Former NWSL player is first woman to coach men’s soccer team to NCAA title
Julianne Sitch played for the Chicago Red Stars.
In the past seven months, the U.S. women’s national team roster has undergone a transformation.
For two friendlies against Australia in November, head coach Vlatko Andonovski named a 22-player roster that had 12 players with 10 caps or fewer. The following three camps featured many of the same players. Now, the new look could be the norm.
As the USWNT moves into the 2023 FIFA World Cup era with the Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers approaching in July, it’s time to get serious about the future of the USWNT roster.
The squad plays a pair of friendlies against Colombia on June 25 and 28, followed by the qualifying tournament a week later. The next roster, to be announced Monday morning, will be the most important one since the team that won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics last year. There is a chance the roster for the two friendlies will be different from the Concacaf squad, but by one or two players at most.
Fifty-nine players were named to the preliminary Concacaf roster on Wednesday. Andonovski has to cut that number to 23 for qualifiers.
It takes time for a team to build chemistry. With that in mind, it’s unlikely Andonovski will stray far from the players he’s called in throughout the last year. Here are the 23 players I think Andonovski will take to Concacaf World Cup Qualifying.
Forwards (7): Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith, Ashley Hatch, Midge Purce, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Trinity Rodman
Midfielders (6): Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez, Kristie Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Jaelin Howell
Defenders (7): Sofia Huerta, Alana Cook, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Becky Sauerbrunn
Goalkeepers (3): Casey Murphy, Alyssa Naeher, Jane Campbell
Andonovski somehow needs to evaluate the bottomless depth of the USWNT forwards, especially now that Alex Morgan and Christen Press are making strong cases for inclusion with their play in the NWSL.
To start, Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith are the two most obvious locks. Both players excel on the dribble and create big chances with their playmaking abilities. Add in the fact that Pugh leads the Chicago Red Stars with four goals and Smith is the Portland Thorns’ top goal scorer with three, and it’s impossible to think of any reasons why they wouldn’t be chosen for the USWNT’s Concacaf roster. Catarina Macario would have completed the trio up top, but she announced last week that she tore her ACL in Olympiuqe Lyon’s final match of the season.
Ashley Hatch seems to find the net every time she steps onto the field for the national team, including scoring the third-fastest goal in team history during her first start in November. The reigning NWSL Golden Boot winner has scored four goals in eight appearances for the USWNT and could be a good bench option for Andonovski when the team needs offense.
Midge Purce has been an impactful game-changer as an all-round player with a background in defending. The 26-year-old hasn’t missed a call-up opportunity in the last seven months, so it would be surprising to see her left off the roster now.
Morgan and Press are on the verge of a comeback. Morgan hasn’t been on the roster since September and Press since the Olympics last August, but both veterans have been proving their dominance on their club teams through the first few months of the NWSL season. Morgan leads the league in scoring with nine goals in nine games for the San Diego Wave, and Press has been a threat on Angel City FC’s frontline all season.
Press’ status for the roster is uncertain after she appeared to hurt her knee and was helped off the field in the 64th minute of Angel City’s win over Racing Louisville on Saturday. The club has yet to give an official prognosis, but whatever information Andonovski gets between now and Monday’s roster announcement could affect Press’ inclusion.
It’s also time for Trinity Rodman to get more experience with the USWNT. The 2021 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year attended her first senior national camp in January and earned her first cap at the SheBelieves Cup in February. The highest-paid player in the NWSL, Rodman will undoubtedly be a top candidate for the 2023 World Cup roster. Before then, the Concacaf tournament is the best way for her to get used to the high-stakes environment.
Playing in the 10, Rose Lavelle is the anchor of the USWNT’s midfield. Earning a spot on the NWSL’s May Best XI for her play with OL Reign, the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup hero isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Rising star and fellow attacking midfielder Ashley Sanchez also has a knack for creativity. With just seven caps, Sanchez has adjusted to the national team quickly, showing off fancy footwork and confidence on the ball.
Andonovski values Lindsey Horan as a leader for this young team and a stable presence in the center of the park. Another reliable contributor, Andi Sullivan helps set the pace from the six position, though she’s recently appeared on the Washington Spirit’s injury list for her quad.
Jaelin Howell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, gives the USWNT a double-sided six who’s had a fair amount of exposure to the environment in the last year. In just her fifth international appearance in April, she scored her first goal against Uzbekistan.
Typically subbed in to be a game-changer, Kristie Mewis has become a consistent call-up since Andonovski took over as coach at the end of 2019.
Kelley O’Hara, Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta are all exceptional in contributing to the attack. Huerta is arguably the best at crossing balls into the box, and Fox has the ability to dribble comfortably through multiple opponents out of the back. O’Hara has assumed a larger leadership role in the past year, holding the team to its high standard of a competitive, winning culture.
Emily Sonnett brings a high level of intensity to the backline. She’s mostly played on the outside for the USWNT, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Andonovski to try her at center back, where she thrives with the Washington Spirit.
The NWSL’s most recent Rookie of the Month, Naomi Girma, has stood out on the Wave’s backline with nifty, effortless-looking tackles and an impressive 85 percent passing success rate. She’ll have to compete for a starting spot with Becky Sauerbrunn, the most fearless player on the team, and NWSL May Best XI member Alana Cook, a world-class defender with similar composure.
Casey Murphy and veteran Alyssa Naeher lead the USWNT’s deep goalkeeping pool.
Murphy wasn’t available for the April friendlies due to injury, but she’s made a strong case with the national team, starting with her first cap in November. In a 3-0 shutout over Australia, she made eight saves to earn Player of the Match honors and has been formidable ever since.
Naeher has been the most consistent veteran call-up since the new year and won’t be going anywhere after her jaw-dropping performances for the Red Stars.
Fellow veteran Jane Campbell has recorded four clean sheets in seven games for the Houston Dash. Thanks to her 86.4 percent success rate on saves, the Dash have allowed an NWSL-best three goals so far this season.
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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