The San Diego Wave are without some key players, and they don’t expect to get them back anytime soon. 

Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson, Melanie Barcenas, Abby Dahlkemper, and Naomi Girma are all currently on the team’s injury list. On Monday, head coach Casey Stoney was asked if she expected any of them to return to the pitch in the near future. 

"No, unfortunately not," was her response. The Wave is set to play Utah on Wednesday.

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While Stoney hasn't yet provided anything else definitive, absences from Morgan and Girma leave behind a pretty big hole in the team roster, particularly with the Olympics — not to mention the preceding USWNT send-off friendlies — just around the corner. Morgan has been sidelined with ankle trouble since the team's late April match against Orlando, while Girma’s first game on the injury list was against Seattle. 

Stoney, however, has said that the Wave doesn’t play any differently with or without the missing players.

"It doesn’t really affect the way we play," she said following the team’s recent loss to Seattle. "We just needed to have more patience. We still had some senior players out there tonight that could have impacted that and needed to impact that and did in the second half."

San Diego currently sits in 10th place with seven points, having won two games in their last five matches.

Three hundred and sixty six-days after undergoing back surgery and 599 since her last cap, Abby Dahlkemper returned to the pitch for the U.S. women’s national team on Dec. 2 as part of the starting XI.

The 30-year-old defender last appeared in stars and stripes on April 12, 2022, in a friendly against Uzbekistan. And after so much time away, she was thrilled to return to international play.

“Just grateful beyond words and just thankful for this opportunity,” Dahlkemper told TNT following the match. 

Before her long absence from the field, Dahlkemper experienced back spasms and spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine. The 30-year-old defender realized she needed back surgery in the middle of a game for the San Diego Wave, her NWSL squad. And then last November, Dahlkemper underwent spinal fusion surgery and spent nearly a year recovering. 

“It was scary once I got the surgery and got it done because I just didn’t know how I was going to heal, like if I was ever going to be able to get like a full rotation and this and that in my back,” Dahlkemper said in September. “But I feel like my body has adjusted well and coming back, I feel like I haven’t really missed a beat.”

Dahlkemper scored in her third game back for the Wave, and she played all 90 minutes for the USWNT against China. So the 2019 World Cup champion seems to be back to her pre-injury form.

“You just trust the process and control what you can,” Dahlkemper said. “And here I am. Just unbelievably grateful and thankful but excited to play with this team again.”

The U.S. women’s national team will play their final matches of the calendar year in the next week, with the opportunity to place a definitive stamp on a tumultuous 2023. The two friendlies against China PR will be the team’s first games after the hiring of Emma Hayes as head coach, but they also serve as an extension of Twila Kilgore’s interim management, which will continue until May 2024.

The USWNT’s December roster follows something of a tradition in major tournament years, giving many veterans the international break off to rest and recuperate, while refreshing the larger player pool with non-World Cup players. But the possibility of any major changes in tactical approach seem slim, with Hayes yet to assert her full influence on the team’s style of play.

In lieu of a wholesale change in philosophy, here are three bold(ish) ideas for the U.S. during this international period beyond basic player evaluation.

Shake things up in the attack

While their actual goal-scoring output has improved in the months since the World Cup, it’s difficult to watch the USWNT without feeling like something is broken in the attack. The team went scoreless in two of their four World Cup matches, and they closed out their most recent friendly series having failed to score in three out of four halves.

Many of the issues with the USWNT’s once-vaunted attack go beyond any single player, but the young roster in December has a chance to break free of some of the systemic problems plaguing the front line. The games will provide an opportunity to get more tape on center forward Mia Fishel, who should have a fitness advantage over some of her teammates due to her club team, Chelsea, being in-season.

But shaking the USWNT attack out of its slump isn’t just about slotting in new faces at the No. 9 — the way the rest of the team relates to the center forward position also needs a rethink. Over the summer, the option of moving Sophia Smith to a more central position was presented as a zero-sum substitution of Alex Morgan, who started all of the U.S.’s World Cup matches. But with Morgan sitting the December friendlies out, the reason for moving Smith centrally would be less as a like-for-like replacement and more as a way of replacing her on the wings with a traditional winger.

Midge Purce and Lynn Williams are coming off of an excellent NWSL Championship performance. Both Gotham FC players ran the wings with confidence, getting the ball to the endline for low crosses and providing help defense when necessary. Purce found teammates for goals twice in that game, looking dangerous both on the ball and in dead-ball situations.

Having wingers who can cut inside to pull the defense out of shape is a great asset, but the U.S. at times has created a very narrow shape due to individual player tendencies. It could be worthwhile to run the old playbook with new talent in game one, but a total rethink in game two could shake the team out of its old patterns.

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Rose Lavelle is one of the most experienced players on the USWNT's December roster. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

Share the armband

With a number of key veterans taking this international break off, the U.S. has an opportunity to share some of the burden of leadership in productive ways. Midfielder Lindsey Horan has been an able captain in 2023, but at times it appeared the team was over-relying on her to galvanize the group, while other experienced players didn’t seem empowered to communicate with clear authority.

Horan will likely feature heavily in both December matches since she plays her club football on the European schedule and is currently match-fit. But a bolder idea would be to give the 29-year-old a break, if simply to upend patterns in the USWNT midfield. Kilgore would do well to eventually leave her younger players operating without a safety net, whether that means entrusting Jaedyn Shaw with the No. 10 role or pairing Olivia Moultrie with the newly healthy Rose Lavelle.

Outside of giving the midfield an overdue refresh, Kilgore also has the opportunity to prioritize leaders who didn’t get a chance to blossom in Andonovski’s final year.

Casey Murphy is the most experienced goalkeeper on the roster and will surely be charged with organizing her backline. Lavelle is coming off a blistering performance in the 2023 NWSL Championship game, showcasing her experience as a player. And Lynn Williams will be the most tenured forward of the group. With communication lagging at times in the past year, a clean slate with new voices in the mix will be key for the team’s mentality going into 2024.

Give the Wave duo the keys to the defense

Abby Dahlkemper’s return to the USWNT is exciting for fans for reasons beyond her play on the pitch. Dahlkemper has recovered from a chronic back injury that greatly hampered the center-back in 2022, resulting in surgery. Making her NWSL return in August 2023, she’s looked as steady as ever, providing confidence in possession and showcasing her abilities off the ball to stunt an opponent’s attack.

She’s also settled in with current USWNT mainstay Naomi Girma in their club environment at the San Diego Wave, providing the foundation for the team’s run to the NWSL Shield in 2023. Girma was arguably the USWNT’s MVP in 2023. She both served as the wedge between opponents and her own goal and was relied upon heavily to spring possession forward when the U.S.’s midfield had trouble moving the ball.

The upcoming games give Dahlkemper and Girma a chance to test out their on-field chemistry at the international level, providing equal levels of experience and complementary skill sets. Dahlkemper used to be known for the same diagonal balls forward that have become Girma’s calling card for the U.S. With the role of Girma’s center-back partner firmly up for grabs after the retirement of Julie Ertz, Dahlkemper has a chance to make a big impression in her return. For a team looking for consistent starters following Andonovski’s frequent experimentation in defense, her comeback might be happening at exactly the right time.

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

The final U.S. women’s national team roster of 2023 is here, with Rose Lavelle back in the fold for the first time since the World Cup after missing the last couple of camps with a lingering knee injury.

The 28-year-old midfielder missed all but four NWSL regular-season games but returned for the playoffs, helping lead OL Reign to the NWSL championship match. She also scored in the final for the Reign in their 2-1 loss to Gotham FC.

Despite the defeat, Lavelle looked as sharp as ever in the postseason, showcasing precisely what makes her such a huge asset both for the Reign and the USWNT. As the team looks to win its final two friendlies of the year against China, look for Lavelle to make an impact.

The USWNT will host China for two matches, the first on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m. ET, and the second on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. ET.

Several veteran players are sidelined for the friendlies, including forward Alex Morgan, defender Becky Sauerbrunn and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Their absences, though, should not raise too many red flags, as resting veteran players for the final camp of the year is a standard practice for the USWNT.

Also absent from the December roster are defenders Crystal Dunn and Sofia Huerta and midfielders Ashley Sanchez and Andi Sullivan.

Interim head coach Twila Kilgore will continue to lead the team in the stead of newly announced head coach Emma Hayes. This is the first roster to be dropped since the USWNT named Emma Hayes as its next head coach. But with Hayes continuing with Chelsea through the conclusion of the Women’s Super League season, Kilgore will remain at the helm until Hayes joins the USWNT in May 2024.

Catarina Macario remains sidelined, and the Chelsea midfielder is not expected to return for club or country before the end of the year, according to Hayes. But another Chelsea player in Mia Fishel is back on the roster, as is San Diego Wave forward Jaedyn Shaw. Both scored their first international goals in the USWNT’s most recent match in San Diego, a 3-0 win against Colombia at the end of October.

New faces on the roster include Korbin Albert, a 20-year-old midfielder for Paris Saint-Germain, and Jenna Nighswonger, the NWSL Rookie of the Year from Gotham FC.

USWNT schedule: December 2023

  • Saturday, Dec. 2 — 3 p.m. ET (TNT, Universo, Peacock)
    • United States vs. China (DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5 — 8 p.m. ET (TruTV, Universo, Peacock)
    • United States vs. China (Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas)

USWNT roster: December 2023

Goalkeepers (3)

  • Jane Campbell (Houston Dash)
  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)

Defenders (7)

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave)
  • Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave)
  • Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars
  • M.A. Vignola (Angel City FC)

Midfielders (8)

  • Korbin Albert (Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyonnais)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Olivia Moultrie (Portland Thorns)
  • Jenna Nighswonger (Gotham FC)
  • Emily Sonnett (OL Reign)

Forwards (8)

  • Mia Fishel (Chelsea)
  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Midge Purce (Gotham FC)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Angel City FC)
  • Lynn Williams (Gotham FC)

Abby Dahlkemper’s long history with spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine, took a turn last January, with the nerve pain getting to the point where she felt like her hamstring was ripping.

The U.S. women’s national team defender had been named to the SheBelieves Cup in February 2022 but had to withdraw due to the injury. While she tried to rehab the injury without getting surgery, receiving multiple epidural injections along the way, it didn’t get better.

“It turned out, just trusting my gut, I was like, I just need to get this fixed,” she said on the latest episode of Snacks. “My vertebrae had basically ruptured, and there was a cyst and bone fragments hitting my nerve roots. So it was just never going to get better unless I had gotten it operated on.”

She had a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion surgery, in which doctors fused one of her vertebrae back together. In February, she revealed her surgery via TikTok and said that the bone had already begun to fuse, which put her ahead of schedule in her recovery timeline.

In late August, Dahlkemper finally made her return to the field, scoring for the San Diego Wave in her third game back in the NWSL. The drawn-out recovery process, she said, helped her find her identity away from soccer and appreciate the game more when she returned.

“It was relieving also because I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to be the same, like how I’m going to feel on the field, all this stuff,” she told Snacks co-hosts Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams. “But it was kind of like riding a bike. And I just feel like we’ve done it for so long that I don’t know, I just feel like one of my biggest takeaways was just literally having fun and enjoying it because we are not getting any younger.”

Dahlkemper, 30, said coping with the injury took a toll on her mentally, but it also gave her a newfound perspective on her life and career.

“I feel like I’ve cried the most I’ve cried ever in my life during the last year, just because your self-worth and your identity is all tied into soccer for so long,” she said. “I feel like when you’re forced to actually not be just a soccer player, then you’re just kind of like, OK, well, I need to find happiness elsewhere.

“And I feel like now I just have a better balance and understanding of who I am outside of soccer, the enjoyment that I can get through my relationships and being where I’m at.”

Abby Dahlkemper has made a triumphant return to the NWSL after missing almost a year with a back injury.

After undergoing spinal fusion surgery last November, the defender returned in late August of this year and scored in her third game back for the San Diego Wave. Dahlkemper opened up about the injury and her long road back to the field on the latest episode of Snacks, revealing that she knew she needed surgery in a game against the Orlando Pride last year in July.

“It was probably like 20 minutes into the game and my back just spazzed. I had a muscle spasm in my back, and I had to get subbed off at like 22 minutes,” she said. “And I just thought to myself, I have to do something about this because I can’t keep trying to push through this.”

Dahlkemper said she had been dealing with spondylolysis, a stress fracture in the spine, “for a long time,” and the pain started to get worse early last year. While she attempted to rehab it non-surgically over the course of the 2022 NWSL season, a few setbacks aggravated the injury, and the incident in the game against Orlando pushed her over the edge.

“I feel like as athletes, we know our bodies so well, and I just knew something wasn’t right. Like, it didn’t feel like my normal back,” Dahlkemper told Snacks co-hosts Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.

“So I was obviously so scared to get surgery and I didn’t really know what they would find when they went in there, but I was like, I need to get this not only for my career and livelihood, but also for my life after soccer.”

Dahlkemper, who started every game for the U.S. women’s national team in the run to the 2019 World Cup title, said she was fortunate to be able to see a renowned back surgeon near her home in San Diego. Since the operation, the 30-year-old has returned to the field and played a full 90 minutes in the last two games she started for San Diego at center-back.

“It was scary once I got the surgery and got it done because I just didn’t know how I was going to heal, like if I was ever going to be able to get like a full rotation and this and that in my back,” Dahlkemper said. “But I feel like my body has adjusted well and coming back, I feel like I haven’t really missed a beat.”

U.S. women’s national team veteran Julie Ertz announced her retirement from professional soccer Thursday, and her teammates wasted no time in celebrating her career.

From retired champions Carli Lloyd and Ali Krieger to rising stars Mallory Swanson and Alyssa Thompson, U.S. players from throughout Ertz’s 10 years with the national team sung her praises. Ertz, 31, received her first cap in 2013 and her last at the 2023 World Cup.

Lloyd, who played with Ertz until her own retirement in 2021, applauded her work ethic in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Lloyd and Ertz were both members of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup-winning squads.

“Honored to have played with you and train with you during our offseasons!” she wrote. “You gave it your all every single training/game and represented the crest with pride, honor and the mindset needed to help the team achieve success! You will be missed! Congrats on an amazing career.”

Many other players commented on Ertz’s Instagram post announcing her retirement.

Thompson, 18, just played in her first World Cup with the USWNT. She also played alongside Ertz this season with NWSL club Angel City FC.

“Such a legend and a role model,” Thompson wrote. “Thank you Julie.”

Krieger wrote: “Congrats! So grateful to know you and play alongside you over the years. I hope this next chapter is more than you could have ever imagined!”

Swanson commented: “Congrats Jules! Very thankful for our time together! This game will miss you!!”

Abby Dahlkemper shared a similar message, writing: “Congrats Jules! It was an honor to share the field with you.”

And Sofia Huerta kept it simple, commenting: “Julesss!!! ❤️❤️❤️ I love u”

August was a disjointed month in the NWSL, as the league took an extended regular season break to finish the Challenge Cup group stage and make room for World Cup absences. With only two regular season games throughout the month, sample sizes for top performers have been small, while World Cup players have had variable availability.

Within that context, for the first time this season, our Player of the Month is a defender — and one who was not destined for international duty in 2023. A number of teams are making strong playoff pushes based on their ability to hold onto leads and grit out results, placing extra importance on defenders.

Here are our top performers for the month of August in the NWSL, beginning with our choice for Player of the Month.

Sarah Gorden, D, Angel City FC

Angel City FC is unbeaten in nine games across all competitions, with six of those wins coming in the regular season. Two of those games were in August, as the Los Angeles club makes a surge toward the playoffs.

Angel City’s newfound attacking tenacity has been critical to their success, but they’ve also been adept at turning close games into results. The player at the center of those efforts is center-back Sarah Gorden, who’s been remarkably steady in her first full season with the club.

Gorden is in the top five in American Soccer Analysis’ g+ metric for the August regular season, due to her excellent 1v1 defending and closing speed that allows her to interrupt opponents’ attacks. The Angel City defense gave up just two goals in two regular season games in August, securing a draw and the club’s first win ever against OL Reign.

In a season without many defensive stalwarts, Gorden has stood out, and now Angel City is finding the success it’s been looking for. Gorden surely has to be on the shortlist for 2023 NWSL Defender of the Year, as she gives her team a shot at its first-ever playoff berth.

Honorable Mentions

Morgan Weaver, F, Portland Thorns

Weaver notched a goal and an assist in two regular season games in August, as Portland went undefeated to regain the top spot on the NWSL table. Weaver is overshadowed at times by higher-profile teammates, such as Golden Boot leader Sophia Smith, but she serves as the motor that helps Portland’s attacking machine run.

Messiah Bright, F, Orlando Pride

Speaking of end-of-the-year shortlists, Messiah Bright’s case for Rookie of the Year is getting stronger by the game. The Pride dominated a struggling Chicago Red Stars team in their first regular season game of the month, with Bright scoring a brace in just 60 minutes played. The 2023 second-round pick now has six goals on the season, launching herself into the Golden Boot conversation as a rookie.

Abby Dahlkemper, D, San Diego Wave

Abby Dahlkemper made a welcome return to the NWSL in August, after a back injury had held her out of competitive play for almost a year. Slotting back into San Diego’s starting defense, the World Cup champion helped seal two much-needed regular season wins as the Wave surged into third place. She capped her return month with a goal, opening the scoring in San Diego’s 2-1 win over Orlando on Friday.

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

It didn’t take long for Abby Dahlkemper to make an impact in her return to the field.

Dahlkemper, who had been out of action since undergoing back surgery last October, scored on Friday in what was her third game back for the San Diego Wave. Dahlkemper scored in the seventh minute of what turned into a 2-1 win for the Wave over the Orlando Pride.

“Well that felt good!!” Dahlkemper wrote afterward on X. “Huge 3pts on the road – so proud of the team. We keep going!”

On a Wave corner kick, one of Dahlkemper teammates’ shots was blocked by a Pride defender and ricocheted off her chest. Dahlkemper promptly rocketed a right-foot shot into the top right corner of the goal.

San Diego assistant coach Louis Hunt said afterward that Dahlkemper has been a “huge breath of fresh air” since her return.

“She’s been incredible over the last few weeks or so since she was cleared to be in training,” Hunt said. “She’s been bright, she has been confident, you can see the quality oozing out of her.

“So for her to get that nice little bonus of a goal as well and helping us win is brilliant because her performance in the last two games, two 90-minute matches back-to-back, you would never have thought she’d been out for a year or so. So just showing her professionalism and showing her quality.”

San Diego returns to the pitch next Sunday on the road against Houston. The team is 8-3-6, and is second in the league in points (27) this season.

A number of U.S. women’s national team stars missed out on the 2023 World Cup due to injury, and the team felt their absence on the pitch.

What is the status for these injured players? And when could they return to the USWNT?

Becky Sauerbrunn

The 38-year-old defender missed what would have been her fourth World Cup due to a foot injury she suffered in April. After being left off the USWNT roster, she was upfront about the injury, noting that while a World Cup return would have been “possible,” doctors warned that it would be “aggressive” for her to get back in time.

Sauerbrunn has continued to rehab the injury and intends to return this season for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. She also could rejoin the USWNT for its September friendlies against South Africa, although no updates have been given on her status.

Mallory Swanson

Swanson tore the patellar tendon in her left knee during an April friendly against Ireland, ruling her out for the World Cup. Her surgery went well, and Swanson even said that she felt as though she might defy the odds to make the summer tournament.

Ultimately, the 25-year-old forward wasn’t fit for the trip to Australia and New Zealand. But Swanson has been seen doing rehab recently, and even getting in a couple of touches in July. “Recovery has been good,” she told Just Women’s Sports.

Still, there is no update as to when Swanson could return, although the typical timeline for recovery from such an injury is six months.

Abby Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper underwent back surgery in December, and earlier this month the 30-year-old defender made her return to the pitch for the NWSL’s San Diego Wave.

“It felt great,” Dahlkemper said of her return. “I am just so happy to be back. I feel like it’s been a really long journey. I, throughout my career have fortunately been healthy up until last year. So I’ve never really experienced a long time out like I did. Just proud of myself, I’m happy. Excited to be back with the team.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, physically and mentally. Having to have back surgery at my age is kind of uncommon, so to go in there and have it be not known how it’s going to do, how I’m going to heal, how I’m going to feel coming back was really scary. But I leaned in and trusted my gut. … Everyone helped me along the way and I really wouldn’t be back here today playing if it wasn’t for everyone helping me and the support.

“I tried to take it one day at a time. Definitely a lot of lows, but I celebrated the highs as well. Just happy and really proud of myself. I feel like when you go through adversity that’s when you learn the most about yourself.”

Dahlkemper has not played a full 90 since her return, but she played 45 minutes in the team’s Challenge Cup match on Aug. 6.

Sam Mewis

Mewis underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee in August 2021. While she initially was slated for an eight-week absence from the pitch, she just had a follow-up surgery in January, and she has not played for the USWNT in two years.

It is unknown when the 30-year-old midfielder could make her return, though she shared a video of her recovery process in July. In a video captioned “6 months today!” Mewis is seen doing weight-lifting exercises, including lower body exercises such as deadlifts and lunges. The midfielder appears to be regaining range of motion and strength in her right knee.

Still, there remains no timetable for Mewis’ return.

“Obviously, I haven’t played in a while,” she told Goal in July. “I’m just doing my rehab and taking it one day at a time, but I think my message is just in moments like that, in moments of difficulty, just try to find that new purpose, if you can, and apply yourself to that.”

Catarina Macario

Catarina Macario tore her ACL last June and had some setbacks in her recovery journey, which resulted in her missing out on the World Cup. She signed a three-year deal with Chelsea in June, though, and recently was seen at training with the Women’s Super League club as its preseason gets underway.

The WSL season is set to kick off in October, with Chelsea playing Tottenham on Oct. 1. The 23-year-old midfielder could make her return before that, however, if she gets a call-up from the USWNT for the September friendlies.

Tobin Heath

One of the more senior members of the USWNT, Heath has not suited up for the red, white and blue since October 2021. Throughout 2022, she struggled with injuries, including a hamstring injury that ended her season with Arsenal. She later joined OL Reign, appearing in five matches, before once again being sidelined with an injury.

She underwent season-ending knee surgery in September 2022 and has been seen doing limited training. In February, Andonovski said that Heath was “absolutely” still under consideration for World Cup selection. While the 35-year-old forward did not return for the World Cup, her playing days are “definitely not” over yet, she told UPROXX in August.

Christen Press

Press’ recovery journey has not been linear. In June, the 34-year-old forward returned to the practice field in cleats, but she remained on the season-ending injury list for Angel City FC. And then in July she announced she would have to undergo a fourth surgery to repair her knee.

Following the fourth surgery, Press has not shared a recovery timeline, although she has said she wants to return to professional soccer. It’s unlikely that will come during the 2023 NWSL season, so the soonest fans could see Press back in action may be 2024.