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Projecting the USWNT’s Concacaf World Cup Qualifying roster

Sophia Smith celebrates a goal during the SheBelieves Cup. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

In the past seven months, the U.S. women’s national team roster has undergone a transformation.

For two friendlies against Australia in November, head coach Vlatko Andonovski named a 22-player roster that had 12 players with 10 caps or fewer. The following three camps featured many of the same players. Now, the new look could be the norm.

As the USWNT moves into the 2023 FIFA World Cup era with the Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers approaching in July, it’s time to get serious about the future of the USWNT roster.

The squad plays a pair of friendlies against Colombia on June 25 and 28, followed by the qualifying tournament a week later. The next roster, to be announced Monday morning, will be the most important one since the team that won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics last year. There is a chance the roster for the two friendlies will be different from the Concacaf squad, but by one or two players at most.

Fifty-nine players were named to the preliminary Concacaf roster on Wednesday. Andonovski has to cut that number to 23 for qualifiers.

It takes time for a team to build chemistry. With that in mind, it’s unlikely Andonovski will stray far from the players he’s called in throughout the last year. Here are the 23 players I think Andonovski will take to Concacaf World Cup Qualifying.

Forwards (7): Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith, Ashley Hatch, Midge Purce, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Trinity Rodman

Midfielders (6): Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez, Kristie Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Jaelin Howell

Defenders (7): Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Becky Sauerbrunn

Goalkeepers (3): Casey Murphy, Alyssa Naeher, Jane Campbell

Forwards

Andonovski somehow needs to evaluate the bottomless depth of the USWNT forwards, especially now that Alex Morgan and Christen Press are making strong cases for inclusion with their play in the NWSL.

To start, Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith are the two most obvious locks. Both players excel on the dribble and create big chances with their playmaking abilities. Add in the fact that Pugh leads the Chicago Red Stars with four goals and Smith is the Portland Thorns’ top goal scorer with three, and it’s impossible to think of any reasons why they wouldn’t be chosen for the USWNT’s Concacaf roster. Catarina Macario would have completed the trio up top, but she announced last week that she tore her ACL in Olympiuqe Lyon’s final match of the season.

Ashley Hatch seems to find the net every time she steps onto the field for the national team, including scoring the third-fastest goal in team history during her first start in November. The reigning NWSL Golden Boot winner has scored four goals in eight appearances for the USWNT and could be a good bench option for Andonovski when the team needs offense.

Midge Purce has been an impactful game-changer as an all-round player with a background in defending. The 26-year-old hasn’t missed a call-up opportunity in the last seven months, so it would be surprising to see her left off the roster now.

Morgan and Press are on the verge of a comeback. Morgan hasn’t been on the roster since September and Press since the Olympics last August, but both veterans have been proving their dominance on their club teams through the first few months of the NWSL season. Morgan leads the league in scoring with nine goals in nine games for the San Diego Wave, and Press has been a threat on Angel City FC’s frontline all season.

Press’ status for the roster is uncertain after she appeared to hurt her knee and was helped off the field in the 64th minute of Angel City’s win over Racing Louisville on Saturday. The club has yet to give an official prognosis, but whatever information Andonovski gets between now and Monday’s roster announcement could affect Press’ inclusion.

It’s also time for Trinity Rodman to get more experience with the USWNT. The 2021 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year attended her first senior national camp in January and earned her first cap at the SheBelieves Cup in February. The highest-paid player in the NWSL, Rodman will undoubtedly be a top candidate for the 2023 World Cup roster. Before then, the Concacaf tournament is the best way for her to get used to the high-stakes environment.

Midfielders

Playing in the 10, Rose Lavelle is the anchor of the USWNT’s midfield. Earning a spot on the NWSL’s May Best XI for her play with OL Reign, the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup hero isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Rising star and fellow attacking midfielder Ashley Sanchez also has a knack for creativity. With just seven caps, Sanchez has adjusted to the national team quickly, showing off fancy footwork and confidence on the ball.

Andonovski values Lindsey Horan as a leader for this young team and a stable presence in the center of the park. Another reliable contributor, Andi Sullivan helps set the pace from the six position, though she’s recently appeared on the Washington Spirit’s injury list for her quad.

Jaelin Howell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, gives the USWNT a double-sided six who’s had a fair amount of exposure to the environment in the last year. In just her fifth international appearance in April, she scored her first goal against Uzbekistan.

Typically subbed in to be a game-changer, Kristie Mewis has become a consistent call-up since Andonovski took over as coach at the end of 2019.

Defenders

Kelley O’Hara, Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta are all exceptional in contributing to the attack. Huerta is arguably the best at crossing balls into the box, and Fox has the ability to dribble comfortably through multiple opponents out of the back. O’Hara has assumed a larger leadership role in the past year, holding the team to its high standard of a competitive, winning culture.

Emily Sonnett brings a high level of intensity to the backline. She’s mostly played on the outside for the USWNT, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Andonovski to try her at center back, where she thrives with the Washington Spirit.

The NWSL’s most recent Rookie of the Month, Naomi Girma, has stood out on the Wave’s backline with nifty, effortless-looking tackles and an impressive 85 percent passing success rate. She’ll have to compete for a starting spot with Becky Sauerbrunn, the most fearless player on the team, and NWSL May Best XI member Alana Cook, a world-class defender with similar composure.

Goalkeepers

Casey Murphy and veteran Alyssa Naeher lead the USWNT’s deep goalkeeping pool.

Murphy wasn’t available for the April friendlies due to injury, but she’s made a strong case with the national team, starting with her first cap in November. In a 3-0 shutout over Australia, she made eight saves to earn Player of the Match honors and has been formidable ever since.

Naeher has been the most consistent veteran call-up since the new year and won’t be going anywhere after her jaw-dropping performances for the Red Stars.

Fellow veteran Jane Campbell has recorded four clean sheets in seven games for the Houston Dash. Thanks to her 86.4 percent success rate on saves, the Dash have allowed an NWSL-best three goals so far this season.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Reporter’s awkward exchange mars Caitlin Clark’s Fever intro

caitlin clark at indiana fever press conference on april 17
An uneasy interaction between Fever recruit Caitlin Clark and a local reporter has gone viral. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

An Indianapolis Star columnist is apologizing for an uneasy exchange with freshly minted Indiana Fever player Caitlin Clark on Wednesday.

At Clark's introductory press conference with the Fever, reporter Gregg Doyel introduced himself then abruptly formed a heart with his hands. Throughout her career with Iowa, Clark has often flashed heart hands at her family in the stands after finishing a game. The gesture has since become linked to the standout player.

But what ensued between Clark and Doyel was an incredibly awkward interaction, to say the least.

"Real quick, let me do this," Doyel said before making the heart sign at Clark. A composed Clark responded, "You like that?" After Doyel quipped, "I like that you're here," Clark dropped her eyes to the desk and said, "Yeah, I do that at my family after every game."

“OK, well start doing that to me and we’ll get along just fine,” Doyel said in response, to which Clark raised her eyebrows at the reporter, looking visibly uncomfortable. It wasn't the only unsettling comment Doyel made that day, as he later referred to Clark as "that" and "it" when directing a question to Fever coach Christie Sides. Sides appeared similarly thrown off by his choice of words.

As the clip made its way around social media, Doyel faced backlash from both sports fans and fellow members of the media. Much of the criticism centered around whether or not Doyel or another press representative would address an NBA player in the same manner. 

Doyel later apologized via a column entitled "Doyel: Caitlin Clark, I'm so sorry. On Wednesday I was part of the problem." published on the Indianapolis Star's website late Wednesday evening. Referring to his behavior at the earlier press conference, he called his comments "clumsy and awkward."

"Please know my heart (literally and figuratively) was well-intentioned. I will do better," he wrote, noting that he was "devastated to realize I’m part of the problem."

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

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