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USWNT roster: Which NWSL stars deserve a look?

Tatumn Milazzo has started in all 21 matches this season for the Chicago Red Stars. (Jon Durr/USA TODAY Sports)

The U.S. women’s national soccer team is in transition ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

Seven members of the 2019 team feature on the roster for the squad’s October friendlies against England and Spain, and several more could return to the lineup in the coming months from injury and pregnancy absences.

Still, the team looks markedly different than the one that last wielded the World Cup trophy. And while we would love to see Alex Morgan stick around forever, the changing of the guard will continue as veterans take their final bows and new stars step into the spotlight.

We’re even getting a glimpse of that now, as a knee injury ruled Morgan out of the upcoming European trip and created space for younger players like Alyssa Thompson and Savannah DeMelo to make their marks.

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski thinks highly of the NWSL as a barometer of talent. With plenty of rising stars on display as the league heads into its final weekend of the regular season, Just Women’s Sports offers a look at a few who deserve a shot on the USWNT roster.

Tatumn Milazzo – Defender, Chicago Red Stars

Milazzo is one player who has not yet earned a USWNT call-up but arguably should.

After going undrafted out of South Carolina in 2019, Milazzo earned a spot on the Red Stars’ preseason squad in 2021. First named as a supplemental roster player, Milazzo played in 14 games during the 2021 season for Chicago, starting in 10 of them.

This season, she’s been an instrumental part of the Red Stars’ defense, starting in all 21 games and playing a total of 1,861 minutes. She’s been a weapon and one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league all season long, with a 76.6 percent success rate on passes and making 68.5 percent of her tackles.

Milazzo leads the league with 47 interceptions and is tied for fifth in tackles won with 39.

There are a lot of questions about the USWNT’s defense in the lead-up to the World Cup, and Milazzo could be a versatile piece. She primarily has played at center back for the Red Stars but also has experience at right back in college.

Of course, Becky Sauerbrunn remains key down the middle of the field for the USWNT, and Tierna Davidson’s ACL tear has left Alana Cook in the other starting center-back role. Naomi Girma also has been impressive, swapping out with Sauerbrunn at times this year.

The return of Crystal Dunn from parental leave adds another layer to the piece of the defense pie. But as Milazzo continues to improve, she deserves a look from Andonovski.

Cece Kizer – Forward/Midfield, Kansas City Current

That Kizer hasn’t been called up yet is about as shocking as her trade from from Racing Louisville to the Current.

Upon her arrival in Kansas City, Kizer lit up the field for Kansas City. The club went on an 11-game unbeaten run, and Kizer has scored seven goals since her arrival in May, which puts her eighth in the league.

Teammate Lo’eau LaBonta has the same number, and together their 14 goals make up nearly half of the team’s 29 total on the season.

The Kansas City native has enjoyed being home and in doing so has helped the team that finished in last place last year clinch their first-ever playoff appearance.

But she’s not just good at scoring goals. Kizer is also skilled at setting up plays. She holds a 68.7 percent success rate on passes this season, making 24 key passes and putting up three assists. She’s directly had a hand in a third of her team’s goals.

While the USWNT’s top spots at midfield and forward appear to be locked in by the likes of Morgan, Sophia Smith, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle, there have been a few players brought in for trial runs, including DeMelo and Sam Coffey in the midfield and now Thompson at forward. Kizer could be next.

Phallon Tullis-Joyce – Goalkeeper, OL Reign

Tullis-Joyce has been outstanding in net this season. Andonovski even has said she’s on his radar, along with Bella Bixby and Katie Lund.

Tullis-Joyce also has earned praise from the coaching staff in Seattle.

“She’s a huge talent. She’s got a lot of room for growth and today, she did her job,” said assistant coach Sam Laity following the team’s 2-1 win over North Carolina on Sept. 17. “She did the things that we knew she could do.

“As strange as it might seem, I think she’s actually a better goalkeeper and has more work to do. So, it’s a bit of a catch-22; the goalkeeper that doesn’t have a lot of work to do, sometimes loses their rhythm, but then when they’re called upon, they stand up and make big saves. I thought she showed some incredible character and courage today. She made some big saves for us.”

She’s earned Save of the Week honors multiple times this season, and also leads the NWSL in save percentage and ranks sixth in saves, all in her first season as the team’s starter. Tullis-Joyce has been so good, the club extended her through the 2024 season in July.

While the goalie lineup has remained relatively consistent under Andonovski, the NWSL’s pool is deep. Both Alyssa Naeher and Casey Murphy spent time in net at the Concacaf W Championship, and each got a start in the team’s September friendlies against Nigeria. But Tullis-Joyce deserves her shot.