USWNT Summer Look Ahead
With the CONCACAF W Championship and international friendlies on the horizon, Vlatko Andonovski named his 23 players that will compete for a chance to qualify for the World Cup and Olympics along with three more that will be a part of the team during the Colombia friendlies. While there were a few surprises, Andonovski had to work around the plethora of injuries that have plagued many of the regulars of the squad like Sam Mewis, and Lynn Williams. He included 10 players with 15 or fewer caps on their careers, but along with youth, Andonovski brought in the likes of Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan to provide both knowledge on and off the pitch.
Even though this is not the World Cup roster, due to all the injuries that are in place, it is a chance to see the future of this national team. The competitive level in CONCACAF is not quite there at this moment in time compared to what the level is at over in Europe. The USWNT should qualify for the Olympics and the World Cup, bearing anything out of the ordinary. The team begins the two friendly matches against Colombia on June 25 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. The W-Championship kicks off on the fourth of July when the USWNT takes on Haiti in the first match of Group A.
Andonovski expressed his thoughts on one of the most controversial topics, whether or not Christen Press should have made the roster, stating, “Christen Press was not on the roster even before the injury...I think that she is performing well, but it’s not just her...For Christen to be back on the field, it’s not just to do well or perform well in her club environment. It’s also outperform the players that she’s competing against...like Mal Pugh and Sophia Smith and Alex Morgan, Ashley Hatch, and Trinity Rodman. It’s not easy to be a forward in the United States right now. Obviously, it’s great, but it’s not easy because the competition just got bigger and bigger."
So many key figures that have been a part of the success of the team in both the Olympics and the World Cup in 2019 have been left out due to preference or injury. Catarina Macario was by far the biggest loss for the USWNT as she was found to have a torn ACL following her Champions League final win with Lyon. Macario is looked at as one of the future stars of this team with her unique skill set going forward, and ability to link up with players like Mal Pugh, and Sophia Smith. The frontline may look a little different than what it has looked like in the SheBelieves Cup, and in April during the international window.
Alex Morgan, Ashley Hatch, or even the young Trinity Rodman could get a look alongside Pugh and Smith throughout the summer. Morgan has been sensational for the San Diego Wave this season in the NWSL, leading the league with a whopping nine goals, three more than any other player. Hatch led the NWSL in goals last season with 11 and has four goals in just eight caps with the national team. Rodman plays alongside Sanchez, and Hatch for the Washington Spirit, and is one of the most dynamic youngsters in the NWSL today. This could be a massive tournament for Rodman to get even more experience with the players on the USWNT. The competition is not up to the caliber it will be next summer, and for Rodman to see what it is like against some CONCACAF opponents, she could grow into a major piece for the USWNT in the World Cup in 2023.
Megan Rapinoe's inclusion and Christen's Press exclusion is one of the hottest topics of the released roster. Press suffered a torn ACL in a win over Racing Louisville last week and will miss a considerable amount of time with a rising club in Angel City FC. According to Andonovski, Press was not even included in the roster before she suffered an injury. Her elite production has been a key reason why one of the two expansion sides in the NWSL has achieved so much success this season. Andonovski stressed that there is heavy competition to be one of the forwards for the United States, but it begs the question of why a player that has only played four matches for her club was included.
Rapinoe's productivity at the age of 36 is quite limited, but it could be perhaps that Andonovski values what Rapinoe brings off the pitch in terms of experience and guidance over what Press provides. She is not a player that is going to be playing 90 minutes anymore, but the world knows that whatever time Rapinoe gets on the pitch from here on out is going to provide the USWNT with an experienced threat that knows how to make a difference in any amount of time on the pitch. When it comes to the friendlies against Colombia, she may not be as useful, but during the W-Championship with all the pressure it possesses, Rapinoe will be worth more than just one of those roster spots.
When it comes to the backline, the United States has many promising young defenders with Tierna Davidson still nursing her ACL injury. OL Reign's Alana Cook and San Diego Wave's Naomi Girma are the future starting center-backs of the USWNT. The captain Becky Sauerbrunn possesses 202 caps with the United States and may help ease the transition for Girma into a starting role in the coming years. On the outside, Sofia Huerta has proven her skills as someone who can swing crosses into the box that often lead to goals. Huerta is tied for second in the NWSL in assists and provides something that few wingbacks around the world have in their toolbox.
Emily Fox looks like a lock to start on the left side of the backline for Andonovski. The Racing Louisville defender and former No. 1 overall selection is as gifted with her feet as she is in stopping attackers in their tracks. Kelley O'Hara just got back from an injury and is beginning to get back into the fold for Washington Spirit. If O'Hara is 100 percent when it comes time for the W-Championship, her experience and attitude on and off the pitch could earn her the start. Emily Sonnett is a solid piece coming off the bench for the USWNT that has struggled to find her footing this season with the Spirit. She most likely won't receive much time throughout qualifying, but Sonnett is an experience centerback that knows how to win and embrace the team aspect of soccer.
The middle of the pitch is where the USWNT is going to thrive despite some key injuries. Lindsay Horan travels back to the United States following her Champions League win with Lyon still trying to deal with a knee injury. Despite the fact that she is not at 100 percent, Horan's value is through the roof and makes it almost impossible to leave her off the starting lineup. Rose Lavelle and Ashley Sanchez seem like two obvious candidates to play in the attacking midfielder role with Andi Sullivan using her skill set to play the six in the midfield.
Taylor Kornieck was one of the biggest surprises to the squad this summer, but her production on the top team in the NWSL along with the chemistry with Alex Morgan gives her enough to get a nod as one of the 23 players. Her height on set pieces is crucial, and her flexibility in the midfield makes her a valuable wild card. Kristie Mewis was also one of the names called into the midfield. Mewis has been one of the reasons why Gotham has been able to find some decent results as of late. She is more valuable playing higher up the pitch, and giving her team the elite one-on-one abilities in the final third.
There is no question that this UWSNT should qualify no matter who is on the roster at the end of the day. The country is deep with talent which makes it almost impossible to pick the best 23 to represent the stars and stripes. Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell, and Carson Pickett are all solid players in their own right, but due to the depth that this national team possesses, they only were able to make the 26-player roster for the two friendlies. Phallon Tullis-Joyce has been by far the best goalkeeper in the NWSL this season, but the coaching staff choose to go with a more experienced goalkeeping unit this time around.
This summer may not be the World Cup, but in order for the USWNT to make it there, it needs to take care of business in 2022. The competition should allow for more rotation game by game, and after the job is done, the real work begins. The World Cup defense and a fifth star on the national team shirt are on the line, and it all starts with this exciting group of players that will lead this juggernaut into pressure-filled waters.