World Cup champion defender Tierna Davidson knows exactly what she’s going to miss about the city of Chicago. The 25-year-old is moving on from the Red Stars side that drafted her in 2019, as she joins reigning champions Gotham FC in a multi-year deal through 2026.

“Just in my head, like the perfect August, September evening in Chicago,” Davidson tells Just Women’s Sports days before her free agency announcement. “Where it’s like 70 degrees and you can walk around, and there’s a little bit of a breeze but it’s not too cold and it’s not too overrun by tourists.”

“Everyone’s just kind of there hanging out, and the sun still goes down late, being able to walk down Randolph Avenue or something and pop in and out of restaurants or bars, hanging out with my friends,” she continues. “I feel like that’s what I will just miss the most.”

Davidson was only 20 years old when she left Stanford a year early and was drafted by a Red Stars team stacked at the time with impressive talent like USWNT stalwart Julie Ertz, Japanese World Cup champion Yuki Nagasato, and Australian superstar Sam Kerr.

Chicago would reach a title game in the three years following Davidson’s jump to the pros, falling in the 2019 and 2021 NWSL championship games as well as the 2020 Challenge Cup.

Behind the scenes however Chicago would be revealed to be the picture of off-field dysfunction, with both head coach Rory Dames and Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler named in reports of misconduct starting in 2021. Dames was permanently banned from the NWSL in 2022, while Whisler agreed to sell the club, which eventually found new ownership in a group led by Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.

As the Red Stars begin righting the ship under new management they’ve suffered a fair amount of roster attrition. The team’s struggles in 2023 following Davidson’s return from an ACL tear in part led to the defender missing a World Cup roster, a crucial setback for a versatile player that appeared to be on the fast-track at the international level.

Chicago finished the season last in the NWSL standings right before Davidson became an unrestricted free agent. Leaving teammates who had shaped the first five years of her career made moving on difficult, but Davidson also desired the opportunity to grow in a new environment.

“I think I’ve really been craving structure and a sense of security almost,” she says. “I think that with everything that’s happened at Chicago over the past years, that’s something that we’ve struggled to have there just because there’s been a lot of turnover, there’s been a lot of turmoil.”

Davidson played in the 2021 NWSL Championship game as a member of the Red Stars defense (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Thus entered Gotham, once also a club struggling to emerge from the basement of the NWSL standings now assembling a super-squad after the team’s first championship win. Gotham has already announced World Cup champion Crystal Dunn as a major free agency signing, as well as having been linked to reported talks with Emily Sonnett and Rose Lavelle.

The coaching staff’s early conversations with Davidson gave her the confidence that not only would she be a good fit for the team, but that they’re invested in her necessary personal growth. With the USWNT entering a new era under manager Emma Hayes, a consistent return to the international stage could be determined by finding the right coaching staff to help her take strides forward.

“My first impression was we had a Zoom meeting, and the staff comes in so prepared, they have video, they have stats and analysis of me personally,” she says. “And to see that level of commitment for someone that’s not their player is really impressive, to know that they are not just kind of closing their eyes and pointing out a free agent.”

Gotham proved versatile themselves in 2023, with a sense of full-team defending leading to quick switches in possession based on the foundation of a bend-not-break defense. A big part of the latter’s success lay at the feet of departing captain defender Ali Krieger, who retired at the end of last year.

Davidson appears to be a natural personality to step in at center-back in Krieger’s absence. She’s demonstrated both ability to defend in space and to trigger the attack through combination play and long passes she can drop on a dime. “I played the [No.] 6 for longer than I played center-back, I miss playing it,” she says with a chuckle. “So I really do enjoy the times when the center-back is able to get into the attack a little bit and set play a little bit and [be] able to connect a bit with the attack.”

She notes an excitement to play with the clear style that head coach Juan Carlos Amorós has instilled in Gotham, laughing that she won’t miss having to face the team’s multi-pronged attack. “Just to know how fluidly he wants to play the game with the ideas that he has is really exciting, because that continues to push us as players if we’re having to solve different problems or look at different pictures and find different solutions.”

Davidson will be rejoining USWNT teammates like Dunn, Lynn Williams, Midge Purce and more in New Jersey (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Davidson also noticed how often USWNT teammates spoke of their time at Gotham with a real sense of ease and positivity, bringing the team up unsolicited in natural conversation. This allowed her to observe without feeling like she had to ask too many questions as she tried to get a sense of the free agency market.

“The privilege of being in the national team environment is you get a little window into people’s environment even without having to ask,” she says. “Which is almost the best kind of form of analysis, just because it’s not like they’re trying to sell you on a team.”

A strong locker room culture supported by the entire organization is something that might be exactly what Davidson needs, as her obvious on-the-field goals for 2024 — to win trophies at both the domestic and international level — will need to start with a new sense of foundation beneath her feet.

“I think first and foremost, [next year is] really regaining a sense of joy in the game, a sense of confidence in the game,” she says. “Just like stepping onto the field and just knowing that this is where I belong, and this is what I’m meant to do.”

“I think that the process goals are really important to me at this point,” she continues. “I think I haven’t been able to achieve those process goals in the past few years. And I really am looking forward to getting back to that and to seeing that come to fruition in the game.”

Off the field, Davidson aims to find the perfect balance between the calm of New Jersey and the bustling city of New York. She’s also looking forward to have a chance to simply focus on the football.

“Something that I’ve yet to experience but I think would be helpful for me is to be able to have a bit of peace off the field,” she says. “I think Gotham will provide that for me — I’m hoping that can help me in many different ways both as a player, but also as a person.”

Tierna Davidson is in advanced talks to sign with Gotham FC in NWSL free agency, The Equalizer’s Jenna Tonelli reported Tuesday.

Davidson, 25, is a star defender who has played for the Chicago Red Stars since 2019, when she was selected by the club with the No. 1 overall pick in the NWSL college draft.

A member of the 2019 World Cup-winning U.S. women’s national team, Davidson has made 51 international appearances. She also has made 61 appearances for Chicago since 2019.

Davidson becomes just the latest USWNT player to be linked to Gotham FC in free agency. Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett also reportedly are in advanced discussions to join the reigning NWSL champions, and Crystal Dunn has been linked to the club as well.

The addition of Davidson would make sense for Gotham FC given the retirement of 2023 NWSL Defender of the Year nominee and captain Ali Krieger.

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.

While Sophia Smith and Becky Sauerbrunn returned from injury for the U.S. women’s national team roster, several big names remain out for the October friendlies against Colombia.

Tierna Davidson

The 25-year-old defender received a kick to the face in the Chicago Red Stars’ Sept. 30 match against Racing Louisville. She missed the team’s final two matches of the regular season, and she is not ready for international minutes, USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Wednesday.

“That contact to the face was pretty severe,” Kilgore said. “She’s recovering and moving forward.”

Rose Lavelle

The 28-year-old midfielder has played intermittently since picking up a leg injury in April. She joined the USWNT at the 2023 World Cup but made just two appearances upon her return to the NWSL — and none since Sept. 3. She’s played just four NWSL matches total in 2023.

Following OL Reign’s win Sunday in their final regular season match, Laura Harvey said that Lavelle would be available only if her team really needed her.

“Rose was sort of there if we desperately needed her to be there, and thankfully we didn’t,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said Sunday. “I know she was still running (on the field) after the game so that we can keep her ticking over in preparation for Friday.”

Kilgore echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

“Both players [Lavelle and Davidson] aren’t ready for international minutes,” she said. “We’re also being very careful with protecting players. Rose is making progress, just not ready for this event.”

Catarina Macario

Macario has not played in a competitive match since tearing her ACL last June, and she hasn’t featured for the USWNT since last April. The 24-year-old midfielder signed with Chelsea in June, and she has been settling in with her new club in the Women’s Super League. But she has yet to play in a game in the WSL through the first three matches of the season.

“Cat is integrating at Chelsea, she’s just not ready for international minutes yet,” Kilgore said. “We’re collaborating with them in terms of keeping in touch and making sure she has everything she needs, but she’s just not ready for international minutes yet.

“She’s just continuing on her timeline there and we trust the people that she’s working with and that she’s entrusted herself to. Things seem to be moving along well.”

Kelley O’Hara

The 35-year-old defender is out with a lower leg injury. She made the World Cup roster but played just nine minutes in the tournament. Since her return to the NWSL, she has played in three matches for Gotham FC, most recently seven minutes as a substitute on Oct. 1.

While she initially was named to the USWNT’s September roster, she was replaced ahead of the friendlies against South Africa. At the time, the USWNT said in a release that the defender’s “return to play has been slower than anticipated and she will remain with her club to continue her progression to full fitness.”

Mallory Swanson

Swanson has remained out since tearing the patellar tendon in her left knee during an April friendly against Ireland. While she has been seen practicing with the Chicago Red Stars, the 25-year-old forward continues to rehab her injury.

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.

When U.S. women’s national team unveiled its final 23-player roster for the 2023 World Cup on Wednesday, some players saw their dreams realized while others had theirs dashed.

Among the players who missed out on a spot were Ashley Hatch, Tierna Davidson and AD Franch, all of whom have attended multiple USWNT camps this year.

“There is no harder thing that you can do than tell someone that they did not make the roster for a World Cup,” USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the roster reveal.

While the USWNT went with seven forwards and six midfielders for the SheBelieves Cup in February, Andonovski opted to flip those numbers for the World Cup, which leaves Hatch on the outside looking in. The flexibility of the forward corps — namely Sophia Smith, Lynn Williams, Trinity Rodman and Alyssa Thompson’s ability to play in the No. 9 slot — played into his decision, he said.

“They’re all playing in a really good form and we’re comfortable with their abilities and what they can provide on the field,” he said. “We’re not worried about having someone step in and do well if needed.”

Chicago Red Stars defender Davidson also “missed it by a little bit,” Andonovski said. After tearing her ACL in March 2022, Davidson participated in the February camp and then made her return during the USWNT’s April friendlies against Ireland. But Andonovski felt as though there “were other players that fit better in the needs that we may have” for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“She’s an incredible player and I have no doubt that she will be back on this team soon and in contention for the roster spot for the next big tournament,” he said.

Also missing the roster is goalkeeper AD Franch, who had been called up at the end of 2022 following a standout NWSL season. She’s had a rough stretch in 2023, however, and was swapped out for Aubrey Kingsbury.

Whittling down a World Cup roster to 23 players can be difficult, particularly if you are head coach of the U.S. women’s national team and have a plethora of talent to choose from.

USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski will announce his choices next week, and while some players have solidified their spots, others remain on the bubble. Which players are fighting for a trip to Australia and New Zealand?

Goalkeepers: AD Franch, Aubrey Kingsbury

Kingsbury has been playing lights out to begin the season. Franch, on the other hand, has seen limited appearances on the field, and has struggled when she has appeared for the Kansas City Current.

And while Alyssa Naeher is a staple for the USWNT, she has given up nine goals in her last two outings for the Red Stars, so Andonovski may want to stick with the backup who has the better recent résumé.

Defenders: Sofia Huerta, Tierna Davidson, Kelley O’Hara, Casey Krueger

Sofia Huerta had a great game last weekend against Kansas City, burying a penalty kick to give OL Reign the win. She was named Player of the Match and earned a nomination for NWSL Player of the Week. A former attacker turned right-back, her 35 regular-season goals rank 17th in NWSL history, so she could bring an additional scoring presence to a USWNT squad that has had a defender score in each of its last two friendlies. But she’s going up against O’Hara and Krueger, with each bringing a different element to the table — and while O’Hara has been struggling to stay healthy, Krueger’s versatility could give her the nod.

Davidson is another bubble player who faces stiff competition to make the final 23. At center-back, she is likely competing with OL Reign’s Emily Sonnett. In Chicago, Davidson has struggled – as has the rest of the Red Star defense – and was out before that with an ACL tear. She was the youngest player on the roster at the 2019 World Cup, but she could find herself on the outside looking in this time around.

Midfielders: Taylor Kornieck, Savannah DeMelo

Julie Ertz’s return to the USWNT lineup has meant one less spot on the USWNT roster because, let’s face it, there’s no way Ertz is being left at home. Kornieck has had solid USWNT minutes, and at 6-1 she is the tallest player the USWNT has to go up against opposition. Before sustaining an abdominal injury, Kornieck was leading the NWSL in aerials won. She’s already scored once this year for the USWNT, one of just a few players to do so, and would be a solid bench option for Andonovski.

DeMelo, meanwhile, has had an outstanding start to her NWSL season and week after week continues to make her case for the USWNT roster. She scored in four of five appearances to start the season and forced an own goal against Chicago. In May, she was named the NWSL’s Player of the Month. If NWSL play really does matter that much to Andonovski, then he’ll take DeMelo down under.

Forwards: Jaedyn Shaw, Midge Purce

If Andonovski is considering young star Alyssa Thompson for a roster spot, he should also be considering Shaw. Shaw has been a force for San Diego this season, not just as the team’s second-leading scorer but also as a passer. While her consistency needs some work, she has two seasons of professional experience under her belt that could be helpful on the world’s biggest stage.

Purce, meanwhile, has had a bumpy road with the USWNT, and a recent hip injury has kept her from NWSL play. While Purce has the talent to help the USWNT, her lack of recent playing time means she could get left at home.

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.

Injuries and extended absences have taken a toll on the U.S. women’s national team as the reigning world champions prepare for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

As head coach Vlatko Andonovski continues to evaluate players before naming a final roster next summer, we take a look at recent USWNT mainstays on the outside looking in and where they stand in the run-up to the biggest tournament in women’s soccer. Next up: Tierna Davidson.

Position: Defender
Total caps: 48
Most recent USWNT appearance: Feb. 23, 2022 vs. Iceland (SheBelieves Cup)

What is her track record with the USWNT?

The defender played a full 90 minutes in each of her first three matches for the USWNT en route to the 2018 SheBelieves Cup title.

While Davidson missed the Concacaf W Championship later that year with a broken ankle, she returned to the USWNT in 2019. At 20 years old, she became the youngest player on the U.S. roster at the 2019 World Cup.

Davidson appeared in just one World Cup game, a group-stage match against Chile, but she made her mark with two assists in the 3-0 win. By the 2021 Olympics, she’d become a standard presence in the starting lineup.

What is keeping her off the roster?

The 24-year-old tore her ACL in March 2022 during a training session for the Chicago Red Stars.

She had started all 17 games she played for the Red Stars during the 2021 season, in which the team made a run to the NWSL final, but played just one game in the preseason Challenge Cup in 2022 before going down with the injury.

When will she be back?

Davidson is “very close” to returning, Andonovski said when announcing the roster for the January friendlies against New Zealand.

The coach provided another update ahead of the first match against the Football Ferns, saying Davidson is “already in full training” and should be back in February — “if we decide to, obviously, call her up.”

In her absence, Alana Cook and Naomi Girma have stepped up as capable center backs for the USWNT. So the decision of which players to include on the World Cup roster could be a tough one for Andonovski.

Cook appears to have locked up the starting position alongside captain Becky Sauerbrunn, with Girma cycling in as a reliable substitute in the back. Davidson, however, has the advantage of major tournament experience after being paired with Sauerbrunn at the Tokyo Olympics.

What other players are missing from the USWNT roster?