Sam Coffey scored her first international goal in the U.S. women’s national team’s 2-1 win over China PR on Tuesday, doing so in Becky Sauerbrunn’s “borrowed” No. 4.

Coffey said after the game that she got permission from Sauerbrunn, who is her Portland Thorns teammate, to wear the jersey number.

“I did get permission. I would never just pick it without addressing Rebecca,” Coffey told reporters. “I reached out to her and I was like, ‘Would you mind? I’d just love to honor you and channel your energy.’”

Indeed, Coffey channeled Sauerbrunn’s energy, but with a different result. Sauerbrunn has yet to score a goal in 217 appearances for the USWNT, with the defender holding the scoreless streak record for the team.

As for her own milestone goal, Coffey celebrated aptly afterward.

“I don’t score a lot of goals, so when it happens, I’ve got to celebrate,” said the midfielder, who had eight assists but no goals for the Thorns this past NWSL season. “I don’t even remember what I did. It was just one of the best moments of my life.”

It wasn’t the first time this year that Sauerbrunn has loaned her jersey number. During the World Cup, Naomi Girma donned the No. 4 while Sauerbrunn was sidelined with a foot injury. Upon Sauerbrunn’s comeback in October, Girma returned the jersey number without an argument.

“Becky just takes it back,” she said. “It was no fight. I asked to wear it during the World Cup.”

Jaedyn Shaw played hometown and U.S. women’s national team hero on Tuesday night, scoring the deciding goal to secure the USWNT’s 2-1 come-from-behind win over China PR.

Shaw, playing in front of many friends and family in her hometown of Frisco, Texas, ran onto a deflection in the box after a set piece and sent a low strike into the left corner. It was the 19-year-old’s second international goal in her first career start for the USWNT.

The USWNT appeared to take the lead in the 67th minute, but Lindsey Horan’s diving header goal off a service from Shaw was disallowed for offside.

Sam Coffey brought the USWNT even in the 62nd minute with her first international goal. Jenna Nighswonger sent a low corner kick into the box that got batted around before Emily Sonnett set up Coffey for a curling shot into the top right corner.

The USWNT hasn’t lost to China since 2015 and leads the all-time series 38-13-9, outscoring China 104-38. The game was the team’s last of 2023, as players now head into an international break before preparations officially begin for the 2024 Paris Olympics under new head coach Emma Hayes.

The U.S. ends the year with 14 wins, four draws and zero losses in regulation — and just three goals conceded.

Sophia Smith and Midge Purce came on at the start of the second half, replacing Ashley Hatch and Emily Fox (who was placed under concussion protocl). Lynn Williams also departed in 58th minute for Trinity Rodman, the star of the USWNT’s win on Saturday with one goal and two assists.

Korbin Albert, 20, made her USWNT debut in the 69th minute alongside 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie, playing in her second consecutive game after earning her first cap Saturday. Albert, a former standout midfielder at Notre Dame, was called into her first U.S. camp this month after signing with Paris Saint-Germain in January.

China PR gave the USWNT a scare in first-half stoppage time when Shen Mengyu got on the end of Siqian Wang’s header across the goal line. The cross came courtesy of a set piece after China was threatening down the flank and Fox committed a slide-tackle foul near the left corner.

The U.S. went into halftime down 1-0 despite controlling 66% of the possession and registering eight shots to China’s three.

USWNT starting lineup vs. China PR

Interim head coach Twila Kilgore made seven changes to the starting lineup from the USWNT’s 3-0 win over China PR on Saturday in the first of the two-game series. Naomi Girma, Fox, Sonnett and Horan were the only holdovers from Saturday’s starting lineup.

Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury started in place of Casey Murphy, while Shaw and Nighswonger earned their first starts with the national team. Coffey, Hatch and Tierna Davidson also entered the starting lineup for the first time after being left off the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster.

Kilgore said this week that the USWNT is layering in new tactics and ideas, including a shift in mentality that encourages players to be “willing and brave to try new things.”

When Sophia Smith and Sam Coffey cast their votes for the NWSL end-of-season awards, the choice was easy.

Both Smith and Coffey are nominated for the MVP award, but they did not vote for themselves. Rather, each Portland Thorns teammate threw their support behind the other, with Coffey voting for Smith and Smith voting for Coffey.

“I already voted for her,” Coffey said, turning to Smith beside her at Friday’s press conference. “I think I put all Thorns, especially you and Morgan (Weaver) were at the top. I don’t know if that’s wrong to do.”

For the MVP award, Smith and Coffey are up against San Diego Wave defender Naomi Girma, Kansas City Current forward Debinha and North Carolina Courage forward Kerolin.

Smith is the reigning winner of the award. In 2022, the 23-year-old forward became the youngest winner in NWSL history after scoring 14 goals in 18 appearances. In 2023, she already has won the Golden Boot with a league-leading 11 goals in 17 appearances.

Yet while Smith gets plenty of attention for her scoring touch, she is more than happy to share the spotlight with Coffey, who has excelled for Portland as a defensive midfielder.

“I love to see Sam get the attention and the praise and the respect that she deserves,” Smith said. “As a team, we’ve been seeing this all year, seeing it last year, and I think finally people are seeing it too and realizing how important she is to this team.

“And what she does — I don’t think any other midfielder in the league is doing what she does, and she’s doing it consistently. And that’s a really hard thing to do. So I love to see Sam up for MVP because I think she’s really really worthy of that.”

For her part, Coffey is flattered by the nomination, but she has her sights set on another NWSL Championship. The Thorns won the 2022 title, and they’ll face Gotham FC at 7 p.m. ET Sunday with a shot in the 2023 title game on the line.

“Of course any recognition is is always appreciated,” she said. “But at the end of the day, and I know Soph agrees with me, none of it matters if we don’t get business done on Sunday. And ultimately after that, obviously one thing at a time, but we we have our eyes on the ultimate prize. And so none of these things matter unless that gets done.”

The U.S. women’s national team will move on from October with their heads held high. A 3-0 victory over Colombia on Sunday gave them more breathing room after a scoreless draw earlier in the week. The match was a tale of two halves, as the U.S. made slight adjustments at halftime to pepper Colombia’s penalty area in a chippy, physical match.

The shots on goal didn’t start landing until the second half, as key substitutes took advantage of a worn-down defense. Mia Fishel and Jaedyn Shaw tallied their first USWNT goals, and Lindsey Horan also scored a breakthrough goal in her attacking midfield role.

What was likely interim manager Twila Kilgore’s final game in charge of a team in a holding pattern didn’t answer every question fans have for the former world champions. But it did serve as a reminder that solutions are necessary, and that the players in the team’s future might actually be the ones who can perform the best in the present.

Here are a few main takeaways from Sunday’s win.

It’s time to start rotating the center forwards

The next USWNT coach could find themselves in a conundrum as they decide what to do about the established center forward role. It’s a spot that Alex Morgan has held in good stead for most of her career, but as the striker concludes another international break without a goal, questions about form continue to follow the 34-year-old.

Morgan brings more to the team than just a goal-scoring presence, as both a key leader and an increasingly effective playmaker. But in both October matches against Colombia, she struggled with her primary objective, missing a penalty kick and other high-quality chances in front of goal. It’s not Morgan’s fault that the USWNT has played slim-margin, counter-attacking soccer in 2023 — that responsibility primarily rests with former manager Vlatko Andonovski. But the last four games have followed a similar blueprint, and form being a fickle thing supports the idea of letting hotter hands get experience in the No. 9 role.

Mia Fishel made an obvious case on Sunday, scoring her first senior international goal on a header off a short corner kick. The USWNT has long been dominant on set pieces, and Fishel’s aerial ability combined with her comfort as a back-to-goal striker opened things up for the U.S. in the second half on Sunday.

Sophia Smith is also re-entering the fold after an MCL sprain and still lining up with the U.S. as a winger. She has had a two-year run of dominance in the NWSL in a more central position, something Andonovski leaned on but never committed to as USWNT coach. Other players who can do damage in front of goal include (but are not limited to) Ashley Hatch, Lynn Williams and Catarina Macario, considering she can return to her old form after recovery from an ACL injury.

It doesn’t do Morgan any favors to keep inserting her into a system that doesn’t play to her strengths, nor does it make sense for a team that has this much attacking talent to become rigid in the face of a shooting slump. The process of building cohesion and chemistry only works if the pieces in the system fit, and the U.S. appears to be a couple of personnel moves away from striking the right balance.

The future is now

Some of the turnover in the USWNT player pool happened so fast this summer that it’s difficult to contextualize a team that’s constantly changing. Trinity Rodman abruptly took on much greater responsibility during the World Cup due to Mallory Swanson’s knee injury and now looks like a confident, seasoned pro on the wings. Savannah DeMelo, after a surprising World Cup debut, was similarly called upon to infuse life into the U.S. attack in both of their October matches in the absence of Rose Lavelle.

The success of players like Rodman and DeMelo, who were pushed into the deep end and swam instead of sinking, should bolster the idea that the next USWNT coach need not be precious about giving minutes to younger, less experienced talent. In fact, Kilgore’s reluctance to move away from the hyper-conservative playing style of the team’s Round of 16 formation arguably wasted precious time when the team has never had less to lose.

Shaw and Fishel played like stars on Sunday, with a fearlessness and tenacity that the USWNT has been missing from its veterans. Shaw can slot into a number of positions with ease, her superpower being an understanding of how she can exploit space wherever it presents itself. With her chip of the goalkeeper to put the U.S. up 3-0, the 19-year-old showed a poise that belied her age. The assist came from the capable 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who is still being eased into playing time with the U.S. senior team after making the World Cup roster.

Given the excitement on Sunday, there’s an argument that the U.S. coaching staff isn’t moving fast enough. Olivia Moultrie could be the type of player to allow Horan to rest at times, but she did not see the field in October. The team’s avoidance of defensive midfielder Sam Coffey, an NWSL MVP finalist this season with the Portland Thorns, also continued this week (though the ascendance of Emily Sonnett in the same role has possibly muddied the waters). Ashley Sanchez received late minutes on Sunday, still finding herself struggling to rise on the midfield depth chart after not playing at all during the World Cup.

One of the blessings and the curses of managing the USWNT is that you have to find ways to balance leadership, mentality, form and positional roles while overseeing an intensely competitive environment where many players have a case for consideration. Former coaches have frequently pushed for changes in increments, with a steadfast faith in the team’s cohesion across player generations.

The 2024 Olympics looming in the background could push the next U.S. manager into inactivity, trusting the process that Andonovski began. But the game tape from Sunday might support a bolder approach, and one that needs to happen quickly lest the USWNT continue to lose ground on the international stage.

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

While the search for a permanent head coach remains ongoing, the U.S. women’s national team announced its roster on Wednesday for two October friendlies against Colombia. The group consists of both longtime veterans and exciting young talents, including the first senior team call-up for 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie.

If the 2023 World Cup squad looked like a team in transition, the USWNT we’ve seen this fall only leans deeper into the winds of change. Legends have said their goodbyes, and young players are getting their chance to prove their value on the international stage. In between, the U.S. has many holdovers to help maintain the team’s longtime standard before a new coach comes in to make their stamp on the team.

The post-Pinoe era

The USWNT’s October friendlies will be the first international break since the retirements of Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe, which are already being felt on the depth chart. Ertz’s absence should make way for more consistent opportunities for Portland Thorns defensive midfielder Sam Coffey, who is likely competing with Emily Sonnett for time despite Sonnett being listed on the roster as a defender.

The U.S. is also left searching for center-back depth after Ertz took over a starting role during the 2023 World Cup. Tierna Davidson misses out on this roster after suffering a face injury in the NWSL, and Abby Dahlkemper has yet to be called back into U.S. camp since returning from back surgery in August. Becky Sauerbrunn makes her welcome return to the roster after missing the World Cup with a foot injury, providing a vital infusion of veteran leadership. But looking beyond 2024, the central defense will need more players with experience to join the depth chart with Alana Cook and Naomi Girma.

Sauerbrunn’s return speaks to the larger cycle refresh now that Rapinoe has hung up her boots. Lindsey Horan, named a captain by Vlatko Andonovski for the 2023 World Cup, suddenly has the third-most caps on the team behind Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan. Morgan has shown how she can galvanize a team around her in San Diego this NWSL season. As the spirit of the team reshapes around younger stars, Morgan will be tasked with connecting with the next generation.

Alyssa Thompson is the most experienced of the USWNT's youngsters after making the World Cup roster. (Hannah Peters - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Teenage dream

The October roster features three teenagers: 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw and 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie. Thompson is already a mainstay with the team after making the roster for the 2023 World Cup, and fans will be eager to see how Shaw and Moultrie adapt to the international level after impressive seasons with their respective NWSL clubs.

Shaw has the ability to slot in as a winger, a position where the U.S. doesn’t lack for talent, but she can also drift further back into the midfield to facilitate playmaking in the absence of Rose Lavelle. In September, interim manager Twila Kilgore opted for a defensive midfield shape with Andi Sullivan, Sonnett, and Lindsey Horan. If the USWNT feels comfortable with a more attacking style in October, Shaw will be a huge asset.

Moultrie’s addition is particularly notable based on the position she plays. The Thorns player is a sharp passer and a connecting midfielder who can break lines and set up the attack. In recent years, the USWNT coaching staff has been more comfortable integrating young players into attacking roles and letting midfielders develop through league play. If Moultrie gets time against Colombia, she’ll have significant responsibility as the team’s engine, and the earlier she can get comfortable with the speed of play, the better.

There’s also something to be said about rewarding teenagers who made the leap to professional clubs with serious USWNT consideration. After their World Cup disappointment, USWNT players and U.S. Soccer officials alike have said they want to build a cohesive style of play that prioritizes holding the ball and begins at the youth levels. For Thompson, Shaw and Moultrie, there’s no time like the present, with the hope that more players feel encouraged to follow in their footsteps.

Play the kids

Kilgore was somewhat cautious with the young players she brought in last month, letting Shaw get acclimated to the U.S. camp environment and waiting to play Chelsea striker Mia Fishel until the second game of their series against South Africa. As the U.S. gets further away from the World Cup, Kilgore may feel more emboldened to let players test their mettle against Colombia, a major tournament quarterfinalist.

In September, the USWNT was balancing heavy emotions as they said goodbye to close friends and icons and looked to rebound from a confidence-shaking summer. But preparation for the 2024 Olympics needs to begin sooner rather than later, and reverting to a conservative midfield of experienced players and only late substitute minutes for incoming attackers would be a disappointment in October.

Kilgore could pair Sam Coffey with Andi Sullivan or let the young No. 6 stand alone in a more attacking structure. She could also start Fishel to give Morgan rest in one of the two matches, work Moultrie into the midfield alongside Horan or as her replacement, and have Shaw make slashing runs in tandem with Sophia Smith or relieve her as she builds minutes from a knee injury.

There is a healthy amount of connective tissue for every player new to the U.S. environment this month. But one of the team’s tasks going forward is to worry less about the safety net, and more about the future.

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

This season was one of the most competitive in the NWSL’s history. With the 2023 World Cup pulling players away from their clubs, despite scheduling changes to mitigate absences, the season featured ebbs and flows. Teams battled every week to gain an edge, and the final standings and playoff spots came down to the final day of matches on Sunday.

Consequently, it was an interesting year for individual performances. The San Diego Wave, the NWSL Shield winners, played gritty team football rather than being carried by one particular player. The Portland Thorns looked like the best team in the league at times, but they struggled with consistent form. And some of the best players of all couldn’t get their teams into the playoffs.

With many factors in play, here is my shortlist for 2023 NWSL MVP.

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Kerolin ticks a number of boxes that you want when you’re looking for an MVP candidate. She was a consistent goal scorer, finishing second in the Golden Boot race with 10 goals and three assists on the season. Her accumulative xG of 8.16, as compiled by American Soccer Analysis, was good enough for third in the league, and she delivered quality finishing in big moments.

She also has the argument of intangibles. The Courage lost a number of stars in the offseason, and it was unclear if they could pull together their new group in time to contend for the 2023 playoffs. North Carolina went on to surprise everyone, playing more methodically but staying equally as threatening in the attack, led by Kerolin’s steady performance.

In terms of how she compares to her peers in the league, and what she brings to a club that defied the odds to finish the season in third, Kerolin has to be considered an MVP frontrunner.

(Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

The Thorns had an up-and-down year of player availability, due to the World Cup and lingering injury issues. As a result, Portland’s success came in spurts, with different players adding to a collective whole. Sophia Smith was statistically the most impressive player in the league before international duty and a knee injury kept her sidelined for much of the final third of the season. Morgan Weaver then picked up the slack, making key goal contributions down the stretch to earn Portland a top-two finish for the second year in a row.

But in terms of consistency, Sam Coffey is the Thorns’ best MVP candidate. Coffey handled a USWNT World Cup snub with grace, anchoring the Portland midfield as a disruptor on defense and a distributive engine in the attack. She finished the season with eight assists, three more than the next closest player, while adjusting to an ever-changing lineup of players around her. She played alongside multiple attacking midfielders, never wavering in her ability to connect and facilitate the league’s most effective attack.

Although the Thorns fell just short of the Shield again in 2023, they played some of the most cohesive soccer throughout the season largely thanks to Coffey.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Adriana, F, Orlando Pride

Voting philosophies for MVP can take on different lines of thinking. Should the award reflect the best player on the best team? Should it reward the top statistical performer in the NWSL? Or should it showcase a player whose team would struggle the most without them?

If we’re arguing for the last point, Adriana needs to be in the conversation. Her contributions flew under the radar at times, despite her scoring six goals and notching four assists throughout the regular season. The Brazilian attacker had the stats to back up her performances, sitting third in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric in large part due to her magical abilities on the ball.

In addition to her striking talents, Adriana is an excellent dribbler of the ball, bringing a dynamism to the Orlando attack that almost carried the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2017. While they fell short this time, the Pride look like a team prepped for the future, with Adriana’s breakout success a key part of that foundation.

(Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw, F/M, San Diego Wave

The Wave never relied on one single player on their way to finishing at the top of the NWSL table. Abby Dahlkemper’s midseason return shook up their staunch defense, and the team went through a rough patch before rounding into form late in the year. Jaedyn Shaw stood out among the rest for taking her added responsibilities in the attack and the midfield in stride. And if MVP should reward consistency, growth, and team reliance, the teenager deserves a look.

Shaw has scored the most goals as a teenager in NWSL history, breaking the record previously held by Trinity Rodman. The 18-year-old added key elements to her game in 2023: She adjusted to becoming more of a playmaker and facilitator as much as a goal scorer, and she showcased dribbling and passing abilities that will only improve over time. Shaw scored six goals and notched three assists in the regular season, often keeping the Wave in games as they found their form.

In her second professional season, there’s an argument that Shaw is not only the best young player in the league, but also one of the best players regardless of age. As a key part of the Wave’s Shield run, she has a serious case for MVP.

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.

The U.S. women’s national team recently announced its friendly schedule for the October international window, with two games against World Cup quarterfinalists Colombia in Utah and California.

With the understanding that the team’s September games against South Africa are intended to celebrate the World Cup squad (and give Megan Rapinoe the farewell she deserves), October should bring larger roster implications. The window will give the U.S. a chance to shake up the player pool as they look to rebound from a disappointing 2023.

It’s unclear whether the team will be under new permanent management by October after the resignation of head coach Vlatko Andonovski, but leadership will be eager to reset a roster that got exposed at the World Cup. The good news for the USWNT is that there are many players excelling in the NWSL who would be great candidates for fresh looks in camp ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Here are five players I’d like to see compete for a spot on a new-look USWNT.

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

Coffey is perhaps the most obvious choice on this list as a player with some USWNT experience already. Coffey is a defensive midfielder who plays more in the style of Andi Sullivan than Julie Ertz, known for her ability to distribute and win the ball at the NWSL level. The 24-year-old is already an NWSL champion and hasn’t slowed down this year. She’s recorded a league-leading seven assists in the regular season as Portland has surged to first place despite a number of World Cup absences.

Coffey’s ability to break lines as a passer from a deep-lying midfield position is not something the U.S. prioritized under Andonovski in 2023. But ball distribution will likely be a point of focus after the World Cup as the team rethinks its shape and structure, and Coffey should be one of the first players called back into the team.

Katie Lund, GK, Racing Louisville

While Alyssa Naeher is already a USWNT legend, the program is looking for a clear successor to the 35-year-old goalkeeper. Casey Murphy has the most U.S. experience of the current group, and Aubrey Kingsbury has been excellent at the league level. But if the whole player pool is getting a rethink, Racing Louisville’s Katie Lund has proven she can handle the necessary shot-stopping to earn a call-up to camp.

Lund is leading the NWSL in saves for the second straight year, and she also leads the league in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric based on her elite ability to stop shots. The U.S. has increasingly prioritized goalkeepers who are comfortable with the ball at their feet, which is something even Naeher developed over time. But if the team believes that element can be coached, Lund has every other tool necessary to compete at an international level.

Jaedyn Shaw, F/M, San Diego Wave

Jaedyn Shaw had a legitimate argument for inclusion on the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster in the absence of Mallory Swanson due to a knee injury. Shaw has all the capabilities of a classic U.S. winger, exploiting space on the dribble to make defenders miss and providing scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates.

But what makes Shaw an even more exciting USWNT prospect is her composure on the ball, which far exceeds what one might expect from an 18-year-old. She can play in a creative midfield role as well as on the wings, picking out tricky passes with the same ease as when she’s progressing the ball on the dribble. In fact, Shaw could be the heir to Rose Lavelle’s place on the field as much as she can contribute in wide areas now. She’s a must-have as the U.S. reshapes its roster.

Morgan Weaver has earned two caps with the senior USWNT in her career. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

Morgan Weaver, F, Portland Thorns

Weaver has been a steady force for Portland in 2023, finding ways to impact games from wide areas and contributing from the inside when needed. Weaver brings a high-motor intensity to her work both with and without the ball, knowing when to provide width and get to the endline, and when to pull defenders centrally to create space for her teammates. She has five goals and four assists so far this season, and could carry even more responsibility if the knee injury Sophia Smith sustained over the weekend ends up sidelining her for an extended period of time.

Weaver also has — for lack of a more defined term — the intangibles the USWNT has long prioritized. Whether starting or playing off the bench, she brings a desire to win that puts opponents on their heels. She can fill a variety of roles for a team that sometimes struggles to get the right combination on the field, and she’d bring a personality that seems to fit right in with the USWNT’s most intense competitors.

Sam Staab, D, Washington Spirit

If there’s one thing we learned from the 2023 World Cup, it’s that center-back depth can disappear in an instant. Andonovski made the call before the tournament began that he trusted a pairing of Ertz and Naomi Girma over other options like Alana Cook and Emily Sonnett. There are also questions of whether longtime captain Becky Sauerbrunn will re-enter the fold, whether Tierna Davidson will regain her form, and whether Ertz will step away from the sport entirely.

The U.S. desperately needs to go back to the scouting board at the center-back position, and Staab should be high on their list. She’s the Spirit’s iron woman, providing a steady durability the USWNT has missed in recent years. She can disrupt play with her positioning and send a long ball forward on a dime, and her NWSL experience should allow her to become a contributor quickly. Staab also has long throw-in capabilities, giving any team extended set-piece opportunities in the final third. The 26-year-old has done the work, and now she deserves a look.

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

As the U.S. women’s national team heads home early from the 2023 World Cup, they’ll soon start preparing for the next big international tournament: the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The Games are a little less than a year away, which could be cause for panic after the USWNT suffered its earliest World Cup exit in history. With the potential for a new coaching hire and a new-look roster as veterans step away from the team, there could be many shake-ups on the horizon.

The U.S. will hope to welcome back several stars from injury, including forwards Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario. But other injured players are question marks, as are some of the younger prospects who were left off the squad this time but could make their case in the next year. Here are five of them.

Jaedyn Shaw, Forward

Jaedyn Shaw had a case for making the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup roster. Coach Vlatko Andonovski included 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson on his final 23-player roster, and Shaw has similar promise and even more professional experience. The 18-year-old has made 22 appearances for the San Diego Wave and recorded seven goals, including four so far this season.

While no longer one of the youngest signings in the NWSL, she recently signed an extension with the Wave that will keep her with the NWSL club through 2026. She also won U.S. Soccer’s Young Player of the Year award in 2022, after a successful U-20 World Cup campaign.

“Obviously the national team recognition is going to keep coming if she keeps performing,” San Diego head coach Casey Stoney told Just Women’s Sports in June. “And we need to make sure that we look after her on and off the field, because she’s still an 18-year-old and she’s still young, and we need to make sure that she’s ready for everything that comes her way.”

By the time the 2024 Olympics roll around, Shaw will have three seasons of professional experience under her belt. While it might be difficult for Shaw to step in at forward given the USWNT’s depth at the position, she’s worthy of consideration and should earn her first senior international call-up sometime in the next year.

Mia Fishel, Forward

After being selected in the 2022 NWSL Draft, Fishel opted to forgo the NWSL in favor of playing for Tigres UANL in Liga MX Femenil. There, the 22-year-old went on an absolute tear, becoming the first foreign-born player to win the league’s Golden Boot with 17 goals while helping Tigres to the league title as a rookie. But it wasn’t enough to earn her a USWNT roster call-up.

Conversations grew more positive over time, with Andonovski noting that NWSL forwards were “performing as good and even better than Mia,” and later saying they were “having good conversations with” her and the USWNT was “happy for her success down there.”

“At the same time, she understands the competition that is on the national team and the players she is competing against,” Andonovski said last November. “She’s patiently waiting for her opportunity. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her in a future camp.”

Yet, as of August 2023, Fishel has yet to feature for the USWNT.

“Mia is a very good young player, we are very familiar with her qualities,” Andonovski said in January. “But as of right now, after looking at everything, we decided the forwards that we have in camp are going to give us the best chance to be successful.”

In the meantime, Fishel continued to produce in Mexico, scoring 38 goals through 48 appearances. She’ll soon get more experience against top competition after signing with European powerhouse Chelsea last week. Her transfer fee ranks among the highest in the world, meaning Chelsea manager Emma Hayes is putting a lot of stock into Fishel becoming one of the best players in the world at her position.

As Fishel joins Chelsea, expect her USWNT prospects to change heading into Olympic roster selection.

Jaelin Howell (Maria Lysaker/USA TODAY Sports)

Jaelin Howell, Midfield

At 23 years old, Howell has one goal in five international appearances, scoring against Uzbekistan last year. She began 2023 with a USWNT call-up before seemingly falling off Andonovski’s radar.

When it comes to the role of defensive midfielder, Howell is elite. The 2022 No. 2 draft pick ranks in the 90th percentile or better in tackles, interceptions, clearances and aerials won in the NWSL. Her pass completion is 80.2 percent this season for Racing Louisville, and she’s creating 1.76 shot attempts per 90, which is good for seventh in the NWSL. She’s also first in the NWSL in tackles and tackles won, and she ranked first blocks in 2022.

Why Howell hasn’t gotten a deeper look for the USWNT is a mystery, though that could change heading into 2024 — especially given how some of her Racing Louisville teammates performed at this year’s World Cup.

Sam Coffey, Midfield

Sam Coffey was one of a few players who drew the short straw for the USWNT’s World Cup roster. One of the team’s biggest snubs alongside forward Ashley Hatch, Coffey had been having a great start to the NWSL season at the No. 6 position. But her style of play didn’t always fit with Andonovski’s tactical decisions, and with Andi Sullivan out-playing her in camp and the return of Julie Ertz, there wasn’t room for the 24-year-old.

Coffey continues to develop her game as a holding midfielder, a position of need for the U.S. in the absence of Ertz, who announced her retirement after the Round of 16 loss.

“Her time will come, I have no doubt,” USWNT star forward Sophia Smith said following the roster announcement. “I fully believe that she will be the holding midfielder on the national team for a very long time.”

Phallon Tullis-Joyce (Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports)

Phallon Tullis-Joyce, Goalkeeper

Even after her heroics in the USWNT’s Round of 16 game, USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher’s time with the team will come to an end at some point. The 35-year-old will have a shot at the 2024 Olympic roster, and maybe even the 2027 World Cup, but the U.S. will need to start developing their next No. 1 keeper

While both Casey Murphy and Aubrey Kingsbury are worthy options, Phallon Tullis-Joyce continues to play her way into consideration for a USWNT look.

Tullis-Joyce has been one of the NWSL’s best goalkeepers over the last two seasons, ranking first in the league with 0.86 goals against per 90 minutes last season and currently sixth at 1.20 through 15 games this season. Her save percentage is lower this year than it was in 2022, but is still above 70 percent. As the USWNT builds out its goalkeeper depth chart for 2024, the 26-year-old has made a strong case for inclusion.

June has brought another exciting month of NWSL action, with some shifting at the top of the table. While the Thorns have stayed ahead of the pack and North Carolina is on the rise, OL Reign, San Diego and Washington have remained in the mix at the top of the standings.

Familiar faces continue to perform at the highest level, and the Golden Boot race is heating up before players leave for the 2023 World Cup. A few have notably stood out in regular season play, with their team’s fortunes following suit.

Here is our pick for June’s NWSL Player of the Month.

Kerolin, F, North Carolina Courage

Kerolin and Portland’s Sophia Smith were neck-and-neck heading into the end of the month, but the way the Brazilian attacker has been able to raise her team’s standing in June gives her the ultimate edge.

Kerolin scored four regular season goals in June, including one hat trick, as the Courage went 3-1 to surge to second place in the NWSL standings. The 23-year-old’s influence also goes beyond the box score. She is fifth in the league in xG added for the month of June, and second in American Soccer Analysis’ g+ metric, based on her excellent dribbling and passing abilities.

In addition to the underlying stats, what sets Kerolin’s month apart has to do with her team. Expectations for North Carolina were uncharacteristically low heading into this season, after the team lost major playmakers like Debinha and Diana Ordoñez. But instead of falling off, North Carolina has looked like a more cohesive unit in 2023 than it did in 2022, and the results have followed.

With international transfer interest already brewing as Kerolin leaves for the World Cup, her star is only rising, and June 2023 might end up being considered her career breakthrough.

Sophia Smith leads the NWSL's Golden Boot race over halfway through the season. (Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Honorable mentions

Sophia Smith, F, Portland Thorns

Smith was typically excellent in June, taking control of the Golden Boot race with a six-goal month. She capped June off with her second hat trick of the season, placing the Thorns at the top of the table as she leaves for the World Cup.

Sam Staab, D, Washington Spirit

With more than half the season over, Staab should be considered a frontrunner for NWSL Defender of the Year. She’s been very durable for a strong Spirit backline, and her distribution has been consistently excellent.

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns

Just missing out on the USWNT World Cup roster, Sam Coffey is nonetheless playing some of the best soccer of her career. She leads the league with six assists and has been a versatile member of Portland’s high-flying midfield.

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