chemistry on the field. In their last two friendlies against No. 4 England and No. 6 Spain, the young USWNT struggled on both ends of the pitch, raising questions about Andonovski’s tactics as the team dropped back-to-back games for the first time since 2017.

“We have to work and we have to get better, but there are some things that may change just by changing the personnel,” he said.

As veterans begin to trickle back in over the next few months, and new players continue to prove they belong, Andonovski will have some tough decisions to make. If the 2023 Women’s World Cup follows the same 26-player format as the 2022 Men’s World Cup, an increase from the usual 23-player roster size, some choices won’t be as hard.

Here are the toughest decisions Andonovski will have to make at every position in three to five months, as veterans begin to work their way back into the mix.

Defensive midfield

Julie Ertz, Andi Sullivan, Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell

The USWNT’s starting six, Julie Ertz, hasn’t been on a U.S. roster since the Tokyo Olympics after recovering from injury and then going on maternity leave. With the two-time U.S. Soccer Player of the Year giving no public indication of her timeline for a return, there’s been speculation about whether she’ll come back at all. On Monday, Andonovski said he’s been in touch with her “this whole time.”

“We want to give Julie time to get back slowly,” he said. “This is not something that we will even discuss. This is time for Julie to enjoy the time as a family. When the time comes, if she’s prepared and she’s anywhere near her best, I know this team will welcome her back.”

In the meantime, Andi Sullivan has been serving as the USWNT’s primary holding midfielder. NWSL rookies Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell both deserve looks but will have a tough time making the cut against two established veterans.

It would be wise of Andonovski to keep both Ertz and Sullivan. For the Tokyo Olympics and the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying tournament this past summer, he brought only one of the two and paid the price when injuries set in and there was no six to relieve them.

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Julie Ertz hasn't played for the USWNT since the Tokyo Olympics. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Midfield

Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis, Ashley Sanchez, Sam Mewis, Taylor Kornieck, Savannah DeMelo

A roster of 23 players would likely have six midfielders, including one or two who can play the holding position. Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle have been the go-to starters in front of Sullivan this year, and Ashley Sanchez has been given a few starts after getting consistent call-ups since last November.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Crystal Dunn, usually a fullback for the national team, to be added to the USWNT’s midfield player pool. One of the most versatile players in the program’s history, Dunn scored the winning goal for the Thorns from the attacking midfield after subbing into the NWSL semifinal game and creating numerous chances throughout the second half.

There hasn’t been much information on Sam Mewis’ injury and recovery timeline, but it’s safe to assume that the 2020 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year will be invited into camp when she’s ready.

Center back

Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Naomi Girma, Alana Cook

Center backs are going to be among the hardest decisions for Andonovski in the coming months. With the coach usually bringing three to each camp, Becky Sauerbrunn, Naomi Girma and Alana Cook have been the call-ups this year while Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper recover from season-ending injuries.

Davidson, who tore her ACL in the spring, is the closest to returning among the injured veterans. She is expected to be back to full training in mid-November and available for selection for games against New Zealand in January. Andonovski said that she has “the ability to be started on this team.”

Abby Dahlkemper’s latest back injury requires surgery, Andonovski confirmed this week. Once that’s complete, the team will have a better idea of her timeline for a return.

Sauerbrunn has been with the USWNT all year as one of their most valuable leaders. Possibly due to Sauerbrunn’s playing time restrictions, Girma and Cook have received just as much time on the pitch. Andonovski said earlier this fall that Cook had the slight edge over Girma in making the World Cup roster due to experience. Following that comment, Girma made a stronger case for herself against England and Spain during the October window. The San Diego Wave defender then was named NWSL Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first player to win two individual awards in the same year.

Fullback

Casey Krueger, Crystal Dunn, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Fox, Sofia Huerta, Carson Pickett, Hailie Mace

There are a lot of decisions to be made at outside back, where it’s likely that four to five players will be chosen. 

On the November roster are Sofia Huerta, Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox and Hailie Mace. Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara are recovering from injuries, and Casey Krueger has been on maternity leave all year. 

Krueger did train with her NWSL club, the Chicago Red Stars, before they were eliminated from the playoffs in October. She hasn’t yet returned to the national team, but Andonovski said he’s “looking forward to seeing her in camp,” so she will likely be back with the USWNT in January. 

Andonovski said this week that Dunn, O’Hara, Huerta and Fox are all potential starters. It wouldn’t be surprising if that group plus Krueger are the top five on his list right now. 

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Emily Sonnett, Kelley O'Hara and Abby Dahlkemper have all been absent from the team due to injuries. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Center forward

Alex Morgan, Catarina Macario, Ashley Hatch

Once Catarina Macario is back on the field in February after recovering from ACL surgery, she will “very likely bump into one of the starting positions if she’s anywhere near her best,” Andonovski said this week. She left the USWNT as a nine, solidifying her case for the position with convincing performances and goals scored, but she has also played in the midfield.

In Macario’s absence, Alex Morgan has consistently started at the nine while leading the NWSL with 15 goals to win the 2022 Golden Boot. Last year’s Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch, has impressed off the bench, scoring a number of quick goals to boost the USWNT’s momentum.

Macario and Morgan appear to be locks, and it’s possible that Andonovski keeps all three if he names seven forwards to the roster.

Outside forward

Sophia Smith, Mallory Pugh, Megan Rapinoe, Lynn Williams, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Midge Purce, Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson

The USWNT’s attack has undergone the most change in the past year, as Andonovski has rotated in some new players for evaluation.

Earlier this year, the coach said a player would have to really impress him for Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh to be removed from their starting positions. He also seems set on having Megan Rapinoe available off the bench, saying that her experience is valuable in mentoring young players like Smith and Pugh.

The final one or two forward spots, meanwhile, are up for grabs. Trinity Rodman has had strong performances off the bench, scoring two goals in nine appearances in the past year. Lynn Williams was also a consistent call-up until suffering a season-ending leg injury in March. Andonovski said in June that he wasn’t planning on calling in Christen Press, even before her ACL tear, but on Monday he included her in his list of absent players.

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Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh were Andonovki (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Goalkeeper

Casey Murphy, Alyssa Naeher, Aubrey Kingsbury, AD Franch, Phallon Tullis-Joyce

The talent in the U.S. goalkeeper pool is bottomless. Casey Murphy, Aubrey Kingsbury and Alyssa Naeher have split time between the posts for the USWNT this year. AD Franch was called into the November squad after a stellar NWSL season, joining Murphy and Naeher.

“Very happy for her,” Andonovski said of Franch. “Obviously being in Kansas. City, I had a chance to watch her a little more often live and especially the second part of the season. It was almost like it was her role to carry Kansas City in in tough times. … It was consistent throughout the season, so it was not hard for us after everything, for this camp to decide to call her back in.

“I think this is another opportunity for me to say that yes, the form in the league matters. And if you’re doing well on a consistent basis, you will be called back regardless of what your status was in the past.”

In the case of a 26-player World Cup roster, Andonovski would have the opportunity to name all four of Naeher, Murphy, Franch and Kingsbury to the squad. In terms of NWSL form, Andonovski also indicated earlier in the fall that he has his eye on OL Reign’s Phallon Tullis-Joyce and Racing Louisville’s Katie Lund.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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