The countdown to the 2023 World Cup is officially on, with the US women’s national team’s first friendlies of the year in the rear view mirror. Traveling to New Zealand, Vlatko Andonovski’s team got acquainted with the World Cup co-hosts ahead of this summer’s tournament, taking on the Football Ferns in Wellington and Auckland.
Handily defeating the Ferns, 4-0 and 5-0, in back-to-back shutouts, the USWNT learned some valuable lessons as the players defended their inclusion on Andonovski’s World Cup final roster. According to the head coach, the coaching staff has reduced the number of players under consideration for the final roster from 40 to 32. So who made the most of their January trip, and which players need to show more in the lead up? to july?
Here’s the USWNT roster after January camp:
Julie Ertz replacement
The USWNT midfield has suffered greatly in Ertz’s absence, with the veteran No. 6 out since 2021 after giving birth to her first child with husband, Zach Ertz. Seeking to fill a formidable void in the defensive midfield position, Andonovski has experimented with a variety of personnel to make up for the loss of a physical and reliable star. Washington Spirit captain Andi Sullivan has become the logical heir, but the 27-year-old has yet to step into the role, and to be fair, that’s not entirely her fault, as Sullivan often finds herself isolated and deeply exposed. in midfield
In the latest iteration of Experiment No. 6, Andonovski kicked off the USWNT’s New Zealand campaign with Taylor Kornieck in the role. The bold choice didn’t necessarily pay off, as the attack-minded player was rarely able to help distribute and advance the ball from such a deep position, eventually being replaced by Sullivan after a lackluster first 45 minutes. Portland Thorns star Sam Coffey, who was part of the January camp, did not get any minutes against the Ferns, but he is a more natural defensive midfielder, playing the constant starting position for his club.
With only six months to go until the biggest tournament of his USWNT tenure, Andonovski needs to secure a definitive No. 6, and fast. At this point, the role seems to be lost to Sullivan.
The rest of the midfield is less complicated, with Rose Lavelle, who was arguably the team’s standout player in friendlies, taking on a variety of roles. Lavelle played deeper in the second game to account for the absence of captain Lindsey Horan, who had to cut her trip short to return to French club Lyon. Ashley Sanchez and Kristie Mewis round out Andonovski’s midfield group and both are looking to make an impact before the summer.
The return of Lynn Williams
Williams returned to USWNT action for the first time in nearly a year after a hamstring injury sidelined her for the entire 2022 NWSL season. The star forward didn’t miss a beat, scoring after coming on for Mallory Swanson in the opener against the Ferns. Williams’ return comes with the absences of Sophia Smith and Megan Rapinoe, both of whom missed the January trip due to injury. Midge Purce joined Williams on wing, who had been left out of Andonovski’s previous roster due to a perceived dip in form. The NJ/NY Gotham FC forward seemed to take it personally, making the most of the minutes she was given and putting in two impressive performances.
Purce and Williams will have to deal with a group of wingers that is incredibly deep, with a red-hot Swanson, who scored three goals during the week, and Smith as the presumed starters. An explosive and precise Trinity Rodman and veteran Rapinoe also wait in the wings, making the front row one of the most competitive spots on the roster.
Ashley Hatch also received a critical opportunity when starter Alex Morgan withdrew from the second USWNT matchup due to muscular issues. Outside of Andonovski’s roster, Hatch needed to make a statement, and he did: He scored the opener of game two by finishing on a dime from Rodman. The Spirit forward will need to continue to put on performances like that as she struggles to find a place in a position that has been dominated by Morgan and Catarina Macario, who is recovering and is expected to return soon from a torn ACL.
Who is Vlatko Andonovski’s starting lineup?
Andonovski continued to test a number of defensive lineups, but one player was the starter in both matches, with Naomi Girma quickly emerging as the key to the USWNT’s back line. The 2022 NWSL Rookie of the Year can slot alongside veteran Becky Sauerbrunn or fellow Stanford alumna Alana Cook in the center back position, clearing balls played from behind and distributing them from behind with remarkable precision. Emily Sonnett also got a few minutes at central defender, but with Tierna Davidson, who was critical to the team at the Tokyo Olympics, returning from injury, her path to a World Cup roster spot will be difficult.
On the flanks, Crystal Dunn’s return from maternity leave has imbued the outside back pool with renewed depth. The veteran defender shared minutes with Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta, both expert players in spurring the attack from the wings and distributing quality balls into the box. With seasoned players like Kelley O’Hara working back into the fold, Hailie Mace, who didn’t get much playing time on this trip, still has work to do to seal her ticket to the World Cup.
As for the starting lineup, Andonovski will need to consolidate a core group soon to give the players time to come together. Right now, Girma and Sauerbrunn appear to have earned their starting roles, while Huerta, Fox and Dunn battle for the starting fullback spots.
The USWNT will take the field next at February’s SheBelieves Cup, hosted on their home soil.