The U.S. women’s national team is bringing in a few fresh faces for their September friendlies against South Africa next week, as the team says goodbye to a couple of legends and transitions into the next chapter. After head coach Vlatko Andonvoski’s resignation following the team’s disappointing World Cup run, interim manager Twila Kilgore now has the tricky job of retaining the parts of the USWNT’s identity that were working, and jettisoning the tactics that were inhibiting them from playing their best.
As we saw many times under Andonovski, bringing in new talent is only as effective as the system they play in. Here is how I think the USWNT can most effectively integrate their non-World Cup players into what will likely be a familiar system with a few tweaks.
Fishel is known internationally as a goal-scorer, after dominating with Tigres in Liga MX Femenil since debuting as a professional in 2022. She has a knack for putting the ball in the back of the net as a forward, something she’s shown since starring for UCLA in college. Now, the question is how she’ll fit into the USWNT system if they retain the 4-3-3.
Fishel is a player not unlike Sophia Smith, who can fit into different positional areas but who seems to thrive when allowed to move into non-traditional spaces in between the wings and a classic center-forward position. At this moment, she’s probably best-suited for the top of a 4-4-2 formation with just one attacking partner. But if given the green light to collaborate without strict positional restrictions, Fishel can showcase all of her assets as an attacker rather than simply that of an experienced goal-scorer.
Shaw can play as a winger, having done so successfully in San Diego since joining the team in 2022. It’s possible she’s been brought in as a replacement for a player like Mal Swanson, or even Smith as she’s been used by the USWNT in the past. But Shaw has more tools in her arsenal than just the ability to run toward goal from a wide position, and clarity around her role could be crucial for her development with the team for the next World Cup cycle.
Shaw is more of a tweener in her movement, with a keen ability to exploit space. She can run to the endline to send crosses in, or move into spaces in front of the opponent’s penalty area to feed teammates and take shots from distance. Her savviness in motion and quality on the ball actually evokes the image of famed USWNT attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle, as much as the cavalry of wingers the team has favored in recent years. As Lavelle continues to deal with an injury that could limit her minutes, giving Shaw the keys as a playmaker could be a huge stepping stone for the future.
Coffey excels both at disrupting play and distributing the ball at the club level, which made her inability to become a core member of the 2023 World Cup squad something of a puzzle. Based on the way Andonovski used Julie Ertz in the run-up to the tournament, and Emily Sonnett in the team’s Round of 16 match against Sweden, it’s possible that a perceived lack of physicality on the defensive end might be what held Coffey off the final list.
It’s difficult to suddenly insert a talented player into a flawed system, but the success of the team in a 4-2-3-1 against Sweden does lend credence to the idea that the best way to integrate Coffey is to give her a midfield partner. Andi Sullivan and Coffey have similar player profiles, but a delineation of roles in the midfield could vastly improve the USWNT’s ball movement.
Davidson has had an up-and-down season at the NWSL level, slowly regaining her form as the leader of a defense that has struggled under destabilizing circumstances in Chicago. But the team has bounced back since the Red Stars’ final ownership sale, and Davidson could start to look more like her former self in a more settled environment.
Davidson’s superpower has long been her deceptive speed and vision, with an ability to open play up with a single long and diagonal pass. Her weaknesses in 2023 have more to do with her defensive positioning, but a partnership with new USWNT stalwart Naomi Girma might give her the support she needs to rediscover her 1v1 defending abilities. With Julie Ertz retiring, the race for the second starting center-back role for the U.S. is back on, and Davidson could walk right into that opening with renewed confidence.
Hatch is considered the 24th player of the USWNT World Cup 23, the first player left off as Andonvoski sacrificed a forward slot to bring attacking midfield depth. Her absence from the roster was less an indictment of her as a player, and more a concession that the USWNT had more playmaking issues than Andonovski had accounted for in the run-up to the group stage. Had Hatch traveled to New Zealand, she likely would have suffered in a way similar to Alex Morgan, who had to temper her strengths at central forward to play more connective football.
Hatch should be allowed to play more like herself (as should Morgan) in her return. Hatch has the ability to play with her back to goal and to run in behind with authority. She is calm in front of goal and can score just as effectively with her head as she can with her feet. Her weaknesses in Andonovski’s system came when she was trying too hard to be a passing outlet in the midfield, and ideally she can move with more freedom as she works her way back into the squad.
Krueger is a true outside back, with the ability to defend 1v1 on both sides of the field and tuck in centrally when needed to support the central defense. In the past, she’s been considered limited when aiding the attack, but in 2023 she has been one of Chicago’s most dangerous playmakers from a wide position. She can send a cross in on a dime and not lose key defensive coverage when giving attacking support.
At the World Cup, the USWNT’s outside-backs played with a certain amount of timidness, as if cutting loose in the final third would cause a key mistake in defensive transition. The team’s defense proved to be incredibly sturdy that way, but the fullbacks unwillingness to create width also made the team’s attack very predictable and easy to defend. Krueger should be relied upon to take a few more risks and stretch the South Africa defense, with the comfort of knowing she can recover well on the other end.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.