Vlatko Andonovski’s last chance to show progress with his USWNT before the World Cup ended with a handful of yikes and more unanswered questions than any supporter should feel comfortable with. They won both matches versus Ireland, but never found the sharpness or cohesion that’d suggest the squad is prepared for a major tournament in three months.
So there’s, uh, a lot of work to do, and a major piece is figuring out which players will head to New Zealand in July. We know Mallory Swanson very likely won’t be there (and we hate it), but Andonovski has plenty of decisions to make regarding the final 23. Here they are by position group…
Locks: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, AD Franch
Hopeful: Aubrey Kingsbury
There aren’t many decisions to be made here, but to be honest there probably should be. Statistically, Aubrey Kingsbury has been outperforming Naeher and Murphy, and possesses a unique 1v1 shot-stopping ability.
Unfortunately, Andonovski stopped calling her up last summer, so the three locks are pretty much guaranteed boarding passes.
Locks (center back): Naomi Girma, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook
Hopefuls: Tierna Davidson
Without Girma, central defense would be a far bigger question mark. Her rise has made her one of the first names on the scoresheet, with Sauerbrunn and Cook taking turns lining up beside her. Davidson’s return to health gives her an opportunity to put her name in the mix. When healthy and in good form, Davidson is one the best passing center backs in the States. The passing range of a Girma-Davidson pairing could be too enticing to pass up.
Locks (fullback): Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox
Hopefuls: Sofia Huerta, Casey Krueger, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett
Krueger has returned after giving birth while O’Hara and Sonnett are back after injury, and just in time for a little fullback royal rumble. O’Hara is 34 and an injury risk, as she only started three games for the Spirit last season. Sonnet is 29, but there are real questions whether fullback is her best position. Andonovski called Krueger one of the best defenders in the NWSL, and remarked that her return to the squad meant “game on.”
With O’Hara and Sonnett missing chunks of time, Huerta had a chance to secure the right back spot, but recently Andonovski has settled on Fox on the right with Dunn returning to left back. Huerta isn’t as defensively solid, but no one has better delivery from wide areas. Game on indeed.
Locks: Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez, Andi Sullivan
Hopefuls: Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell, Taylor Kornieck, Kristie Mewis
Andonovski recently said that everyone will have to earn their spot, including Ertz, whose recent reappearance surprised everyone. But if Ertz remains healthy, there’s no way he’s leaving her in the States, which could put specialists K. Mewis or Kornieck on the bubble. Andonovski has recently tested the versatility of each, so it could come down to who can more capably fill in at several positions.
Coffey and Howell are two young talents that Andonovski has pretty much dropped the ball with. Howell stopped being called up a year ago, and Coffey last played minutes for the team in November. Both have elite qualities in a position of need and are good enough to be a part of the national team in the future, so it’s confusing that Andonovski refused to find ways to integrate them.
Locks (center forward): Alex Morgan
Hopefuls: Ashley Hatch, Catarina Macario
Catarina Macario tore her ACL last season but is expected to return to the pitch soon. If she can build up minutes and return to form, she’ll leapfrog Hatch. If she’s back to the stellar form she was in before the tear, she’ll leapfrog Morgan, too.
Locks (wingers): Megan Rapinoe, Trinity Rodman, Sophia Smith
Hopefuls: Christen Press, Midge Purce, Alyssa Thompson, Lynn Williams
Mallory Swanson’s injury leaves a massive hole in Andonovski’s anticipated attack. Swanson and Smith were the young meteors capable of dominating games on their own. No one was quite on the level of Mallory Swanson, but the U.S. has plenty of depth in attack and a huge opportunity is now available.
Recently, Trinity Rodman has served as the consistent backup for Smith and Swanson, but 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson is the mf’n truth. If she continues to shine, she could bump herself up to a lock.
Lynn Williams should be a lock, but Andonovski would have left her off his Olympic squad if then-Netherlands/now-England head coach Sarina Wiegman didn’t successfully lobby for expanded squads due to Covid-19 (Williams then scored and assisted to power the USWNT over her Netherlands, no good deed amirite).
Press has yet to return to the pitch for Angel City after tearing her ACL last year, but is reportedly close. Midge Purce continues to yo-yo in and out of the squad, and unfortunately has been out of recent call ups.