The U.S. women’s national team wraps up its 2022 campaign with a two-game friendly series against Germany on Thursday and Sunday. The games conclude a year in which head coach Vlatko Andonovski evaluated the USWNT’s deep pool of talent, new and old, as the team prepares for the 2023 FIFA World Cup.
Throughout the process, young, rising stars have been given opportunities, and many veterans who were pushed aside for a few months eventually earned second chances. With a team as competitive as the USWNT, anything can happen. On Wednesday, Andonovski named four players, all currently in November camp, who have impressed him more than he thought they would this year.
The first player to come to mind for Andonovski was Sophia Smith, who had a breakout year with the national team. She was called up to the senior team for the first time five years ago at the age of 16 but did not become a regular part of the roster until this year. After being left off the Olympic squad last summer, the 22-year-old has gone on to score 12 goals for the USWNT in 2022 and 15 for the Portland Thorns in the NWSL to finish second in the Golden Boot race. Helping the Thorns win the NWSL championship, she was named both league MVP and Finals MVP.
Playing at center forward with the Thorns, Smith has transitioned seamlessly into a winger role for the national team. Andonovski knew earlier this year that Smith would become a staple, and she has started every game she’s appeared in, further earning her coach’s trust.
Smith’s fellow winger, Mallory Pugh, had what Andonovski calls “a tremendous comeback on the national team.” A year and a half ago, Pugh didn’t make the USWNT’s Tokyo Olympic roster. As a regular member of the national team heading into the Games, Pugh had to grapple with the disappointment. And after a year of finding joy in the game again, she’s proved herself as a starting winger for the national team, scoring six goals and contributing a team-high seven assists.
USWNT veteran Alex Morgan fell off Andonovski’s radar for half a year and was not called into the team until late June of 2022 after an impressive first two months with San Diego Wave FC in the NWSL. The forward scored 16 goals in 19 games with the Wave this season, winning the Golden Boot and helping the club become the first to make the playoffs in its inaugural year.
In her two USWNT call-ups this year, Morgan has scored four goals. After scoring the game-winning goal to secure the Concacaf W Championship for the U.S. in July, she was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Alex, who did not accept the fact of not being on the national team,” Andonovski said. “She proved to everyone that she’s still a world-class player.”
Naomi Girma, in her first year out of Stanford, has been remarkably consistent in her distribution and tackles along the USWNT’s backline. Earlier this fall, Andonovski said fellow center back Alana Cook had the edge due to experience, but since then Girma has earned more playing time and built her case for World Cup roster inclusion. One of her most impressive performances came in a start against England, the 2022 Euro Cup champions, at Wembley Stadium in October.
In the NWSL, the 2022 No. 1 pick became the first player in league history to win two individual awards in the same season, earning Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year.
“There’s a reason she’s starting on our team, and that’s because she is growing into a great player,” Andonovski said.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.