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2023 World Cup: Picking the USWNT starting lineup vs. Vietnam

The USWNT begins World Cup play against Vietnam on Friday in New Zealand. (Lachlan Cunningham/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

World Cup week is finally here, with the U.S. women’s national team kicking off their 2023 campaign on Friday evening against Vietnam. Each of the USWNT’s group-stage opponents have distinctly different styles of play, and head coach Vlatko Andonovski will have to select his starters and reserves with tactics in mind.

In the team’s send-off match against Wales, patterns emerged indicating how the U.S. plans to approach defenses that are willing to let them possess the ball and dare them to find a breakthrough. With that in mind, there are a few positional tweaks Andonovski could make to his starting XI in his World Cup debut.

Here is how I would deploy the USWNT lineup against Vietnam, from the starting group to the bench players.

Goalkeeper

Alyssa Naeher

Naeher played the full 90 minutes against Wales in the USWNT’s send-off match, which all but tipped the scales in her favor to start the team’s World Cup group-stage opener. Naeher has had some trouble on set pieces and low xG opportunities in the NWSL this season, but the game against Vietnam will be more about organization and keeping early jitters in check.

Defense

Crystal Dunn, Naomi Girma, Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta

Against what will likely be an organized lower block, the USWNT defense should lean as much as possible into their chance creation and ball distribution. Enter Sofia Huerta, a crossing specialist who can unlock the very type of defense the U.S. anticipates from Vietnam. Huerta’s presence also allows for rotation, with the possibility of Crystal Dunn and Emily Fox sharing minutes to prepare them for longevity through the tournament. Fox could also relieve Dunn in a left-back role to let the natural attacking player push forward into the midfield if the U.S. is still searching for a goal.

I think Emily Sonnett could start this match alongside Naomi Girma, a reflection less of my faith in Alana Cook and more of the understanding that center-back substitutions can be difficult when the stakes are high. Sonnett has very little game time with the U.S. as a center-back alongside Girma. Vietnam could be the right test for Sonnett to settle her nerves and give her a chance to be a real rotation option at the position. But the first match sets the tone, and Girma and Cook also need time together on the biggest stage to find their footing.

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Savannah DeMelo earned her first USWNT cap in the send-off game against Wales. (Lachlan Cunningham/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Midfield

Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan, Savannah DeMelo

Safely assuming that Rose Lavelle is not fit to start the USWNT’s first match of the tournament, Savannah DeMelo might be an intriguing option to take over the creative midfield role against Vietnam’s sturdy defense. DeMelo has scored from distance a number of times in the NWSL this season, and a shoot-first mentality is something the U.S. has lacked in recent games. They’ll try to put passing sequences together to exploit space, but if DeMelo has the willingness to try a few heat checks from distance alongside quality dead-ball service, she deserves a look.

Andi Sullivan might be a controversial starter at defensive midfield, but she’s best-suited for games with less transitional play and more possession, which is what the U.S. is likely anticipating from its first match.

Attack

Lynn Williams, Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith

This one is tricky. It’s tough to leave Trinity Rodman on the bench at the beginning of the tournament based on her recent play, but Lynn Williams could be the deciding factor in a game like this. Williams is so good at applying quick defensive pressure and forcing turnovers to win chances in front of goal. If Vietnam can settle into the game, the ticking clock can become the USWNT’s enemy as much as the other team on the pitch. Williams is the type of player who can give the U.S. an opportunity to take the lead early, which will allow them to settle into possession with an advantage in hand.

There will come a time in this World Cup when it makes sense to play Rodman, Williams and Sophia Smith together as the front three. But for this particular match, the veteran leadership of Alex Morgan wins out. It’s not just that she can communicate well with the team’s World Cup newcomers — she’ll also be able to do the back-to-goal work to create space for Williams and Smith to execute. No one understands the tempo of an international match better than Morgan, and they’ll need her for this game.

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Trinity Rodman scored both USWNT goals against Wales on July 9. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

First off the bench

Emily Fox, Trinity Rodman, Ashley Sanchez, Kristie Mewis, Alyssa Thompson

The USWNT’s depth is still a huge asset, with a variety of options available to Andonovski depending on the game state. As mentioned, Fox coming in might allow Dunn to join the midfield, or simply make sure that neither outside back depletes their energy.

Should the U.S. want to go high-tempo, Rodman and Alyssa Thompson bring quality positioning and speed to the frontline, while Rodman can also methodically connect with her midfield. Ashley Sanchez offers creative flair, and Kristie Mewis can sub in for any of the three midfield positions, giving the group a gritty edge should they need it late in the match.

Building their minutes

Rose Lavelle, Megan Rapinoe, Julie Ertz

The U.S. is still dealing with a handful of injuries, with Lavelle’s long-awaited return a key factor in the team’s chances in the knockout rounds. Lavelle has been training with the team and seemingly going full-contact, but she has yet to see competitive game minutes since April. The need to build her fitness back up is another good reason for the reigning World Champions to get off to a fast start and allow their midfield engine to resume play in a positive situation.

Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz are each also building their minutes back up, but they have more flexibility in their usage on the field. Ertz is a player best-suited for transitional play, meaning she might be needed more in the USWNT’s second two group-stages matches. She and Rapinoe are both secret weapons on set pieces; Rapinoe, in particular, can create a bit of magic should the U.S. struggle to grab a lead late in the game.

Ready if necessary

Casey Murphy, Aubrey Kingsbury, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara

As mentioned above, there’s a compelling argument that Sonnett should start this first game. But what is more likely is that Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara will be available as defensive reinforcements, with both players able to slot into different roles if necessary (could we see the return of O’Hara at midfield, for example?). Goalkeepers Casey Murphy and Aubrey Kingsbury will be in a similar position: Murphy has the capability to take the starting reins at any time in this tournament.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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