TThe US Women’s National Team is now halfway through a revival project that began with disappointment in Japan. The USA’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics was considered very poor, although they won bronze medals. The old-heavy roster has not performed as expected, and manager Vlatko Andonovski has overseen an ambitious transfer scheme in the year since.
With less than a year to go before the World Cup we look at where he and the team have gone.
integrating new talent
After a drawn-out “winning tour” that featured Carli Lloyd’s emotional retirement, Andonovski’s roster revolution really began last November (in the exact location where his final iteration will be tested: Australia). Announcing the new roster, Andonovski told the media: “We have turned a page towards World Cup qualification”. He made clear the aims of the program in Sydney, Newcastle and in the months due to those friends new talent would be integrated and tested.
Of the 22 players invited to the Australian camp only 10 were in Tokyo and only six were present for the World Cup win in France 2019. All over the field, Andonovski introduced (or reintroduced) names whose consistent club performances have earned them a look. . Thus began the mantra of the Andonovski era: if you’re killing it with consistency in NWSL, you’ll get noticed. Veterans and stars will also have to perform there.
The biggest change in the lineup came as veteran stars Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Christen Press were all left out. Players with only a handful of caps were brought in. The pattern continued in the other two camps, as Andonovski sought to balance the rotation of fresh players with a few veterans. When asked where all the big names went, he told the media that “we’re not calling Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy into camp” either.
The NWSL was the level playing field where players made their case to try out. And the USWNT camps were their trials from last summer until last June. As Rose Lavelle told me on the phone in February, discussing competition for spots: “National team training is as tough as any game.”
Finally, as the USA prepares for the World Cup and Olympic qualification in Mexico, Andonovski gradually brought back some veterans. Rapinoe was reintroduced into the role of player-coach. And Morgan – who answered her seven-month absence from the national team by having the season of her life – returned, sitting at the top of the pack in the race for the golden boot.
After winning the Women’s Concacaf Championship in Mexico, the USA has qualified for the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. They took care of business, and Andondovski shaped a new core for this team along the way.
Moving on to the next step
There is plenty of time at eleven months before the World Cup. Fringe players can still (and perhaps should) make their way into the squad. In particular, there is a stockpile of injured players and new mothers who could change the shape of the team if they re-emerge. But, after a successful summer and a long transition year, Andonovski has etched the outline of the team he will take to the World Cup.
There is a lot of talent in the team, but it is imperfect. A few jobs require more depth. Inconsistency affects certain areas of the field. Andonovski and veteran captain Becky Sauerbrunn were astute in their assessment: this is not a team ready to win the World Cup right now.
Emphasis on yet, because they could be in a year. And what they plan to do is get more experience together as a team, experiment and refine.
Nine days ago US Soccer announced its 23-player roster for two September friendlies against Nigeria. This is probably the core of the squad at the moment, and the one they will take to Wembley to face England on October 7th.
Below, I break down the state of that squad position by position, with notes on their current situation and players on the horizon who may break through.
SAM has a lot of depth in this position. Alyssa Naeher is No. 1 but Andonovski has tried to find competitive matches for some exciting underclassmen. I expect that to continue, and hopefully some alternates will get minutes this month.
In the squad Naeher, Casey Murphy and Aubrey Kingsbury.
Potential calls up Phallon Tullis-Joyce. It’s likely we’ll see the 25-year-old OL Reign keeper on the USWNT roster at some point. Andonovski revealed that he was also monitoring Adrianna Franch, Bella Bixby, and Katie Lund.
Sauerbrunn leads the backline when it’s appropriate. Their centre-back pairing is an interesting debate, however, and Andonovski has experimented quite a bit. Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson are injured, while Alana Cook and Naomi Girma have dropped down the pecking order in the meantime. Cook played her way into the top pick but I’m excited to see more of Girma this September.
Middle supports in the squad Sauerbrunn, Cook, Girma.
Capacity middle back call-up Davidson and Dahlkemper.
Crystal Dunn was born in May, and announced last week that she would be back training with the team this September. That should raise the hopes of USWNT fans and disappoint their opponents. Although Dunn has been used as a full-back since the Jill Ellis era, she is a natural midfielder. If Andonovski is willing to rethink his formation and get creative, I’d love to see what Dunn can do further up the field.
Fullbacks in the squad Emily Fox, Sofia Huerta and Hailie Mace
Capacity full back call-up Kelley O’Hara (injured), Emily Sonnett (injured), Carson Pickett and Dunn.
Middle of the field
There is exciting, creative talent coming through but their recent form as a unit has been inconsistent. The talent and creativity are yet to be seen on the field. I would love to see Andonovski experiment with players and formation, giving more time to players like Ashley Sanchez.
In the squad Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Kristie Mewis, Sanchez, Sam Coffey, Taylor Kornieck and Savannah DeMelo.
Potential calls up Jaelin Howell, Sam Mewis (injured), Julie Ertz (pregnant).
USA has a lot of depth here. Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith are Andonovski’s favorite flyers, and both were excellent. I’m excited to see more of Trinity Rodman but she dropped out of this camp due to family commitments. Morgan was the first striker but Cat Macario will test her for that role when she is fit. Rapinoe is still available on the wing – and she’s still capable of her former magic.
In the squad Pugh, Smith, Rapinoe, Morgan, Midge Purce, Ashley Hatch.
Potential calls up Macario (a certain option that would fit once) and Rodman
The bright future of Spain Spain’s under-20 team beat Japan 3-1 in Costa Rica on Sunday, and won the 2022 Women’s Under-20 World Cup title. The future remains bright for a nation whose development in the women’s game has skyrocketed over the past decade .
Known putellas Staying with Spain, Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas has been named the Uefa Women’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.
England back together England’s Lionesses are back in training for the first time since winning the European Championship trophy. They aim to qualify for the World Cup against Austria on Saturday or Luxembourg on Tuesday. The group stage of World Cup qualification concludes on Tuesday, with first-placed teams booking their tickets and second-placed teams going to the play-offs.
Quote of the week
“Kris Ward has been relieved of his duties as head coach.” The Washington Spirit Twitter account ended with a lack of clear explanation and the hilarious informality of the reign of Ward, who took over for Richie Burke midseason last year and led the team to a championship. The details surrounding the situation are still unclear but it follows a very lackluster season for the Spirit.
Rapinoe is in incredible form with OL Reign. Building on a series of goals, she scored this stoppage time winner against the Orlando Pride last Friday night (and then got a yellow card for taking off his shirt).