USWNT Year in Review: Standout Players and World Cup Roster Prediction
The 2023 Women’s World Cup is just 204 days away and the pressure is on for reigning champions, the U.S. Women’s National Team. The USWNT wrapped up 2022 with a 14-3-1 record: 14 wins, three losses, and one tie. The team scored 56 goals (including six own goals) and allowed nine across 18 games.
Although statistically the team may seem to have performed well, it’s hard to praise the form of the national team. There were a handful of games the team struggled to secure the win over, especially toward the end of the year. From a lack of control in the midfield to not finishing chances in front of the goal, the USWNT has not played like they are the reigning World Cup champions this year.
Had the team not won their last game of the year against Germany on November 13 after losing three games in a row to top teams, the trust of fans and spectators in Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski would have only grown grimmer.
This year, the USWNT also had a whole slew of notable players missing in action which had a clear impact on the on-field performance of the team. Experienced players like Christen Press and Sam Mewis, who were out due to injury, are key to upholding the mentality of the team. The team also lost star attacker Catarina Macario for most of the year due to an ACL tear. Crystal Dunn, who is an insane playmaker, only returned in October of this year as she was on maternity leave after having her son.
The USWNT called up 37 different players this year, but a few players have really stood out.
A handful of opportunities arose due to injured players like Catarina Macario, Lynn Williams, and Sam Mewis leaving major gaps in the roster. As a result of needing to introduce rising promising talent to the team, seven players earned their first senior national team caps this year. All are now very much part of the growing pool of players looking to make the final World Cup roster.
Naomi Girma (April 12), Aubrey Kingsbury (April 12), Carson Pickett (June 28), and Sam Coffey (Sept. 6) all started and played a full 90-minute game on their debuts.
Trinity Rodman (Feb. 18), Taylor Kornieck (June 25), and Alyssa Thompson (Oct. 7) earned their first appearances as substitutes and all have yet to play a full game.
When talking about women’s soccer in the U.S. in 2022, Sophia Smith has become a household name. Smith leads the national team in goals, matches played, and matches started. She is only the second player after Abby Wambach to score 11 or more goals for the USWNT and her NWSL club. Simply put, when Smith holds possession, it’s just a matter of time before the ball finds the back of the net. There’s no doubt that she should be U.S. Soccer’s Female Player of the Year.
Head Coach Andonovski has consistently started Mallory Pugh with Smith despite Pugh being out of form the past couple of years. However, this year, Pugh has evidently gotten her flow back and shown once again why at 17 the senior national team began investing in her. She leads the team this year in assists.
Alex Morgan has also had a massive comeback since giving birth to her daughter, winning the NWSL Golden Boot and making the playoffs with 2022 expansion team, the San Diego Wave. This performance in the NWSL has not quite fully translated with the national team just yet.
A healthy Rose Lavelle is always a promising sign for both the USWNT’s midfield and front line. Ever since her signing with the OL Reign under Head Coach Laura Harvey, Lavelle has demonstrated even more creativity with the ball, sparking crucial opportunities for herself and her teammates alike.
Andi Sullivan has constantly floated around the USWNT player pool but never found a solid spot with the team. Yet, she showed up as a much needed holding midfielder for the team all while trying to fill a role mainly played by Julie Ertz, who has not returned to play, in recent years. Sullivan has an incredible knack for anticipating opponents' next moves. Sam Coffey makes a good case for this role as well.
Taylor Kornieck is also worth highlighting here, as she has played a key role in filling the team's aerial presence in the absence of Sam Mewis as a substitute.
Last but not least, the USWNT midfield needs to give more minutes to Kristie Mewis. Despite not being a starter, Mewis brings an urgency that seems to have been missing in the way the team has been playing. Mewis is a great example of a game changer..
The conversation around USWNT’s defense could not be had without talking about Naomi Girma. Girma rightfully won the NWSL’s Rookie of the Year award for her stellar performance as a center back for the San Diego Wave. She may only be 22, but she reads the field like a veteran.
Alana Cook leads the USWNT in minutes (1,286) followed closely by Smith, Sullivan, and Lavelle. Although her last couple of games with the national team may not have been her best, Cook shows a promising future in anchoring the backline. Every minute on the pitch is only sharpening her experience.
In Dunn’s absence, Emily Fox has been playing critical 1-on-1 defense on the left wing and became a regular starter under Andonovski. On the right side, Sofia Huerta has also shown up as an offensive-minded defender in Kelley O’Hara’s absence. Huerta has made a crucial case for being a rightful starter in her position.
Alyssa Naeher proved in the second game with Germany why she remains the USWNT’s No. 1 goalkeeper. She has stood the test of time and should continue to be thought of as the team’s go-to keeper.
Adrianna Franch played a huge role in helping her club team, the Kansas City Current, reach the NWSL Championship. Despite losing to the Portland Thorns, Franch showed up for the Current and demonstrated that when given the chance, she is well deserving to remain as the USWNT’s No. 2.
Players Returning from Injury
The current player pool probably doesn’t come too close to what the World Cup roster would look like. With so many players returning from an injury, many players who have been getting called up regularly, and especially those who have had a consistent starting spot previously, one should expect more competition come spring.
The timeline of returning injured players per Andonovski in late October highlights five players set to return in January 2023 and three more to return in late February or early March of 2023
These players, in addition to Dunn, are all projected to be fully fit by the World Cup and could likely take back their starting positions with the USWNT. By the World Cup, it wouldn’t come as a surprise based on Andonovski’s preferences as head coach and the experience of players to start Dunn over Fox, Davidson over Cook or Girma, and Macario over Morgan.
World Cup Roster Prediction
Even though the next nine games will help shape what the final roster will look like, it never hurts to have some fun in predicting what it will look like seven months from now. Here is my prediction dependent on injury recoveries, no future injuries, and the Women’s World Cup expanding to 26 player rosters like the men’s. Even though Germany’s head coach, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, just revealed that FIFA rejected her request to increase the squad size from 23 to 26, there’s no doubt that there will be pushback for the expansion.
GK (3): AD Franch, Casey Murphy, Alyssa Naeher
DEF (8): Alana Cook, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Naomi Grima, Sofia Huerta,
Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett
MID (7): Sam Coffey, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Catarina Macario, Kristie Mewis,
Ashley Sanchez, Andi Sullivan
FWD (8): Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Mal Pugh, Midge Purce, Megan Rapinoe,
Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith, Lynn Williams
2015 WC Champions Naeher, O’Hara, Sauerbrunn, Morgan, Rapinoe, Press
2019 WC Champions Franch, Naeher, Davidson, Dunn, O’Hara, Sauerbrunn, Sonnett,
Horan, Lavelle, Morgan, Press, Pugh, Rapinoe
2020 Olympic Bronze Medalists Franch, Naeher, Davidson, Dunn, O’Hara, Sauerbrunn, Sonnett,
Horan, Lavelle, Macario, Mewis, Morgan, Press, Rapinoe, Williams
If the squad size were to remain at 23, I would predict Sonnett, Coffey, and Rodman not making the final cut.
Top considerations here include recent performance and tournament experience with the national team to balance new blood with veterans. Historically, the USWNT brought around half of their previous World Cup players. The 2015 roster featured 14 players from 2011 and the 2019 roster featured 12 from 2015. This roster prediction also features four players who were at the 2011 World Cup.
Purce is the only player on this roster who has not been with the national team in recent months and not injured. Arguably versatile players like Purce, who plays best on the front line but can be slotted into the backline whenever, are a more impactful choice for a singular roster spot. After all, defense wins championships and the USWNT is hungry for a three-peat. There’s also no denying the positive energy and attitude Purce would be able to contribute to a tense World Cup environment. So it would be a huge loss for Andonovski to not give Purce another look in the coming months, especially with a handful of current players being heavily underutilized.
The greater USWNT player pool right now that has a chance to also make the roster includes Abby Dahlkemper (unknown injury recovery timeline), Savannah DeMelo, Imani Dorsey, Morgan Gautraut, Tobin Heath, Jaelin Howell, Aubrey Kingsbury, Taylor Kornieck, Sam Mewis (unkown injury recovery timeline), and Carson Pickett. A healthy Heath, who optimizes chances for her teammates and has a proven record connecting with most of this roster, could become an Ali Krieger 2019 roster comeback story.
The Real Test
Before the USWNT’s last matches in November, Andonovski shared his goal of scheduling nine games before the World Cup, with a six-month timeframe beginning in January.
These games will prove to be critical in shaping up the right mix of World Cup rookies and veterans through on-field performances, game changer attitudes, and contributions to off the field environments like the locker room and training.
Players like Ashley Hatch and Rodman, who have thrived in the NWSL and received consistent call ups but played only 10 matches this year with very limited minutes will face the most pressure in securing their spots over the next couple of months. Hatch’s minutes on the field totaled to less than an injured Macario’s five matches, while Rodman totaled just two more minutes than Macario. With such restricted time on the field, all eyes will be on Andonovski to see how he will utilize Hatch, Rodman, and other players in similar positions like Coffey and Kornieck. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he opted to drop these players from the roster as injured players return.
The first friendlies of 2023 will be played against New Zealand in Wellington, NZ and Auckland, NZ on January 17 and 20, respectively, at 10 p.m. EST. Streaming in the U.S. has yet to be confirmed, but will most likely be on HBO Max and/or TSN per US Soccer’s new broadcast deal.