Sophia Smith leads the USWNT onto the field for their October game against Spain. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team released its roster for two November friendlies against Germany on Monday. While the 24-player squad is similar to the group that’s taken the field for the U.S. in the past year, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said this week that the roster could look different in three to five months.

As the team prepares for the 2023 FIFA World Cup, Andonovski has been calling in players who have little to no experience on the national team. A handful of veterans from the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup and 2021 Olympic squads are injured, creating opportunities for Andonovski to evaluate other talent. Many of those new players have taken full advantage of the year to prove they belong.

With all the changes, though, have come challenges with establishing chemistry on the field. In their last two friendlies against No. 4 England and No. 6 Spain, the young USWNT struggled on both ends of the pitch, raising questions about Andonovski’s tactics as the team dropped back-to-back games for the first time since 2017.

“We have to work and we have to get better, but there are some things that may change just by changing the personnel,” he said.

As veterans begin to trickle back in over the next few months, and new players continue to prove they belong, Andonovski will have some tough decisions to make. If the 2023 Women’s World Cup follows the same 26-player format as the 2022 Men’s World Cup, an increase from the usual 23-player roster size, some choices won’t be as hard.

Here are the toughest decisions Andonovski will have to make at every position in three to five months, as veterans begin to work their way back into the mix.

Defensive midfield

Julie Ertz, Andi Sullivan, Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell

The USWNT’s starting six, Julie Ertz, hasn’t been on a U.S. roster since the Tokyo Olympics after recovering from injury and then going on maternity leave. With the two-time U.S. Soccer Player of the Year giving no public indication of her timeline for a return, there’s been speculation about whether she’ll come back at all. On Monday, Andonovski said he’s been in touch with her “this whole time.”

“We want to give Julie time to get back slowly,” he said. “This is not something that we will even discuss. This is time for Julie to enjoy the time as a family. When the time comes, if she’s prepared and she’s anywhere near her best, I know this team will welcome her back.”

In the meantime, Andi Sullivan has been serving as the USWNT’s primary holding midfielder. NWSL rookies Sam Coffey and Jaelin Howell both deserve looks but will have a tough time making the cut against two established veterans.

It would be wise of Andonovski to keep both Ertz and Sullivan. For the Tokyo Olympics and the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying tournament this past summer, he brought only one of the two and paid the price when injuries set in and there was no six to relieve them.

Julie Ertz hasn't played for the USWNT since the Tokyo Olympics. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Midfield

Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Kristie Mewis, Ashley Sanchez, Sam Mewis, Taylor Kornieck, Savannah DeMelo

A roster of 23 players would likely have six midfielders, including one or two who can play the holding position. Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle have been the go-to starters in front of Sullivan this year, and Ashley Sanchez has been given a few starts after getting consistent call-ups since last November.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Crystal Dunn, usually a fullback for the national team, to be added to the USWNT’s midfield player pool. One of the most versatile players in the program’s history, Dunn scored the winning goal for the Thorns from the attacking midfield after subbing into the NWSL semifinal game and creating numerous chances throughout the second half.

There hasn’t been much information on Sam Mewis’ injury and recovery timeline, but it’s safe to assume that the 2020 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year will be invited into camp when she’s ready.

Center back

Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Naomi Girma, Alana Cook

Center backs are going to be among the hardest decisions for Andonovski in the coming months. With the coach usually bringing three to each camp, Becky Sauerbrunn, Naomi Girma and Alana Cook have been the call-ups this year while Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper recover from season-ending injuries.

Davidson, who tore her ACL in the spring, is the closest to returning among the injured veterans. She is expected to be back to full training in mid-November and available for selection for games against New Zealand in January. Andonovski said that she has “the ability to be started on this team.”

Abby Dahlkemper’s latest back injury requires surgery, Andonovski confirmed this week. Once that’s complete, the team will have a better idea of her timeline for a return.

Sauerbrunn has been with the USWNT all year as one of their most valuable leaders. Possibly due to Sauerbrunn’s playing time restrictions, Girma and Cook have received just as much time on the pitch. Andonovski said earlier this fall that Cook had the slight edge over Girma in making the World Cup roster due to experience. Following that comment, Girma made a stronger case for herself against England and Spain during the October window. The San Diego Wave defender then was named NWSL Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first player to win two individual awards in the same year.

Fullback

Casey Krueger, Crystal Dunn, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Fox, Sofia Huerta, Carson Pickett, Hailie Mace

There are a lot of decisions to be made at outside back, where it’s likely that four to five players will be chosen. 

On the November roster are Sofia Huerta, Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox and Hailie Mace. Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara are recovering from injuries, and Casey Krueger has been on maternity leave all year. 

Krueger did train with her NWSL club, the Chicago Red Stars, before they were eliminated from the playoffs in October. She hasn’t yet returned to the national team, but Andonovski said he’s “looking forward to seeing her in camp,” so she will likely be back with the USWNT in January. 

Andonovski said this week that Dunn, O’Hara, Huerta and Fox are all potential starters. It wouldn’t be surprising if that group plus Krueger are the top five on his list right now. 

Emily Sonnett, Kelley O'Hara and Abby Dahlkemper have all been absent from the team due to injuries. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Center forward

Alex Morgan, Catarina Macario, Ashley Hatch

Once Catarina Macario is back on the field in February after recovering from ACL surgery, she will “very likely bump into one of the starting positions if she’s anywhere near her best,” Andonovski said this week. She left the USWNT as a nine, solidifying her case for the position with convincing performances and goals scored, but she has also played in the midfield.

In Macario’s absence, Alex Morgan has consistently started at the nine while leading the NWSL with 15 goals to win the 2022 Golden Boot. Last year’s Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch, has impressed off the bench, scoring a number of quick goals to boost the USWNT’s momentum.

Macario and Morgan appear to be locks, and it’s possible that Andonovski keeps all three if he names seven forwards to the roster.

Outside forward

Sophia Smith, Mallory Pugh, Megan Rapinoe, Lynn Williams, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Midge Purce, Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson

The USWNT’s attack has undergone the most change in the past year, as Andonovski has rotated in some new players for evaluation.

Earlier this year, the coach said a player would have to really impress him for Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh to be removed from their starting positions. He also seems set on having Megan Rapinoe available off the bench, saying that her experience is valuable in mentoring young players like Smith and Pugh.

The final one or two forward spots, meanwhile, are up for grabs. Trinity Rodman has had strong performances off the bench, scoring two goals in nine appearances in the past year. Lynn Williams was also a consistent call-up until suffering a season-ending leg injury in March. Andonovski said in June that he wasn’t planning on calling in Christen Press, even before her ACL tear, but on Monday he included her in his list of absent players.

Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh were Andonovki (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Goalkeeper

Casey Murphy, Alyssa Naeher, Aubrey Kingsbury, AD Franch, Phallon Tullis-Joyce

The talent in the U.S. goalkeeper pool is bottomless. Casey Murphy, Aubrey Kingsbury and Alyssa Naeher have split time between the posts for the USWNT this year. AD Franch was called into the November squad after a stellar NWSL season, joining Murphy and Naeher.

“Very happy for her,” Andonovski said of Franch. “Obviously being in Kansas. City, I had a chance to watch her a little more often live and especially the second part of the season. It was almost like it was her role to carry Kansas City in in tough times. … It was consistent throughout the season, so it was not hard for us after everything, for this camp to decide to call her back in.

“I think this is another opportunity for me to say that yes, the form in the league matters. And if you’re doing well on a consistent basis, you will be called back regardless of what your status was in the past.”

In the case of a 26-player World Cup roster, Andonovski would have the opportunity to name all four of Naeher, Murphy, Franch and Kingsbury to the squad. In terms of NWSL form, Andonovski also indicated earlier in the fall that he has his eye on OL Reign’s Phallon Tullis-Joyce and Racing Louisville’s Katie Lund.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.