USWNT World Cup roster and lineup projections as deadlines loom
AUSTIN, Texas — The U.S. women’s national team convened here last week with palpable stakes. This, one last training camp and two final friendlies before a World Cup roster is named, was a pivotal opportunity for individuals to prove value and, ultimately, realize dreams. And so, throughout the week, in drills and small-sided games, “the competitiveness — it’s a different level,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Friday.
“The intensity,” he said, “is insane.”
He insisted that he would not come away from Tuesday’s tuneup against Ireland with a 23-woman roster in mind. He was “positive,” he said, that places among the 23 could still be won and lost over the coming months, while players grind through club seasons. He knows that some last-minute decisions will have to be made as injuries heal or suddenly appear at the worst possible time.
“But, unfortunately, we don’t have any other camps,” he admitted. Tuesday will be the USWNT’s last day together before Andonovski picks a World Cup roster in June. “So,” he continued, “decisions will be made in this camp.” On Saturday, he was all prepared to evaluate fringe players, and perhaps even to pencil in a preferred starting lineup — and then disaster struck.
Rational analysis gave way to worry when Mallory Swanson, a roster lock and sure-fire star, went down against Ireland and writhed in pain. Within 24 hours, Andonovski learned that he’d likely be without his top scorer this summer in New Zealand. Swanson’s torn patellar tendon was many things, including heartbreaking; it was also a reminder that intricate plans can combust in an instant, and that World Cup roster projections are constantly subject to change.
But, even with the USWNT’s attacking plan currently in flux, the roster is taking shape, and the starting lineup is coming together.
With one match to go, and deadlines looming in the distance, here’s how we see both the lineup and the roster — followed by a position-by-position breakdown of locks and the roster bubble.
USWNT projected starting lineup for 2023 World Cup
The USWNT’s front five was all but set in stone prior to Swanson’s injury. Her spot is now up for grabs, potentially, but Trinity Rodman will likely fill it. The real uncertainty is behind that front five, where only Emily Fox appears to be an automatic choice among the starting 11.
Andonovski, though, has seemingly been leaning toward the following lineup:
Goalkeeper: Alyssa Naeher
Right back: Emily Fox
Center back: Naomi Girma
Center back: Becky Sauerbrunn
Left back: Crystal Dunn
Defensive midfield: Julie Ertz/Andi Sullivan
Central midfield: Lindsey Horan
Attacking midfield: Rose Lavelle
Right wing: Trinity Rodman
Striker: Alex Morgan
Left wing: Sophia Smith
Naeher could platoon with Casey Murphy. Dunn could give way on occasion to Kelley O’Hara or another reserve. And Alana Cook could unseat either Girma or Sauerbrunn, but the latter two both seem undroppable. The only true unknown is in the middle, where Andi Sullivan has been the starter but Julie Ertz is the historical incumbent. The choice will depend on Ertz’s fitness; by July, she’ll have spent only three months (at most) playing competitive soccer after a 20-month absence.
The choice could also evolve as the tournament progresses. Unlike the U.S. men’s national team at its World Cup, the USWNT will almost surely rotate heavily during the group stage. Sullivan could start the opener — a likely blowout against Vietnam — with Ertz growing into games and taking over during the knockout rounds, in crunch time.
USWNT 2023 World Cup roster prediction
There’s more uncertainty at the fringes of the 23-woman squad. There appear to be roughly 13 locks, and four additional players who’ll likely go to New Zealand — that is, they aren’t guaranteed a plane ticket, but we didn’t hesitate to include them in this predicted 23.
Then there are six spots in question. The players filling them are listed in italics, with other candidates listed below.
Goalkeepers: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, Adrianna Franch
Fullbacks: Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara
Center backs: Becky Sauerbrunn, Naomi Girma, Alana Cook
Midfielders: Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Andi Sullivan, Julie Ertz, Ashley Sanchez, Taylor Kornieck
Wingers: Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Megan Rapinoe, Lynn Williams, Alyssa Thompson
Strikers: Alex Morgan, Catarina Macario
Just missed the cut: Kristie Mewis, Tierna Davidson, Ashley Hatch
Also considered: Sofia Huerta, Casey Krueger
Locks: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy
Likely: Adrianna Franch
Long shot: Aubrey Kingsbury
Either Naeher or Murphy will start; and both will make the roster.
Kingsbury’s recent omissions have been a bit puzzling, given her performances for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL, and given that she appeared to be Andonovski’s choice to round out the back of the roster throughout much of 2022. But Franch has been the choice since October. She has the experience — she was the third keeper in 2019 as well — and will likely be the choice this summer.
Locks: Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox
Bubble: Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Sofia Huerta, Casey Krueger
Can also play here: Tierna Davidson
Fullback presents Andonovski with his most complex decision — albeit not his most consequential one. He has two clear starters, both right-footers capable of playing on the left. His top three reserves are also right-footed; a fourth, Casey Krueger, is a more natural left back, but has not played for the USWNT since 2021, and since she gave birth to her first child last summer. And the top left-footed defender in contention is center back Tierna Davidson, who has deputized at left back in the past, but is working her way back from a long-term injury.
So, what does Andonovski want his depth chart to look like?
Might he take only one reserve, plus Davidson as a fourth center back, allowing him to carry one extra midfielder or forward?
The one certainty, it seems, is that he won’t take both Sofia Huerta and Kelley O’Hara. They’re both attacking-minded right backs and not much else. O’Hara is a two-time World Cup winner and longtime veteran, but has been sidelined by injury with increasing frequency. Huerta is an excellent crosser but a shaky defender.
Emily Sonnett’s value is her versatility; she is comfortable at right back and center back, and even left back in a pinch — and has actually been playing defensive midfield for her new NWSL team, the OL Reign.
So the pecking order, it seems, is as it’s listed above. O’Hara’s health and Krueger’s fitness are the wild cards.
Locks: Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook, Naomi Girma
Bubble: Tierna Davidson
Can also play here: Emily Sonnett
The center of defense is a bit more straightforward, though still interconnected with the fullback mess.
Barring injury, Sauerbrunn, Cook and Girma are going to New Zealand. Andonovski’s decision, then, is between taking a fourth center back (who could double as a fourth fullback) or relying on those three, with Sonnett as the partial fourth.
Davidson, who went to the 2019 World Cup as the USWNT’s defensive stalwart of the future, tore her ACL last March and only recently returned to competitive action. She said Friday that she “felt good, physically,” but acknowledged that her ramp-up to full fitness was ongoing. She didn’t dress for Saturday’s friendly. Her inclusion will likely depend on her NWSL form over the next two months.
So, in conclusion: Andonovski will likely take seven defenders. Five will be the locks. One will likely be Sonnett or Davidson. The final spot could also go to Sonnett or Davidson, or could go to one of the other fullbacks mentioned above.
Locks: Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Andi Sullivan
Likely: Julie Ertz, Ashley Sanchez
Bubble: Kristie Mewis, Taylor Kornieck
Long shot: Sam Coffey
Can also play here: Catarina Macario
The simplest version of the central midfield outlook is as crystal clear as it’s ever been. If Andonovski wants two 6s, two 8s and two 10s, well, he has his 6s (Sullivan and Ertz) and his 10s (Lavelle and Sanchez). He has one 8 (Lindsey Horan), with Kristie Mewis and Taylor Kornieck competing for one final utility spot.
But of course, it would be overly optimistic to guarantee Ertz’s inclusion after one 23-minute stint in a friendly. Andonovski has also tried Kornieck in that defensive midfield role. And Coffey has been the best true 6 in the U.S. pool since the beginning of the 2022 NWSL season. After breaking into the national team last year, her recent omissions have been somewhat baffling. She appears to be on the outside looking in, but perhaps, if she bosses NWSL games for two months, she could force Andonovski into a rethink.
The big unknown is Macario. Andonovski has used her as a forward. But if she goes to New Zealand, she could double as Lavelle’s deputy 10, replacing Sanchez and opening up spots for both Mewis and Kornieck. (More on Macario’s fitness below.)
There’s also the possibility that Andonovski could take seven midfielders, either including or excluding Macario. Mewis and Kornieck are very different players, and could both go to serve in very distinct roles — Mewis as a more traditional 8, Kornieck as a 6-foot-1 set-piece threat.
Locks: Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman
Bubble: Megan Rapinoe, Lynn Williams, Alyssa Thompson
Long shots: Midge Purce
Prior to Swanson’s injury, this was the USWNT’s deepest position. Even now, Andonovski might have to leave one of Megan Rapinoe, Lynn Williams and 18-year-old phenom Alyssa Thompson at home. Thompson replaced Swanson on the April roster, but Rapinoe is currently injured, so it’s not necessarily a clue. If all three, plus Smith and Rodman, are available in June, this will be a stumper.
Rapinoe has the experience, the personality, the on-ball quality, and just about every desirable quality other than 25-year-old legs. She has accepted a reserve role, and found “renewed joy” in it. Andonovski values her voice and her “winning mentality,” and “her knowledge and understanding is very valuable for the group,” he said last summer. If she is fit and playing decently well for the Reign, she’ll likely be chosen.
So, then, does Andonovski want Williams, a reasonably good goalscorer and a pressing machine? Does he want her club teammate, Midge Purce, who can terrorize lesser teams with her straight-line speed? Or does he want the electrifying Thompson, who might be even faster, with more technical ability and far more upside?
Thompson was a long shot prior to Swanson’s injury. But she’s the closest thing Andonovski has to a like-for-like replacement. He might feel compelled to take the ascendant Angel City star — and if he also feels compelled to take Rapinoe and Williams, he could take five wingers, especially given Smith’s, Rodman’s and Williams’ ability to play centrally if necessary.
Lock: Alex Morgan
Bubble: Catarina Macario, Ashley Hatch
The biggest question mark in the entire player pool is Macario, who hasn’t played a competitive match since tearing her ACL last June. She spent months in Qatar rehabbing at Aspetar, and as of the start of April, she still had not returned to training with Lyon. Vlatko Andonovski had previously targeted this April camp as an opportunity to welcome her back into the USWNT fold, but Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor recently admitted that Macario’s return has been “a bit delayed.”
With her timeline for a return to competitive games still unclear, the clock is ticking. There are only four more on Lyon’s schedule after April 16, and realistically, only two would be international-level tuneups. There is, at this point, virtually zero chance that she is back at her best by July 20.
But would she go to the World Cup at 90%? Probably, because she’s that good. What about 80%?
“We all know that Cat has potential to be one of the best players in the world,” Andonovski said Friday when asked about how he’d evaluate Macario. “We have all seen that a year ago. But we don’t know how good she is right now. Nobody knows. And until we see that, and we’re given a chance to evaluate that, we can’t make any decisions about her. But if she proves that she deserves to be in this environment, and we believe that she can help us win the World Cup, then she’s gonna be here.”
The most viable alternative as a backup striker is Hatch. But she’s been unremarkable with the national team. So, with Morgan the certain starter and wingers in the mix as backup center forwards as well, Andonovski will give Macario every chance to prove she’s worth taking a chance on.