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USWNT roster: Inexperience, injuries biggest concern at 2023 World Cup

Andi Sullivan will be anchoring the USWNT midfield in New Zealand, alongside 13 other players making their World Cup debuts. (Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The day has finally arrived; the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster has been announced. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has put together a 23-player squad with a balance of veteran experience and incredible talent, but many questions remain as to how the group will gel in time to attempt to capture a historic third-straight World Cup title.

The U.S. has been ravaged by injuries in the last year, forcing Andonovski’s hand with some of his decisions. But he’s also adopting a few calculated risks that could either pay off in the biggest moment, or spell disaster for a relatively inexperienced group.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s roster reveal.

This is a brand-new USWNT

A main takeaway from the 2023 World Cup roster is much-discussed but perpetually relevant: This version of the USWNT couldn’t look any more different than the team that won a World Championship in 2019. Fourteen of the 23 players selected for this year’s tournament have never participated in a World Cup before, and a number of projected starters did not play in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Sophia Smith is going to be relied upon heavily in the USWNT attack in her first major tournament, while Lynn Williams feels like a seasoned veteran despite preparing for her first World Cup. Emily Fox is a penciled-in starter at outside back, even with this being her World Cup debut, and the starting center-back pair will almost certainly have never performed on this big of a stage before. Emily Sonnett is the only center-back named to the roster with World Cup experience.

The U.S. midfield will be anchored by Andi Sullivan in her first major tournament, and fellow midfielder Savannah DeMelo is the first player since 2003 to be named to a World Cup roster without having registered her first appearance with the USWNT. Eighteen-year-old Alyssa Thompson made a last-minute surge into roster consideration after Mallory Swanson suffered a major knee injury, representing the next generation of star power rising in the USWNT ranks.

None of this is bad news — these are the players ready for this tournament — but it is a data point to consider. The U.S. likely made a mistake at the Tokyo Olympics for sticking with an aging roster, and in 2023 they have swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. No U.S. team is going to get the opportunity to call itself a rebuild, but everything Andonovski’s squad does in Australia and New Zealand this summer will be about both building for the future and chasing history in the present.

Rose Lavelle has been nursing an injury since April, but Andonovski said that is "not a worry for us." (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Endless creativity

The midfield section of the USWNT roster has a clear imbalance to it, by design and likely by necessity. Rose Lavelle hasn’t played any competitive game minutes since mid-April, and while Andonovski said he is confident she’ll be healthy by the time the group stage begins, she’s probably not going to be completely game-fit by World Cup kickoff. Thus enters the roster’s biggest surprise in DeMelo, whose attributes as a playmaker for Racing Louisville this season proved undeniable despite her inexperience with the USWNT.

Usually the need to bring a backup midfielder due to injury is bad news for other players in the same positional group, but Andonovski has taken a different approach. In making room for three creative midfielders in Lavelle, DeMelo and Ashley Sanchez, Andonovski cut a spot from his frontline — the traditional backup No. 9 spot that Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch has held for over a year.

Hatch did nothing to warrant a last-minute drop, but the trade-off makes sense in the context of who else fills out the attack; Sophia Smith and Lynn Williams can both play centrally as well as out wide. Andonovski also referenced Trinity Rodman, and Alyssa Thompson can slide into the role for short periods, all of which will be necessary to make sure that Alex Morgan can get the rest she needs throughout the tournament.

The question that hangs over this particular compromise is whether Andonovski will trust any of the three attacking midfielders to run a dual No. 10 system against defensive-minded sides (Lindsey Horan cannot play every minute of a World Cup), or if the team is simply carrying an extra player who will not feature much in the tournament.

Kelley O'Hara brings experience to a U.S. defense that needs it in the absence of Becky Sauerbrunn. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Making room for specialists

Rosters of 23 players frequently do have room for those who bring one particularly elite skill and might be needed in certain games to break an opponent down. But the thinner depth charts at a few core positions due to injury and form make some of Andonovski’s choices a bit risky.

Losing captain Becky Sauerbrunn to an injury has made the center-back position a precarious one, as 2019 starter Abby Dahlkemper is still recovering from back surgery and Tierna Davidson has struggled since her return from an ACL injury. But Andonovski did not make the same adjustment to the backline as he did with the midfield; he’s only bringing three center-backs in Alana Cook, Naomi Girma and Emily Sonnett. Central defenders have the ability to carry more minutes than positions with greater distances to run, but the USWNT head coach has always favored calculated rotation.

Instead, Andonovski has stacked up on outside-back depth, bringing crossing specialist Sofia Huerta and the oft-injured Kelley O’Hara to support his likely preferred starters, Emily Fox and Crystal Dunn. O’Hara brings veteran experience to a backline that needs it, but if the center-backs struggle against top opposition, the lack of options could become an issue. Andonovski said that Julie Ertz is another center-back option in the case of an emergency, but she hasn’t played there for the U.S. in over four years.

Megan Rapinoe is another locker-room leader who is traveling with the team in a specialist’s capacity. The original plan Andonovski outlined was to give most of the minutes at left wing to Swanson, and insert Rapinoe into matches for her dead-ball and crossing ability. With Swanson no longer available, a committee of players will now have to cover left wing. Rapinoe has the type of leadership and elite talent on the ball (including from the penalty spot) that could help the U.S. secure more than one victory. But if Andonovski finds himself leaning on her fitness more than he planned, the U.S. attack and full-team defending could suffer.

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

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

Chicago Sky Upset New York to End Liberty’s Unbeaten Streak

chicago sky's angel reese on the court against new york liberty
Angel Reese registered a near double-double against a strong Liberty side. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Liberty’s unbeaten streak came to an end on Thursday as Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky got the upset win over New York with a final score of 90-81. 

Angel Reese stood out with a near double-double, registering 13 points and nine rebounds. She’s currently the only rookie this season to exceed 10 points in her first three games, and the first player in Sky history to begin their career with three consecutive double-digit scoring games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The outcome may not have come as a surprise to Liberty stars Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, who sung Reese’s praises ahead of the game.

"She’s a workhorse," Stewart told The Post. "She doesn’t stop. She’s tough, she’s strong, she’s tough to box out and good at cleaning up for her team offensively and defensively."

"I feel like she’s an energizer bunny," Jones added. "She doesn’t stop moving, she doesn’t stop crashing the boards. Just someone that is gonna be relentless in her approach to getting to the glass and playing tough."

It was the first time Chicago has met New York this season. The game was especially meaningful for new Chicago head coach Teresa Weatherspoon, who led the Liberty for seven years as a player and joined the team's Ring of Honor in 2011.

"This place means a lot to me... I played in that jersey, I adored that jersey, I adored every player that I had an opportunity to play with. The love that I received even today was overwhelming," Weatherspoon reflected after the game.

Following the win, Sky guard Dana Evans had some kind words for her coach.

"I mean, it's just special. She's special," Evans said. "She just breeds confidence in each and every one of us. We love her. We just wanted to go so hard and play hard for her, and I feel like this one was really for her. We really wanted this for her more than anything."

Thursday's victory brings Chicago's record to 2-1, a somewhat unlikely feat given that their offseason featured starter Kahleah Copper getting traded to Phoenix. The Connecticut Sun are now the only undefeated team left in the league this season, and will formidable foes for the Sky as they take their winning streak on the road to Chicago this weekend.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

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