NWSL’s regular-season finale makes waves, but not on airwaves
None of the final weekend's six matches aired on television.
The U.S. women’s national team wrapped up another successful international window this week. The 2022 Concacaf champions swept their two-game friendly series against Nigeria, 4-0 on Saturday and 2-1 on Tuesday.
While head coach Vlatko Andonovski primarily stuck with his starting rotation from the Concacaf W Championship, several less experienced USWNT players did get opportunities to show what they can do. Most players who were newcomers in November — like Emily Fox, Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez — have surpassed 10 caps and seem more locked into their roles at this point. But for the seven players who have fewer than 10 caps, it can be harder to tell.
Four got to see the field against Nigeria, two didn’t but have been in the environment before, and one attended camp for the first time.
The FIFA World Cup is less than a year away, and spots on the roster are limited. Here’s where Just Women’s Sports believes the newer players currently stand.
With seven starts in 2022, Murphy has been locked in since her jaw-dropping debut against Australia in November 2021. She started three of five matches at the Concacaf championship in July, including the semifinal against Costa Rica. Against Nigeria, the North Carolina Courage keeper started the second match Tuesday, and although the 2-1 result snapped the USWNT’s nine-game shutout streak, she played a role in keeping that streak alive in the first place, recording seven shutouts in her previous eight caps. Murphy is here to stay.
Defensive midfielder Sam Coffey played the full 90 minutes in her first cap with the USWNT on Tuesday. In the absence of Julie Ertz, Andonovski has been rotating different players into the six, including Andi Sullivan, Jaelin Howell and Lindsey Horan. Starting the Concacaf championship against Canada in July, Sullivan is the preferred defensive midfielder of the group.
The No. 2 spot is still up in the air, and if Andonovski chooses to bring a backup next summer, Coffey definitely made a case for herself on Tuesday. Her 82 percent passing accuracy with the Portland Thorns this season shined through on the international stage, with the 23-year-old sending dangerous balls into the attacking third and opening up the field with her positioning off the ball.
Sam Coffey’s meteoric rise from Penn State attacking midfielder to starting for the USWNT at dm in the matter of a few years is truly wild pic.twitter.com/UGp4GTZhTH— Claire Watkins (@ScoutRipley) September 6, 2022
After sitting for the first game against Nigeria, Naomi Girma played the full 90 on Tuesday alongside fellow center back Alana Cook. As always, the No. 1 NWSL draft pick showed her composure on the ball. Andonovski describes her as a calculated defender who knows exactly when to attack the space in front of her and when to hold back. On Tuesday, she demonstrated that boldness, taking the ball herself when she didn’t risk jeopardizing the defensive third.
Andonovski believes Cook, with nine more caps, is “slightly ahead” of the NWSL rookie, but he acknowledges that Girma is making big strides. The USWNT roster will usually feature three center backs, and if Andonovski prioritizes the veteran leadership of Becky Sauerbrunn and Tierna Davidson for the World Cup, he would probably include Cook over Girma at this point. But a lot can change in a year, and anyone who watches San Diego Wave FC knows how well Girma can meet a challenge.
Hailie Mace was one of two players on the September roster who had never played an international match under Andonovski before the friendlies against Nigeria. Andonovski said last week that it’s difficult to evaluate new players after just one camp. Mace saw the field in both games, subbing in for Emily Fox in the second halves to earn her fourth and fifth caps.
Two appearances could be interpreted as a good sign, but the first rotation was made to give Fox a break before the second game, and Fox came out of the second match after receiving a hit to the head. Mace was called in to replace veteran defender Kelley O’Hara while she’s sidelined with an injury. Although Mace put in two solid performances, playing dangerous through balls and making good tackles, she’ll likely continue to serve as a replacement player, at least for the next couple of camps.
Aubrey Kingsbury seems locked into the roster for now, but in the third goalkeeper spot behind Alyssa Naeher and Casey Murphy. She’s appeared in every camp this year, including the Concacaf tournament, but the Washington Spirit keeper still has only one cap with the USWNT. It was surprising that she didn’t get any time against Nigeria this week. A friendly — especially at her home field in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday — would have been a good opportunity for Kingsbury to get comfortable in a USWNT game setting.
Attending her first USWNT camp, the Racing Louisville midfielder didn’t see the field in either match against Nigeria. It isn’t uncommon for Andonovski to sit players in their first camp, with the intention of easing them into the environment. Although the NWSL rookie has arguably been Louisville’s best player this season, tallying three goals and an assist, it’s not likely that will translate into her getting a spot on the World Cup roster. The USWNT midfield is a tough space to crack into right now, and with players like Crystal Dunn and Sam Mewis on the road to return, the center of the park is about to get even more competitive.
The San Diego Wave midfielder joined the USWNT for the second time this year after helping them win the Concacaf championship in July, though she didn’t see any time against Nigeria. Now that Kornieck been in camp for the June friendlies, the Concacaf tournament and the September window, the coaching staff should have what they need to decide whether she’ll stick around. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she did. She already has a goal with the national team and has built-in chemistry with forward and San Diego teammate Alex Morgan.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.
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