Heather O’Reilly says England has ‘a little bit of an edge’ over USWNT
England won the UEFA Women’s Euro title in July.
The U.S Women’s National Team is riding high after taking home the Concacaf W Championship trophy Monday, defeating Canada 1-0 in the tournament’s final.
The team’s fruitful Concacaf run qualifies the USWNT for the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics. While the USWNT’s victory marks the first step in the squad’s major tournament cycle, questions still remain.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski used the competition to evaluate up-and-coming talent, leaving many to speculate about the USWNT’s roster moving forward. With a series of key players missing qualifying due to injury and maternity leave, questions surround personnel shifts in the year leading up to the Australia- and New Zealand-hosted World Cup.
The contest for the USWNT’s starting goalkeeper position appears to have narrowed to North Carolina Courage star Casey Murphy and veteran Alyssa Naeher.
Murphy got the starting nod for three of the Concacaf matchups, but critically, Naeher earned the start in the tournament’s final against Canada. The 34-year-old provided a reliable presence in goal for the USWNT, maintaining the squad’s clean sheet and helping clinch the United States an Olympic berth.
Murphy, who logged three shutouts, looked less assured in her appearance against Costa Rica, with apparent communication breakdowns prompting several miscues out of the back.
With Naeher yet to make a misstep, the starting goalkeeper role will come down to Murphy’s upside and potential weighed against the Red Star’s proven ability in big games.
The USWNT’s back line has been plagued by injury and absences leading up to the Concacaf W Championship, with center backs Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper battling injury and outside back Crystal Dunn out after welcoming her first child.
In their place, Naomi Girma and Alana Cook have made a name for themselves in the central defender position alongside captain Becky Sauerbrunn. Girma, in particular, had a breakout tournament, showcasing her ball disruption and one-v-one defensive talents.
On the flanks, Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta also got crucial minutes on the pitch. Despite missing two games due to COVID-19 protocol, Fox made a strong case as the team’s starting left back. A true defender with talent on the ball and comfortable getting up the pitch, Fox appears to have locked up a roster spot on the backline.
Huerta showed what she can bring to the defensive unit as well, dominating the flank with a series of quality services into the box. The OL Reign defender split some minutes with veteran Kelley O’Hara. Both are still in the running for a starting spot on the right side.
A shining quality of Naomi Girma is her ability to set the attack with long-range accuracy or dribble out of pressure. This is the type of incisive pass the #USWNT needs more of. It's paying off already.pic.twitter.com/tcrdPC4CqQ— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) July 7, 2022
Andonovski’s midfield has perhaps the most question marks of any USWNT position group.
The squad has struggled in Julie Ertz’s absence, with the midfielder out due to pregnancy after already suffering an injury prior to her maternity leave. The defensive midfield position has proved challenging to fill, with Andi Sullivan still finding her footing at the No. 6 role.
Star Sam Mewis, who was critical to the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup win, has also been sidelined due to injury. Due to the lack of depth, Horan found herself playing a lot of minutes with a tapped leg, looking less than 100 percent healthy.
The silver lining, however, is the absences gave opportunities to players like Ashley Sanchez, who showed off her creative flair and attacking capabilities. Sanchez, perhaps more than any other rookie midfielder, proved her value to the USWNT, offering a playing style few others do on the pitch.
Ahead of the Concacaf W Championship, it was an open question how the USWNT would fair without star Catarina Macario after the 22-year-old tore her ACL playing with her club team Lyon.
Alex Morgan, however, stepped up, reclaiming her place as the starter in the No. 9 role, scoring the game-winning goal in the United States’ final against Canada and earning Golden Boot honors. An exciting development could occur on the front line if Macario heals in time for the World Cup and Morgan continues her goal-scoring tear for club and country, posing a potentially tricky decision to Andonovski.
On the outside of the pitch, Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh are leaving the Concacaf W Championship as the surest locks on the USWNT starting lineup. Andonovski is high on what Smith and Pugh are capable of on the flanks, with the young forwards showing their work ethic off the ball during qualifying.
England won the UEFA Women’s Euro title in July.
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Little ended her short stint with OL Reign in time for Arsenal's preseason.
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