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USWNT roster: Future of USWNT bench players after World Cup

USWNT midfielder Ashley Sanchez has said her World Cup role didn't necessarily match her expectations. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The U.S. women’s national team is abruptly moving into a new cycle, as it tries to shrug off a disappointing World Cup campaign and bounce back at the 2024 Olympic Games. The team has yet to name an official successor to head coach Vlatko Andonovski, and all assumptions about the USWNT player pool are off while the team resets.

A number of players on the World Cup roster this summer didn’t get the opportunities they perhaps deserved, but that doesn’t mean the future isn’t still bright for the four-time World Cup champions. So, what comes next for the USWNT’s bench players?

Let’s take a look at how they are currently contributing to their club teams, and why they’re still in the mix for permanent USWNT roster spots.

Ashley Sanchez, M, Washington Spirit

Sanchez explained to the media upon her World Cup return that she was a bit surprised by her role at the tournament. “Let’s just say the role [I was told I would fill] was not what I played,” she told the Washington Post after returning to the Spirit.

Sanchez is a player who can exploit space as both an attacker and a playmaker and isn’t afraid to take shots on goal. She made that clear with a ripper of a goal just 40 seconds into her first game back with Washington. Under Andonovski, Sanchez was frequently asked to sit on the backline of the USWNT’s opponent and as an additional attacker rather than a traditional midfielder. The finishing pressures placed on the player in that role have never suited Sanchez, who thrives when she has the freedom to collaborate with teammates like Trinity Rodman. As the U.S. works out its midfield shape, allowing Sanchez to create her own space will be paramount.

Alana Cook, D, OL Reign

Cook had one of the USWNT’s strangest World Cup experiences. After carrying the most minutes of any U.S. field player in 2022, she never saw the field at the World Cup, abruptly dropped in place of Julie Ertz at center-back. She’s since returned to a starting role at OL Reign, as she further develops her club partnership with Sam Hiatt.

Cook is a talented player who has struggled with the timing of the game at the international level. The Reign are currently battling for NWSL playoff position, sitting just above the playoff line and five points away from the top of the league table. The team is also on a two-game regular season losing streak heading into September, with an urgency to shore up their formation in defensive transition. Cook is now in the difficult position of needing to step up for her team at home without having gained the playing experience of a World Cup.

Alyssa Thompson was the youngest player on the U.S. World Cup team at 18 years old. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Alyssa Thompson, F, Angel City

Alyssa Thompson didn’t feature much for the U.S. during the World Cup, but she perhaps returned to a better situation at the club level than the one she left. Angel City is undefeated in nine games under interim manager Becki Tweed, rising in the NWSL standings and pushing for the club’s first-ever playoff berth.

Thompson has seen some of her scoring responsibilities lessened by the Angel City midfield and the team’s newfound tenacity on set pieces. She continues to stretch defenses with her speed and positioning, while benefiting from a team no longer dependent on getting her the ball on the dribble to have a shot at creating quality chances. The best-case scenario for Thompson is that she continues to grow in her rookie season without the weight of a playoff spot on her shoulders, and so far Angel City is succeeding.

Emily Sonnett, D/M, OL Reign

Emily Sonnett played the part of a World Cup hero in the USWNT’s Round of 16 matchup against Sweden. The 29-year-old has mostly excelled as a center-back at the professional level but also has experience at defensive midfield. After short stints at outside back for the U.S., Sonnett rediscovered her No. 6 roots when Andonovski turned to her unexpectedly to partner with Andi Sullivan and help shore up the team’s shaky formation in the knockout stage.

She has since returned to a Reign team that is firmly set on Cook and Hiatt as their center-backs, and she will likely continue to develop as a defensive midfielder as the Reign jockey for playoff position. Sonnett filled in for an injured Quinn in the early stages of OL Reign’s 2023 regular season, using her natural ability to command space from the midfield. She most recently paired with Quinn in a double-pivot shape, showing the respect she has earned as a midfielder in a very short period of time.

Sofia Huerta, D, OL Reign

Sofia Huerta didn’t see much of the field during the 2023 World Cup, as Andonovski took a conservative approach to his defense. The Reign defender is one of the most reliable contributors in the NWSL, bringing quality on the ball in attacking areas and the ability to drop crosses into the box on a dime. She likely doesn’t need further development as a player nor a confidence boost to be in the mix for the USWNT in 2024. She’ll always be a fair option for a USWNT call-up, depending on how the new coach wants the team to play.

Lynn Williams' usage was questioned after she played in just two games at the World Cup. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

Lynn Williams, F, Gotham FC

Lynn Williams’ vulnerability as part of the USWNT player pool has never made much sense. Her understanding of the team’s defensive pressing triggers are better than almost any other available player. She can fit into both wide and central spaces, and she can thrive in high-volume shooting schemes and in taking key chances without controlling possession.

Williams is a legitimate NWSL Golden Boot and MVP candidate in her first season with Gotham. The forward should be a valued part of the USWNT’s plans going forward, rather than held at arm’s length by the program, as she has been in the past.

Kristie Mewis, M, Gotham FC

Kristie Mewis has always shown flashes of sophistication at the international level that she’s never had significant time to develop. Mewis is known as a galvanizing locker room presence and a versatile midfielder who can slot into a number of roles as a substitute. She also brings quality on set-piece delivery, and yet hasn’t been given many of those opportunities nor been relied upon to hone one particular position.

Mewis was a starting midfielder for what was arguably the USWNT’s best win in 2023, a 1-0 victory over Japan at the SheBelieves Cup. She was able to combat Japan’s quick-trigger possession approach with her defensive positioning to keep them off the scoresheet. Mewis’ prowess in that moment only takes on greater weight after the World Cup, where Japan was one of the best teams before losing to Sweden in the quarterfinals, and should be considered in future USWNT evaluation.

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