NWSL players and fans are still waiting on the 2023 schedule
The NWSL season begins March 25.
It’s the end of the calendar year for the U.S. women’s national team, with 2022 performances all wrapped up in a bow. Naturally, that also means it’s time for end-of-year report cards to evaluate how each player did in the run-up to the 2023 World Cup.
First, a quick set of criteria: Despite the team’s first three-game losing streak in decades, the U.S. lost only three games total in 2022. A failing grade would indicate a player is wildly unprepared for the game at this level, which is not something we saw from the group playing the lion’s share of minutes this year. Likewise, an A+ indicates a player with all-star, team-on-their-back, best-in-the-world status.
Throughout this series, which will grade players by position, I’m going to avoid those who didn’t get minutes in 2022 and those who have missed significant time due to injury.
Today, let’s take a look at the goalkeeping pool.
Naeher started all eight matches she played in 2022, conceding only four goals over the course of the year. After returning from a hyper-extension in her knee that kept her sidelined for the USWNT’s post-Olympics stretch in 2021, she looked especially sharp coming off her line. Her kick-save in the final match of the year against Germany, which was essentially a must-win game, swung momentum back in favor of the U.S. and spurred their 2-1 comeback victory.
Naeher is 34 and appears to have her successor developing closely behind her. But in the minutes she did get in 2022, she gave no clear reason to think that now is the time to shake up the USWNT’s hierarchy at the top. Naeher’s wealth of experience in big moments has led to discipline and calm control of a rotating defense in front of her, and she’s still the keeper I’d call upon in a high-profile matchup.
When evaluating a new USWNT goalkeeper, it can be important sometimes to grade on a curve. The point of getting Casey Murphy as many minutes as possible in 2022 was to prepare her for 2023 should she find herself in the same situation as AD Franch at last year’s Olympics, when Naeher hurt her knee and Franch was thrust into the lineup. Murphy’s caps jumped from four to 12 in 2022, and the USWNT newcomer did show some nerves in high-pressure moments.
The 26-year-old clearly has the mechanics to be a great USWNT goalkeeper, but hesitation at the back stopped her from becoming the team’s obvious No. 1 when presented with the opportunity. Murphy played very well against Australia last December but looked less comfortable in Concacaf W competition, including the team’s semifinal against Costa Rica. She actually played her best game of the year in the USWNT’s loss to Germany in November, perhaps setting the stage for steps forward in 2023.
Kingsbury performed perfectly well in her first and only USWNT cap of the year, a 9-0 blowout win over Uzbekistan. But her inability to break into the team’s current two-player rotation makes her spot on the 2023 World Cup roster far from a guarantee. Kingsbury is one of the best American goalkeepers in the NWSL, but her consistent call-ups came in the wake of the Washington Spirit’s championship win in 2021.
In 2022, Washington struggled and Kingsbury eventually found herself on the outside looking in of the USWNT as AD Franch made her return to camp at the end of the year. Franch herself never saw the field for the USWNT this year, but the choices made in January camp will indicate where Kingsbury currently stands on the depth chart and whether she needs different results in the NWSL to move back up.
I’m already breaking my own rules here, but Franch deserves a mention because she probably should have had USWNT minutes in 2022. Franch held her own in the midst of a difficult situation at the Tokyo Olympics, and she certainly was not the reason Canada advanced over the U.S. and to the gold-medal match off a penalty. She led her NWSL club, the Kansas City Current, all the way to the 2022 Championship and received a USWNT call-up in November. Naeher and Murphy split the two games, leaving Franch without an opportunity to prove herself.
It’s possible that Franch has played herself back into the conversation for the USWNT’s third goalkeeper spot, but she should also be in consideration for on-field time. As a pure shot-stopper, Franch continues to excel above the competition.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.
The NWSL season begins March 25.
Press has been rehabbing an ACL injury since June.
She could return for the team's April camp.
Vlatko Andonovski also provided updates on Christen Press and others.
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