Free agent U.S. women’s national team defender Casey Krueger has signed with the Washington Spirit, the team announced on Wednesday.

It’s a three-year deal that runs through 2026.

Krueger made her NWSL debut in 2016 with her hometown Chicago Red Stars. Since then, the Naperville native has made 96 appearances for Chicago.

Now, the USWNT defender has decided to move east.

“I am beyond excited to be joining the Washington Spirit,” Krueger said in a release. “From the outstanding leadership to the incredibly talented roster, it is clear that this is a world class organization that’s leading the way in women’s football. I look forward to continuing my growth as a player in the Nation’s Capital and helping the team accomplish even more success.”

In an interview with Pro Soccer Wire, Krueger said that the decision to move clubs wasn’t one she thought she’d be making.

“It definitely wasn’t a position I thought I’d be in, looking for a new team at this point in my career,” said Krueger. “I really wanted a place where I could continue to grow and where I could compete for something.”

After conversations with Spirit owner Michele Kang, Krueger noted how Kang’s commitment to the Spirit inspired her to be part of the team. Washington also showed up with a plan on how to help Krueger balance playing and being a mother.

Krueger says that they were “proactive” in doing so, and it made the decision easier.

Even still, leaving Chicago is difficult. Krueger isn’t the first free agent to do so, with Tierna Davidson opting to sign with Gotham FC.

“It’s bittersweet,” Krueger told Pro Soccer Wire. “I’m so sad. I mean, Chicago is my home. It’s where my family [is], my friends. It’s where I grew up. I take so much pride — and took so much pride — playing for my city and representing my city.

“So to be walking away at this point, it’s really, really sad, but at the same time, necessary I think, for my individual goals, collective goals, just to continue growth. Obviously I wish Chicago all the best. They’ll always have a special place in my heart. That organization means so much to me, and I’m just incredibly grateful for everything they’ve done, but it was just clear that it was time to move on.”

The Spirit recently announced that Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez would be its next head coach. Giráldez brings with him championship-winning experience, having won the Champions League with Barcelona.

“Casey brings a championship pedigree and veteran presence to the Spirit,” said Washington Spirit President of Soccer Operations/General Manager Mark Krikorian. “With her world-class defensive qualities, she will instantly enhance our defense’s potential. Her experience and grit will be essential to our team both on and off the pitch.”

The NWSL offseason is heating up, with the second year of free agency underway.

Portland Thorns veterans Crystal Dunn and Becky Sauerbrunn are among testing the market, with Dunn confirming she will not return to Portland in 2024. And Gotham FC is deep in negotiations with several U.S. women’s national team stars.

Dec. 21: Bay FC signs Sharples; Louisville signs Marisa Viggiano

NWSL clubs continued to make deals ahead of the holiday weekend. Bay FC signed defender Kayla Sharples, while Racing Louisville signed midfielder Marisa Viggiano, with both players getting two-year deals. Sharples played for the Red Stars in 2023, and Viggiano played for the Dash.

Dec. 21: Houston will make Fran Alonso next head coach

Alonso, who is in his fourth season with Scottish Women’s Premier League club Celtic FC, will become the head coach of the Dash for the 2024 NWSL season, per a report from The Equalizer.

Celtic FC holds a 14-1-1 record so far this season, and Alonso has led them to two Scottish Cup and two Scottish League Cup victories.

Dec. 20: Sarah Gorden re-signs with Angel City FC

The 31-year-old defender, who joined the Los Angeles club via trade ahead of the 2022 season, has signed a three-year contract through the 2026 season with a mutual option for 2027, Angel City FC announced Thursday.

While Gorden missed the 2022 season with an injury, she played a crucial role as Angel City clinched its first playoff appearance in 2023.

Dec. 20: Casey Krueger nears deal with Washington

The 33-year-old defender plans to sign with the Spirit, The Athletic’s Meg Linehan reported. She would reconnect with her Mark Krikorian, who coached Krueger at Florida State and now is the general manager for Washington.

Injuries kept Krueger out of her first two NWSL seasons in 2013 and 2014. She played for Norwegian team Avaldsnes IL in 2015, then joined the Chicago Red Stars in 2016. She has made 110 appearances across six seasons for the club, though she sat out the 2022 season due to pregnancy. Krueger also has made 42 appearances for the USWNT.

Dec. 20: Kristie Mewis set to leave Gotham for West Ham

The 32-year-old USWNT midfielder will join Women’s Super League club West Ham when the January transfer window opens, as first reported by Meg Linehan and Charlotte Harpur of The Athletic. The 32-year-old U.S. women’s national team midfielder won the 2023 NWSL title with Gotham FC.

Dec. 20: Thembi Kgatlana departs Louisville for Liga MX

The 27-year-old forward is leaving Racing Louisville for Liga MX’s Tigres UANL for a six-figure transfer fee. Reported by The Athletic to be $275,000, the fee is the second-highest in NWSL history for a player departing for a foreign club, Racing Louisville noted in a news release.

Kgatlana, who also plays for the South Africa women’s national team, joined Racing Louisville via transfer in July 2022. But she did not debut for the club until 2023 after tearing her Achilles tendon in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations.

“We want to wish Thembi all the best as she takes on a new challenge in Mexico,” Racing general manager Ryan Dell said in the news release. “Naturally we are disappointed to lose such a talented player who is a great presence in our locker room, but we had extensive discussions with Thembi and completely respected her desire for this move.”

Dec. 20: Savannah McCaskill set to join San Diego Wave

The 27-year-old attacking midfielder, who has played for Angel City since 2022, is set to join the rival Wave in free agency, as reported by The Equalizer.

In two seasons in Los Angeles, McCaskill contributed 11 goals and five assists in 43 games. Before joining Angel City, she played for Gotham FC, the Chicago Red Stars and Racing Louisville in the NWSL, plus a short international stint with Sydney FC in Australia.

Dec. 20: Red Stars hire Lorne Donaldson as head coach

Donaldson, who becomes the third head coach for Chicago since the 2021 season, coached the Jamaica women’s national team to the Round of 16 at the 2023 World Cup.

He also is president of elite youth club Real Colorado, where he helped to develop USWNT star forwards Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson. Swanson is expected to re-sign with the Red Stars in free agency this offseason.

Dec. 19: Gotham FC is linked to several USWNT stars

OL Reign midfielders Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett, Portland Thorns midfielder Crystal Dunn and Chicago Red Stars defender Tierna Davidson all have been linked to Gotham FC in free agency, per reports from The Athletic and The Equalizer.

All four players won the 2019 World Cup with the USWNT and would make a splash for the 2023 NWSL champions.

Dec. 18: Bay FC sends Ellie Jean to Racing Louisville

Jean, along with the No. 28 and No. 42 overall picks, was traded from Gotham FC to Bay FC ahead of the NWSL expansion draft. Then Bay FC sent Jean to Racing Louisville in exchange for $40,000 in allocation money.

Louisville previously acquired Gotham’s draft picks from Bay FC in exchange for $130,000 in allocation money to Bay as part of a three-team agreement.

“We could not be more excited to add Ellie to our club,” Racing general manager Ryan Dell said in a news release. “Her experience, professionalism and work ethic will elevate our back line for years to come.”

Dec. 18: North Carolina and Sean Nahas agree to contract extension

The Courage signed their head coach to a three-year contract extension, which will keep Nahas in North Carolina through 2026, the club announced Monday.

Nahas has led the team to a 29-17-21 (W-L-D) record across all competitions since he took the helm in October 2021, including two Challenge Cup titles in 2022 and 2023.

“There is work to be done from top to bottom and I will do my part in making this club the best it can be,” Nahas said in a news release.

Dec. 18: Houston signs Maria Sánchez to record contract

The Houston Dash have made Maria Sánchez the NWSL’s highest-paid player, the Wall Street Journal and the Equalizer reported Monday. The 27-year-old forward has signed a three-year deal with a fourth year option worth nearly $1.5 million total, per the reports.

“Houston, I am so excited to be coming back. I am so privileged to represent such an amazing city and group of fans,” Sánchez said in a news release.

Dec. 17: Utah deals Elyse Bennett to San Diego

Just two days after selecting Bennett from OL Reign in the NWSL expansion draft, the Utah Royals sent the 23-year-old forward to the San Diego Wave for $40,000 in allocation money.

In her two NWSL seasons, Bennett already has played for two different clubs, for the Kansas City Current in 2022 and OL Reign in 2023. Across those seasons, she has appeared in 42 matches, including in the last two NWSL championship matches.

“We are excited to welcome Elyse Bennett to the Wave,” San Diego general manager Molly Downtain said in a release. “She is a young and dynamic player that is a threat in the attacking third and is an important addition to the team as we continue to build for the 2024 season.”

Dec. 17: San Diego reacquires Sierra Enge

“Hometown kid is staying home,” the Wave posted on social media Sunday after trading to keep Enge in the fold.

Bay FC had selected the 23-year-old midfielder, who is from the San Diego area, in the Friday’s expansion draft. The club then traded her to the Houston Dash for $50,000 in allocation money, and the Dash flipped her back to the Wave in exchange for midfielder Belle Briede, a third-round pick in the 2024 draft and $60,000 in allocation money.

Dec. 15: Bay FC and Utah select seven players

The two incoming clubs selected seven total players in the expansion draft ahead of the 2024 season.

Bay FC acquired five players through the draft, including Alyssa Malonson from OL Reign, Tess Boade and Katelyn Rowland from North Carolina and Rachel Hill and Sierra Enge from San Diego.

The Royals selected just two players: Elyse Bennett from OL Reign and Paige Monaghan from Racing Louisville.

Dec. 13: Angelina signs with Orlando Pride

The former OL Reign midfielder, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, has agreed to a three-year deal with Orlando, the club announced Wednesday.

“Angelina was a priority free agent target for the Club because her spatial awareness, creativity, and ball control in build-up play are exactly what we look for in our midfielders,” Pride general manager Haley Carter said in a news release. “We’re confident she’ll thrive in our performance environment, and we consider ourselves fortunate to help her continue her growth and development here in Orlando.”

Angelina appeared in 28 matches through three seasons with OL Reign. The 23-year-old also was a member of Brazil’s 2023 World Cup roster.

Dec. 13: NWSL teams ready for expansion draft

A number of NWSL clubs made deals to protect their roster from the expansion draft for Bay FC and the Utah Royals, which is set for 7 p.m. ET Friday on CBS Sports Network.

Trades included Gotham FC sending goalkeeper Mandy Haught to the Utah Royals in exchange for draft protection and $150,000 in allocation money, as well as the Portland Thorns sending Emily Menges to Bay FC in exchange for draft protection and $75,000 in allocation money.

Seven clubs enter the draft with total expansion draft protection:

  • Angel City FC
  • Gotham FC
  • Houston Dash
  • Kansas City Current
  • Orlando Pride
  • Portland Thorns
  • Washington Spirit

Racing Louisville has protection from only Bay FC, while the North Carolina Courage and San Diego Wave have protection from only the Utah Royals. OL Reign and the Chicago Red Stars do not have any expansion draft protection.

The five teams subject to the expansion draft released their lists of protected and unprotected players. Each team could protect up to nine players from their roster, with the rest eligible for selection.

Dec. 7: Utah Royals sign former San Diego Wave defender Madison Pogarch

Free agent defender Madison Pogarch has signed with Utah Royals FC.

The team announced the signing on Thursday, which will include the 2024 and 2025 NWSL seasons. Pogarch is a former defender for the San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns, having played in 36 games over the last five seasons.

“I’m very excited for this day to arrive, it’s been in the works for a bit and to have it finally come together is a nice early Christmas present,” said Pogarch, who has won Shields in 2021 with Portland and 2023 with San Diego. “I was fairly new to the league when the Utah Royals were around before, but I remember playing against Amy; the passion she has for the game you can’t help but see it in how she played and now in everything she does.

“Nothing about this setup feels like an expansion team to me, as everyone I’ve talked to around the team is ready to hit the ground running, and that’s exciting.”

Utah is returning to the NWSL as a 2024 expansion team, alongside Bay FC. In a release, Pogarch noted that the fan response “from afar has been amazing” and she’s excited to be involved with the community.

“We continue to be so elated to give our players the opportunity to shine and grow as we establish the foundation here in Utah,” said URFC Sporting Director Kelly Cousins. “Madison’s effusive attitude has contributed mightily to winning atmospheres throughout her journey, and we look to her to help us create that positive, winning, supportive culture in our locker room, in training every day and in the community.”

Nov. 29: Imani Dorsey joins Utah Royals

The 2018 NWSL Rookie of the Year has joined the Royals in free agency, the expansion team announced Wednesday.

The 27-year-old forward has spent her entire career to this point in New York, having been drafted by Sky Blue FC in 2018 before the club was rebranded to Gotham FC. She played in 72 games for the club, though she sat out the 2023 season to focus on her mental health.

“When I heard about URFC return, I was intrigued about the possibility of playing here,” Dorsey said in a news release. “I came into the league in 2018, so during those first few seasons, traveling to Salt Lake City, this was a place I was very excited to experience. From the outside looking in, the amenities this club built up for women’s soccer was to be admired – setting the league standard even then.”

She also called the vision for the new iteration of the Royals “so inspiring.”

“I am very excited to help grow Utah’s soccer culture,” she continued. “That’s one of the joys of being a professional, to being a part of the energy and the emotion of the crowd, the community, inspiring the next generation. I cannot wait to dive head-first into the Utah experience.”

Nov. 21: Caprice Dydasco signs with Bay FC

The 2021 NWSL Defender of the Year, Dydasco became the second player on Bay FC’s inaugural roster and the expansion team’s first free-agent signing. The 30-year-old comes to Bay FC from the Houston Dash.

“A highly technical and intelligent footballer, Caprice’s ability to impact play in the final third and create goalscoring opportunities make her one of the most exciting and productive attacking fullbacks in the league,” Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton said in a news release.

Nov. 21: Michele Vasconcelos signs with Utah

The first official free agent signing of the offseason, the 29-year-old midfielder departed the Portland Thorns to return to Utah on a two-year deal. She had requested a trade to the previous iteration of the Royals in 2020, but soon after the trade, the team folded and Vasconcelos and other players were transferred to the expansion Kansas City Current.

“As I come back to Utah, for sure excitement is my main feeling, but I’m also feeling a ton of relief – I was devastated when the team left three years ago,” she said.

Nov. 20: Spirit exercise option on Trinity Rodman

The Washington Spirit exercised the 2025 option on the 21-year-old forward’s contract. They also exercised the 2026 options on the contracts of goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and midfielder Andi Sullivan.

Nov. 20: San Diego Wave trade Kaleigh Riehl

San Diego sent Riehl to the expansion Utah Royals. In exchange for the 27-year-old defender, the Wave received expansion draft protection from the Royals, plus $60,000 in allocation money.

Nov. 19: Nadia Nadim will not re-sign with Louisville

The 35-year-old forward announced her decision to leave Racing Louisville in free agency in an Instagram post.

“It’s been a blast. No not really, but it’s been cool,” Nadim wrote. “Lovely teammates & amazing fans is what’s kept me going during these quite challenging 2.5 years.”

Nov. 14: Kansas City sends Alex Loera to Bay FC

The Kansas City Current sent defensive midfielder Alex Loera to Bay FC in exchange for $175,000 in allocation money and protection in the upcoming NWSL expansion draft.

Bay FC and the Utah Royals will have the opportunity to select up to 12 players through the 12-round expansion draft. While the Current are protected from Bay FC, the Royals still could select from the Kansas City roster. Teams can protect up to nine players from the expansion draft.

Nov. 14: Orlando deals out of expansion draft

The Orlando Pride acquired expansion draft protection and $90,000 in allocation money from the Utah Royals exchange for midfielder Mikayla Cluff and the No. 26 pick in the 2024 college draft.

On Nov. 13, the Pride already had acquired expansion draft protection from Bay FC, trading a first-round draft pick (No. 8 overall) in the 2024 draft in exchange for $50,000 in allocation money and draft protection from the San Francisco Bay Area club.

When the U.S. women’s national team took down China PR 3-0 on Saturday, the team looked like a new confident and loose version of itself. With several veterans taking the final international break of the calendar year off, interim manager Twila Kilgore made a few changes to the team’s approach that seemed to both clarify roles and empower players to be themselves.

While the conversation around the national team is often dominated by player personnel, one of the tactics former coach Vlatko Andonovski struggled with late in his tenure was how exactly to use players. On Saturday, with Emma Hayes’ outside perspective likely an asset, the U.S. packed the midfield without being overly conservative and allowed the defense to cover defensive transition and aid in the attack.

So rather than focusing on individual performances during the club offseason for many players, let’s focus on three standout players as dictated by their roles, and why their ability to shine is good news for the USWNT long term.

Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith didn’t have a perfect match on Saturday, still shaking off a bit of rust after the second half of her 2023 season was interrupted by injury. After scoring the game’s opening goal, Smith missed a number of clear chances as she continues to regain her finishing touch.

But the fact that Smith could have had a hat trick with a few more clinical strikes is a happy sight for USWNT fans, who watched the forward have trouble imposing herself on games in the World Cup from the winger position. The idea of Smith being more effective in a more central position is not a new one, but her ability to combine with Trinity Rodman and Rose Lavelle against China showed that, even if the final shot isn’t there, chance creation can go a long way for the U.S.

With the team favoring a 4-4-2 out of possession and a 3-5-2 in possession, Smith had support both behind and to either side of her, wherein the team could prioritize passing sequences over excessive dribbling down the wings that can silo possession and lead to searching crosses in the air. Her movements broke down the defensive lines of China’s low block and opened up opportunities for teammates. Smith worked especially well with Rodman, who had a breakout game with two assists and a goal.

Smith has the ability to run in behind a defense at top speed and to react to teammates’ movements, sitting in a classic poaching position in games where her team has the majority of possession. That her tendencies as a player complement a formation that allows the U.S. to have a sturdier spine up the middle of the pitch only deepens her case for a central role going forward.

Jaedyn Shaw

When Jaedyn Shaw received her first extended minutes for the USWNT in the team’s final friendly in October, she slotted into a well-worn role for up-and-coming U.S. talent. She came on for Smith, who had been playing out wide and provided attacking options from a winger position, ultimately notching her first goal for the USWNT in her second appearance.

Shaw has experience as a winger (known in position numbers as a No. 7 or No. 11), getting her start there when she joined the San Diego Wave in 2022. But in 2023, Wave manager Casey Stoney tapped into her skills as a playmaker, using her both out wide and as a deep-seated forward tucked in behind No. 9 Alex Morgan.

On Saturday, Morgan watched the USWNT game from home, but Kilgore had a new set of plans for Shaw. She subbed on in place of attacking midfielder Savannah DeMelo, getting a chance to help dictate the flow of attack alongside Lavelle. Her on-field chemistry with substitute center forward Mia Fishel was obvious, as Fishel’s back-to-goal, possessive abilities coincided with Shaw’s field vision to keep the U.S. creative in the attack.

Her greatest moment of the match was a simple flick. Shaw collected Midge Purce’s low cross and sent the ball across the face of goal for Rodman to smash it into the back of the net. Shaw is a special player who should feature for the U.S. for years to come, and Kilgore giving her the freedom to make plays is a great sign for how the team plans to use her.

Casey Krueger

Casey Krueger could possibly go down in history as the best USWNT player to never feature on a World Cup roster, and she showcased both old and new skills on Saturday. Setting up at right back, Krueger was asked at times to provide 1v1 defensive coverage out of possession, but with the U.S. seeing a lion’s share of the possession, she showed exactly how the position can be used in the team’s attack.

The outside-back position has been fraught for the U.S. for years, with an inconsistent talent pipeline leading numerous coaches to compensate by converting forwards and midfielders (first-time USWNT player Jenna Nighswonger is the most recent example). That process has long been criticized, including when Andonovski struggled to empower his fullbacks to play to the best of their ball-progressing abilities.

Andonovski moved Emily Fox to right back to make room for Crystal Dunn at left back at the 2023 World Cup, but neither player had the room to run the flanks and create enough width for the team’s attack. Defensive off-the-ball structure was clearly at the forefront of their instruction, and at times both Dunn and Fox got caught in between their instincts to aid the attack and a lack of confidence in their ability to regain ground in defensive transition.

Not every opponent will take the low-block approach that China sat in on Saturday, but early involvement of Fox (back on the left) and Krueger was very promising. Both players were clearly given the green light to operate more like wingbacks in possession, with a comfortable three-back behind them when the U.S. had control of the ball. This allowed Krueger to move into dangerous spaces on the right wing and overlap with Lavelle, who herself never felt she had to give up her own drifting tendencies in space to push to the endline.

Later in the match, Purce took up the same space Krueger had inhabited and created the team’s third goal by operating in her preferred area as a wingback. Purce is another forward finding her way onto the field by any means necessary. But if the USWNT is still in the position of using their immense winger depth to create points of attack, the 3-5-2 formation in possession gives them more cover behind to be their best selves.

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

The second year of NWSL free agency opened on Nov. 20.

One of the top free agents on the market is Crystal Dunn, who already has announced her intention to depart the Portland Thorns. Other top targets include OL Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle and Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Swanson.

With the expansion draft set for Dec. 15, teams and players alike seem to be in no rush to formalize contracts for the 2024 season. Teams can protect up to nine players from selection by Bay FC or the Utah Royals, but free agents are exempt, so expect most signings to become official after the draft.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lone signing on the opening day of free agency went to the Royals. Michele Vasconcelos signed a two-year deal with Utah, setting up her return to her home state.

Unrestricted free agents can negotiate a new contract with any NWSL club, including expansion clubs Bay FC and Utah.

Restricted free agents also can negotiate with any NWSL club, but a player’s current team will have seven days to match any offer received — in salary, bonus structure and years. If the team does not match the offer, the player can sign with the new team, as spelled out in the NWSL’s collective bargaining agreement.

The NWSL has announced its expansion draft for Bay FC and Utah Royals FC, but there appears to be an important loophole: unsigned free agents aren’t available for selection.

The 12-round draft, which will be held at 7 p.m. ET Friday, Dec. 15, features rules similar to past expansion drafts, with teams permitted to protect nine players. Players with a “no trade” clause are required to be protected by their club — and if one of the expansion teams selects a player from a team’s roster, that team is allowed to protect one additional player.

With free agents exempt from the draft, though, teams could wait to sign players until after Dec. 15. Top unrestricted free agents include Rose Lavelle of OL Reign, Crystal Dunn of the Portland Thorns and Sarah Gorden of Angel City FC. By waiting to sign a new contract, their teams would not have to protect them.

Several teams have a large number of free agents. The Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash have 10 free agents each, while Gotham FC has eight, as do the Portland Thorns and Angel City FC.

There are 75 total players eligible for free agency this offseason.

Top unrestricted free agents include:

  • Tierna Davidson, Chicago Red Stars
  • Crystal Dunn, Portland Thorns
  • Sarah Gorden, Angel City FC
  • Casey Krueger, Chicago Red Stars
  • Savannah McCaskill, Angel City FC
  • Rose Lavelle, OL Reign
  • Emily Sonnett, OL Reign
  • Mallory Swanson, Chicago Red Stars

Top restricted free agents include:

  • Emina Ekic, Racing Louisville
  • Emily Fox, North Carolina Courage
  • Madison Hammond, Angel City FC

The NWSL Players’ Association released the official list of prospective 2024 free agents last week, naming the restricted and unrestricted free agents now allowed to take conversations with teams across the league.

This year’s free agency period is complicated by two expansion clubs in Utah and the Bay Area joining the NWSL in 2024. With the expansion process on the horizon, teams will have to both pursue players out of contract and look to strike deals with those on their roster who are still under contract.

A number of stars grace the free agency shortlist, and it’s clear that some NWSL clubs have a tougher negotiation period ahead of them than others. Here are a few clubs in danger of letting some of the biggest names in the sport walk elsewhere this winter.

Chicago Red Stars

Unrestricted: Tierna Davidson, D; Casey Krueger, D; Mallory Swanson, F; Yuki Nagasato, M

When the old U.S. national allocation status went away in 2021, the Red Stars made sure to lock down their four players who fell under that status to two-year contracts: Tierna Davidson, Casey Krueger, Mallory Swanson and Alyssa Naeher.

Entering the 2024 free agency period, the only player of that four who has signed onto an additional year with the club is Naeher. The Red Stars have a significant amount of rebuilding to do both on and off the field under new ownership, and retaining the other three players of their long-standing USWNT foursome will likely be at the top of the priority list. Standout midfielder Yuki Nagasato has also not yet signed her mutual team option, leaving Chicago facing the possible loss of veteran leadership and available talent.

Swanson has indicated that she’d like to stay in Chicago (where her husband Dansby plays for the Cubs of the MLB), and Krueger is similarly settled in the Midwest. Davidson, however, might be a difficult player for the Red Stars to retain. With expansion approaching, the center-back is looking to get back into the USWNT roster conversation and might seek out a change of scenery in the process.

Meghan Klingenberg has been a steady force for Portland at outside back. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Portland Thorns

Unrestricted: Crystal Dunn, M; Meghan Klingenberg, D; Becky Sauerbrunn, D; Christine Sinclair, F

The Thorns similarly have major talent to retain if they want to avoid a major overhaul in 2024. Crystal Dunn, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christine Sinclair have all played consistently for the club this year, excluding Sauerbrunn’s foot injury that left the two-time world champion off the USWNT roster for this year’s World Cup.

Of the four star players entering unrestricted free agency this year, Sinclair and Sauerbrunn might consider hanging up their boots entirely, but they are still a big part of Portland’s race to the NWSL Shield in 2023. Dunn has been a revelation while playing in a more advanced position following the injury to Golden Boot leader Sophia Smith, showcasing the versatility that makes her one of the most valuable NWSL players of all time.

Klingenberg has also quietly been one of the most consistent performers in the league in the years since her USWNT career ended. A key locker room presence for Portland, she has adjusted her game to retain her effectiveness into her mid-30s. While the Thorns do a good job bringing in young talent to shore up positions, it’s hard to imagine what the team would look like without any of these free agents.

Rose Lavelle has missed time with the Reign due to multiple injuries in recent years. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

OL Reign

Unrestricted: Emily Sonnett, M/D; Rose Lavelle, M
Restricted: Tziarra King, F; Angelina, M

Portland’s longtime rivals also have some work to do to maintain a through-line between their longtime stars and up-and-coming talent. Megan Rapinoe, who has played for the Reign since their inception in 2013, will be retiring at the end of the season. Jess Fishlock, another member of the Reign’s original three alongside defender Lauren Barnes, has signed an extension through next season.

Beyond the true veterans, the Reign have a number of starters with the opportunity to turn elsewhere after this season. Rose Lavelle has had her moments of being unstoppable for Seattle since her unexpected trade from the Spirit in 2020, but she’s also been plagued by injury in recent years.

Emily Sonnett became one of the team’s starting defensive midfielders after another surprise trade from Washington earlier this year. If the Reign are in the process of parting with their longtime culture-setters in their locker room, they at least might want to focus on holding onto USWNT mainstays like Lavelle and Sonnett.

The Reign also have a few young contributors up for restricted free agency — meaning that if they do not receive a qualifying offer from their current team, they can negotiate with other teams. Tziarra King and Angelina have both been skillful additions to the Reign’s roster, and with head coach Laura Harvery likely having to reshape the concept of her starting XI, they provide depth the club might be reluctant to lose.

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

The U.S. women’s national team is bringing in a few fresh faces for their September friendlies against South Africa next week, as the team says goodbye to a couple of legends and transitions into the next chapter. After head coach Vlatko Andonvoski’s resignation following the team’s disappointing World Cup run, interim manager Twila Kilgore now has the tricky job of retaining the parts of the USWNT’s identity that were working, and jettisoning the tactics that were inhibiting them from playing their best.

As we saw many times under Andonovski, bringing in new talent is only as effective as the system they play in. Here is how I think the USWNT can most effectively integrate their non-World Cup players into what will likely be a familiar system with a few tweaks.

Mia Fishel, F, Chelsea

Fishel is known internationally as a goal-scorer, after dominating with Tigres in Liga MX Femenil since debuting as a professional in 2022. She has a knack for putting the ball in the back of the net as a forward, something she’s shown since starring for UCLA in college. Now, the question is how she’ll fit into the USWNT system if they retain the 4-3-3.

Fishel is a player not unlike Sophia Smith, who can fit into different positional areas but who seems to thrive when allowed to move into non-traditional spaces in between the wings and a classic center-forward position. At this moment, she’s probably best-suited for the top of a 4-4-2 formation with just one attacking partner. But if given the green light to collaborate without strict positional restrictions, Fishel can showcase all of her assets as an attacker rather than simply that of an experienced goal-scorer.

Jaedyn Shaw, M/F, San Diego Wave

Shaw can play as a winger, having done so successfully in San Diego since joining the team in 2022. It’s possible she’s been brought in as a replacement for a player like Mal Swanson, or even Smith as she’s been used by the USWNT in the past. But Shaw has more tools in her arsenal than just the ability to run toward goal from a wide position, and clarity around her role could be crucial for her development with the team for the next World Cup cycle.

Shaw is more of a tweener in her movement, with a keen ability to exploit space. She can run to the endline to send crosses in, or move into spaces in front of the opponent’s penalty area to feed teammates and take shots from distance. Her savviness in motion and quality on the ball actually evokes the image of famed USWNT attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle, as much as the cavalry of wingers the team has favored in recent years. As Lavelle continues to deal with an injury that could limit her minutes, giving Shaw the keys as a playmaker could be a huge stepping stone for the future.

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

Coffey excels both at disrupting play and distributing the ball at the club level, which made her inability to become a core member of the 2023 World Cup squad something of a puzzle. Based on the way Andonovski used Julie Ertz in the run-up to the tournament, and Emily Sonnett in the team’s Round of 16 match against Sweden, it’s possible that a perceived lack of physicality on the defensive end might be what held Coffey off the final list.

It’s difficult to suddenly insert a talented player into a flawed system, but the success of the team in a 4-2-3-1 against Sweden does lend credence to the idea that the best way to integrate Coffey is to give her a midfield partner. Andi Sullivan and Coffey have similar player profiles, but a delineation of roles in the midfield could vastly improve the USWNT’s ball movement.

Tierna Davidson appeared for the USWNT in their April friendlies before the World Cup roster was named. (Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Tierna Davidson, D, Chicago Red Stars

Davidson has had an up-and-down season at the NWSL level, slowly regaining her form as the leader of a defense that has struggled under destabilizing circumstances in Chicago. But the team has bounced back since the Red Stars’ final ownership sale, and Davidson could start to look more like her former self in a more settled environment.

Davidson’s superpower has long been her deceptive speed and vision, with an ability to open play up with a single long and diagonal pass. Her weaknesses in 2023 have more to do with her defensive positioning, but a partnership with new USWNT stalwart Naomi Girma might give her the support she needs to rediscover her 1v1 defending abilities. With Julie Ertz retiring, the race for the second starting center-back role for the U.S. is back on, and Davidson could walk right into that opening with renewed confidence.

Ashley Hatch, F, Washington Spirit

Hatch is considered the 24th player of the USWNT World Cup 23, the first player left off as Andonvoski sacrificed a forward slot to bring attacking midfield depth. Her absence from the roster was less an indictment of her as a player, and more a concession that the USWNT had more playmaking issues than Andonovski had accounted for in the run-up to the group stage. Had Hatch traveled to New Zealand, she likely would have suffered in a way similar to Alex Morgan, who had to temper her strengths at central forward to play more connective football.

Hatch should be allowed to play more like herself (as should Morgan) in her return. Hatch has the ability to play with her back to goal and to run in behind with authority. She is calm in front of goal and can score just as effectively with her head as she can with her feet. Her weaknesses in Andonovski’s system came when she was trying too hard to be a passing outlet in the midfield, and ideally she can move with more freedom as she works her way back into the squad.

Casey Krueger missed out on both the 2019 and 2023 World Cup rosters, but played at the Olympics in 2021. (Bill Barrett/USSF/Getty Images)

Casey Krueger, D, Chicago Red Stars

Krueger is a true outside back, with the ability to defend 1v1 on both sides of the field and tuck in centrally when needed to support the central defense. In the past, she’s been considered limited when aiding the attack, but in 2023 she has been one of Chicago’s most dangerous playmakers from a wide position. She can send a cross in on a dime and not lose key defensive coverage when giving attacking support.

At the World Cup, the USWNT’s outside-backs played with a certain amount of timidness, as if cutting loose in the final third would cause a key mistake in defensive transition. The team’s defense proved to be incredibly sturdy that way, but the fullbacks unwillingness to create width also made the team’s attack very predictable and easy to defend. Krueger should be relied upon to take a few more risks and stretch the South Africa defense, with the comfort of knowing she can recover well on the other end.

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

In some ways, U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski has one of the toughest jobs in women’s soccer, especially when it comes to the decisions he has to make about his roster construction. The USWNT’s depth has been tested due to unexpected injuries, and Andonovski nonetheless has had to leave a number of very talented players home from the 2023 World Cup.

There are a few players on the bubble not dealing with injury who very likely could have made the USWNT 2023 World Cup roster. These are the biggest surprises and snubs from the team’s roster reveal Wednesday.

Ashley Hatch, forward

It feels like a harsh rite of passage in a way for a player to, through no fault of their own, find themselves on the very edge of a USWNT World Cup roster after months spent in camp with the team. In 2015, that player was Crystal Dunn; in 2019, it was Casey Krueger; and this year, it is Washington Spirit center forward Ashley Hatch.

Hatch wasn’t beaten out by any one player, but rather by a concept shift and more pressing issues elsewhere on the pitch. Rose Lavelle’s lingering injuries made way for Savannah DeMelo earning a surprise spot, while Becky Sauerbrunn’s absence might pull Julie Ertz away from the midfield. A spot had to be sacrificed, and Andonovski felt he had enough cover from players who can start both centrally and on the wings to eliminate the backup center-forward role entirely. It’s difficult to argue against the way Andonovski has shifted things to make numbers work throughout the roster, but the loss of Hatch could alter the attack even further.

Sam Coffey had a standout 2022 rookie season for her club team and the USWNT. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell, midfielders

Andonovski moved away from developing Howell and Coffey into 2023 World Cup defensive midfielders months ago, making their exclusion less of a surprise as it is an ongoing frustration. Coffey has the distributive skills and sophisticated spacing of a veteran far beyond her years, and Howell is the kind of disruptor USWNT fans are used to in the position.

Together, they’d make the perfect addition to the USWNT’s midfield numbers. Individually, they have been left to develop further with their club teams rather than within the U.S.’s punishing system that requires players to cover a significant amount of ground, have an elite defensive presence and distribute the ball.

Tierna Davidson, defender

Davidson fell prey to timing in many ways, as her return from an ACL injury coincided with her club, the Chicago Red Stars, struggling mightily on the pitch. Chicago has changed its formation multiple times while Davidson has tried to get her confidence and timing back in both a three- and a four-back system.

The result became a defense that couldn’t stop leaking goals, and while club issues were not enough to keep entrenched goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off the World Cup roster, Davidson never got a chance to resume the elite play she had been known for.

Casey Krueger also missed out on the USWNT's 2019 World Cup roster. (Bill Barrett/USSF/Getty Images)

Casey Krueger, defender

Davidson’s Red Star teammate, Casey Krueger, hasn’t seen her personal form dip despite Chicago’s issues, but multiple small decisions Andonovski faced likely kept her off a World Cup roster once again. Krueger has been fit and effective on both sides of the ball this season and is still one of the best American 1v1 defenders in the world. She can also play center back when asked to, possessing the type of versatility the U.S. usually prioritizes.

But after controversially being the last player off the plane in 2019, Krueger doesn’t have World Cup experience, and the loss of Sauerbrunn likely had Andonovski looking for someone who had been in that position before. He opted for crossing specialist Sofia Huerta to break down low blocks, and longtime veteran Kelley O’Hara to offset the defense’s experience gap despite dealing with a few lingering injuries herself.

AD Franch, goalkeeper

Franch has won a World Cup and an Olympic bronze medal with the USWNT, and she had worked her way back into consistent camps through stellar performances in 2022. But Franch’s form hasn’t been quite the same in 2023 as Kansas City deals with defensive injuries, leading to the 32-year-old being benched in favor of Cassie Miller.

The U.S. has a long history of expecting goalkeepers to have different levels of form for club and country with how many variables can exist in a club environment — Alyssa Naeher being a primary example. But Franch’s inability to get back on the field, combined with the excellent form of Aubrey Kingsbury, was just enough to push Andonovski into a late switch for his third goalkeeper spot.

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

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. closed out their final international break before naming the 2023 World Cup roster with a cagey 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday, thanks to a lone goal from defender Alana Cook.

After the match, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said he used the game as an opportunity for individual evaluations, estimating he has 10-12 players vying for six to seven open roles. The team has decisions to make on the backline and in the midfield, while simultaneously getting used to life without star striker Mallory Swanson, who tore the patella tendon in her left knee on Saturday.

In Tuesday’s game, the USWNT looked like a team that still has several systemic issues to work out. But as players completed their final auditions for the trip to New Zealand with the reigning world champions, a few individuals stepped up and stood out.

Alyssa Thompson

Thompson earned her first USWNT start and 90-minute international match on Tuesday, joining the team last minute as a replacement for Swanson. Thompson’s feel for the game was apparent from the opening whistle, as her willingness to cover an extensive amount of ground on defense and tenacity in the attack kept opportunities alive.

The frontline of Thompson, Sophia Smith and Alex Morgan prioritized positional fluidity. The two wingers would switch sides based on the flow of the game and defensive assignments, and you would not have known from watching the first half that Thompson had not been in the team’s plans all along.

Tuesday was only Thompson’s third cap with the U.S., and while the Angel City forward can become more confident on the ball in the final third, the potential for the 18-year-old to become a real contributor at this summer’s World Cup was obvious. In what could be a sudden shift for the young striker, she could have proven she’s ready for the big stage sooner than expected.

“I feel like you have to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready, you know,” Thompson said after the game. “So I’ve just always been working hard and continuing in my pro environment, just continuing to develop.”

Tierna Davidson

Davidson returned to the U.S. this month for the first time in over a year, subbing on for Becky Sauerbrunn in the 29th minute. Despite the time she spent away from the team as she rehabbed an ACL injury suffered last March, Davidson showed what skills she brings to the U.S. backline when she’s available and healthy.

Davidson’s speed from a central position is underrated. The 24-year-old has the ability to drift into wide spaces to cover for the team’s very aggressive outside-back positioning without giving up too much of a gap behind the defensive midfield. She’s also one of the best in the U.S. player pool at long diagonal passing while the team is in possession. That made a difference as the USWNT tried to overcome Ireland’s compact, organized midfield and take advantage of their speed in the attack.

“I think it’s a tough challenge to play against blocks like that,” said Davidson’s center-back partner, Alana Cook. “Something that we looked at from last game is, can we kind of open them up with that longer ball? And having Tierna be able to hit it on one side and me be able to hit it on the other, I think it’s just so helpful.”

Julie Ertz played in her first two USWNT games this week since 2021. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images

Julie Ertz

In her second game since returning to the USWNT after two years away from the sport, Ertz understandably looked more fatigued. Ertz is a vocal presence on the field who instructs the players in front of her where to slot into spaces left open by the opposition’s defense, and attempts forward passes that diversify the U.S. attack when it becomes stagnant.

Ertz’s head is in the game and her presence seems to calm the players around her. The next step for the two-time world champion is regaining her defensive instincts and touch on the ball. Ireland intentionally made life difficult for the U.S. midfield over the course of two matches. They would overload the middle third to force mismatching player numbers and disrupt forward ball movement, which they’d then turn into quick switches in the other direction.

The 30-year-old midfielder could see those switches happening around her but was occasionally a step too slow to stop them. She trusts that type of quickness will come with time.

“I’m not messing around,” she said after the game, adding that she’ll likely finalize her NWSL club decision in the next few days. “​​I know where I want to be, and I know where the expectation is to be in order to be at my best just to be in the selection for the World Cup roster.”

Casey Krueger

Perhaps the most obvious auditions on Tuesday came at the outside-back position, where three different players got looks with a bit of positional shifting. Sofia Huerta began the match at right back, while Kelley O’Hara started on the left. O’Hara returned to the U.S. after a lingering hip injury kept her off the field for most of the latter half of 2022.

O’Hara looked locked in during the first half, but she was matched in intensity by Casey Krueger, who took over the role in the second half. Krueger returned to the team after giving birth to her son last July, and she and O’Hara each showcased a level of natural defending that the U.S. fullback position has missed in recent months.

Krueger looked both focused and fit, pushing the USWNT forward in attack while covering a lot of ground on defense. She forced Ireland into multiple mistakes, most notably drawing a yellow card as she turned toward goal in attacking transition late in the match. Krueger’s ability to slot in a line-breaking pass is underrated, sometimes even catching her teammates off guard in her first game back on the international stage.

Krueger and O’Hara could make the outside-back choices very difficult for Andonovski. As it stands, the head coach’s roster decisions on defense could be some of the most controversial of the World Cup cycle.

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

The USWNT is back, playing their last two friendlies before final roster decisions are made for the 2023 World Cup this summer. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has preferred a certain amount of roster consistency since the beginning of 2022, but long-awaited returns from injury are forcing the issue at a number of key positions.

Let’s take a look at the most hotly contested roles, and who might get one last opportunity to audition for one of the highest honors in American soccer.

Tierna Davidson and the third center-back spot

The April roster is heavy on defenders, with a limited number of games left to make decisions about the final form of the USWNT backline. Center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Naomi Girma appear to be near-locks for the World Cup roster, but who will join them remains up in the air.

The key player at the center-back position returning from injury in April is Tierna Davidson, who featured on both the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympic rosters as a center back with the ability to play outside back.

Davidson tore her ACL during the 2022 Challenge Cup and recently made her return to the NWSL, playing significant minutes in the Chicago Red Stars’ first two games of the season. Davidson brings a calm presence to her main role as a center back, and provides versatility if the team needs options on the outside.

But the position on the USWNT is increasingly crowded. In Davidson’s absence, OL Reign center back Alana Cook played the most minutes of any USWNT player in 2022 and appeared to have an inside track to making her first World Cup roster. The other player with the ability to play both centrally and on the flank is Emily Sonnett, who similarly featured on the 2019 and 2020 rosters as a utility defender. On a 23-player roster, the U.S. is unlikely to take all three of Cook, Davidson and Sonnett, and minutes in April could be the key differentiator after months of competition.

Kelley O'Hara will try to earn her roster spot back after returning from injury. (Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

O’Hara, Krueger, Huerta and the right-back strategy

The USWNT has been criticized in the past for using converted attackers as outside-back depth, but the April friendlies could provide a look at other options. Andonovski’s favored outside pair is Crystal Dunn on the left and Emily Fox on the right, but two known defenders rejoin the U.S. to take aim at the right-back spot in particular.

USWNT veteran Kelley O’Hara’s experience dates all the way back to the 2011 World Cup. She’s long-been the preferred starter for the USWNT at right back, but she missed much of last year with a lingering hip injury. O’Hara is back with the team in April camp after playing her first game minutes with Gotham FC in the first two weeks of the NWSL season. She is joined by outside back Casey Krueger, who made the 22-player Olympic roster in 2021. Krueger returns after the birth of her son and is coming off playing a full 90 minutes for the Red Stars this past weekend.

O’Hara and Krueger are defensive-minded players with 1v1 defending abilities in transition that Andonovski might prefer to see in action before making a decision on his outside-back pool. They provide a sharp contrast to OL Reign’s Sofia Huerta, another converted attacker. Huerta is one of the best in the world at crossing the ball, providing the U.S. an unmatched skill when in possession, but sometimes the defensive seams show when opponents target her on the outside.

Lingering injury concerns might make it difficult for O’Hara or Krueger to unseat Huerta and the obvious value she brings as an attacking specialist. This will be one of the most competitive position battles before Andonovski names his World Cup roster.

Julie Ertz is back in USWNT camp for the first time since 2021. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Julie Ertz and the midfield pool

Julie Ertz’s surprising return to USWNT camp reopened competition in a midfield that seemed well on its way to becoming a settled proposition. In the free agent’s absence, the Washington Spirit’s Andi Sullivan became the de-facto defensive midfield starter, working in tandem with Lindsey Horan to cover gaps off the ball and help with distribution.

Ertz’s return is unlikely to push Sullivan to the fringes of the roster, but her presence might mean something different for the other players who have gotten tryouts at the same position. While the defensive midfield has remained unsettled, two players have stuck with the team due to their versatility.

Taylor Kornieck is on the roster not just as a midfielder, but also as a utility substitute who can slot into any central field position. Kristie Mewis shares that distinction in the midfield, having played as a No. 6, No. 8 and No. 10 in her time with the team. Ashley Sanchez is more of an attacking midfield specialist, who pushes forward into the attack as often as she connects with the defensive midfield.

It’s possible Andonovski’s intention is simply to add Ertz to the established midfield group and shut the door on any other new faces. But in that case, he would have to take a roster spot from either the USWNT’s incredibly deep forward pool or a defense that might need extra coverage against top opponents.

Ashley Hatch and the center-forward ticking clock

Catarina Macario is finally making her return to training with Olympique Lyon this month, after enduring a long recovery from an ACL injury suffered in June 2022. Following a scintillating run with the U.S. at the 2022 SheBelieves Cup, Macario will not have a chance to play in a USWNT jersey before Andonovski has to make a decision on his rising star.

Macario has talent worthy of a trip to New Zealand if she’s healthy enough by June, but her impending return complicates things for Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch. Since joining the team long-term in 2022, Hatch has done everything asked of her off the bench as Alex Morgan took over the starting role at center forward. She has continued to perform at the club level, most recently scoring a brace this weekend in the NWSL, and she has a knack for scoring in her limited international minutes. Despite those strengths, Hatch has yet to entrench herself in the starting conversation.

Hatch is in a race against time and sheer numbers. The U.S. isn’t likely to sacrifice a winger spot to carry three central forwards, Morgan is a clear lock for the roster, and Macario has the versatility to sink back into the midfield — something Hatch hasn’t been asked to emulate. The April friendlies could be the final push in one direction and, at the very least, a final audition for Hatch should Macario not be fit enough for the trip.

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