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2023 World Cup: Evaluating the USWNT goalkeeper pool

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North Carolina Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy has solidified her case with a strong start to the 2023 NWSL season. (William Howard/USA TODAY Sports)

If one position seemed locked up for the U.S. women’s national team heading into 2023, it was goalkeeper, with Alyssa Naeher and Casey Murphy as the clear one-two punch.

The NWSL season, though, may have created waves in the goalkeeper pool. With a recent run of poor play by some USWNT staples, coach Vlatko Andonovski faces a tough task in evaluating the keepers ahead of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“We’ll look into performances, first and foremost,” Andonovski said in April. “Who does well, who stops the ball going in the net? There’s no question that will be the first thing we’re going to be looking at.”

Naeher has struggled to start the season, albeit behind a porous Chicago Red Stars defense. AD Franch, who has been the third goalkeeper through all of the spring camps, has been benched for the Kansas City Current.

While the USWNT has options beyond Naeher, Murphy and Franch, they have limited – if any – international experience. While roster consistency can be a good thing, it also could limit the options in net for the defending World Cup champions.

Casey Murphy, North Carolina Courage – 14 caps

Casey Murphy’s play for the USWNT in the last year and recent start with the Courage may have solidified her case for the starting spot. Throughout the last year, Murphy has made 12 starts for the USWNT, going 9-2-1 and recording nine shutouts while allowing just five goals. So far this year, she’s started in three games and recorded a clean sheet in each of them.

And that run of form has carried over to her club. Through eight starts for the Courage in the 2023 regular season, Murphy has allowed just nine goals, which is among the lowest in the league. (Only Aubrey Kingsbury is better through eight starts, having allowed just seven goals.) Murphy also leads the league in clean sheets with four and has a 78.1% save percentage.

If there is one player who clearly deserves a World Cup nod for the USWNT, it’s Murphy.

Alyssa Naeher, Chicago Red Stars – 89 caps

Longtime USWNT keeper Alyssa Naeher has had a challenging run of late, allowing 22 goals through eight games in the NWSL regular season, paired with a save percentage of 65.4%.

Her goals against average of 2.75 is tied for the highest in the league, matched only by Franch. No other goalkeeper in the NWSL this season averages more than 2.0 goals against per 90 minutes. She also is one of two NWSL starting goalkeepers who has not recorded a clean sheet this season.

Some of her struggles to start the season can be placed upon the Red Stars organization. The team is in the midst of being sold, and a number of players exited in the offseason. But for the USWNT, her performance is still worrying.

Naeher has proved to be great under pressure throughout her career, which helped her ascend to her starting position for the USWNT. She has provided a steady foundation for USWNT fans everywhere as other areas of the field have been points of concern. After all, she anchored this team to a World Cup in 2019. Even the greatest, though, have their breaking points. Has Naeher reached hers?

AD Franch, Kansas City – 10 caps

AD Franch has had a rough go of it to start the season for the Kansas City Current. She has just five appearances across all competitions in 2023, having been benched in favor of Cassie Miller after coach Matt Potter got fired.

On May 14, she made her first appearance in almost a month — then allowed an own goal. In her most recent match before that one, which came on April 15, she allowed four goals against the Red Stars. She is allowing 2.75 goals per game on average, and her save percentage sits at a league-low 56.5%.

In 2022, she was a finalist for the NWSL’s Goalkeeper of the Year award, which got her back onto the USWNT after an extended break. But even though she has earned call-ups, Andonovski has not played around with his starters, sticking with Naeher and Murphy. So Franch has not played in a match for the USWNT since an October 2021 friendly against South Korea.

Aubrey Kingsbury, Washington Spirit – 1 cap

Washington’s Aubrey Kingsbury has been one of the best goalkeepers to begin the NWSL season. Her save percentage sits at 82.8% and she’s allowed just seven goals through eight appearances, leading to a goals against average of 0.87. She’s also recorded three clean sheets on the season.

Kingsbury is no stranger to big moments. Named 2019 and 2021 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, she helped the Spirit to the 2021 NWSL title. And last year, when the team stumbled, Kingsbury provided a steady hand. She finished 2022 with 6.59 goals prevented, and 0.35 goals prevented per 90 minutes, which ranked second among goalkeepers who started over half of team matches.

While Kingsbury has been called up a number of times since 2019, she has not been called up once this year despite her stellar form. And she has just one appearance in international play to her name, coming last year in the team’s 9-0 blowout win of Uzbekistan, which could hinder her chance at a World Cup roster spot.

Phallon Tullis-Joyce, OL Reign – 0 caps

We’ve said it before at Just Women’s Sports and we’ll say it again: Phallon Tullis-Joyce is worthy of consideration for a USWNT goalkeeper spot.

While Tullis-Joyce was named to the 59-player provisional roster for the Concacaf W championship last year, she hasn’t yet earned a call-up to the USWNT, even though she’s been one of the best goalkeepers in the NWSL through the last two seasons. Last season, she finished as a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year, and this year she’s off to a strong start.

With three clean sheets and just 10 goals allowed through eight games, Tullis-Joyce has been a constant for OL Reign to start the season. And while her save percentage (69.7%) ranks in the middle of the league, she’s on track for another solid season.