The FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup is set to kick off in just over a month. New Zealand and Australia will welcome participating nations to the first-ever tournament held in the southern hemisphere and the first time with 32 teams. The U.S. women’s national team are reigning World Cup champions, four-time winners, and on the hunt for a three-peat of World Cup titles. 

The team hasn’t had a camp together since April and completed a two-game sweep against Ireland during their last international window. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski exited the previous camps reemphasizing the importance of club play. Stating that groups of players would be asked to retain form and others tasked with areas of performance to work on. 

There’s curiosity around how much club play will weigh towards overall performances inside national team camps. Ultimate factors that lead to places on the final roster could be individual attributes like tenacious creativity, one-on-one defending, or late-game impact off the bench. Since the Olympic Games in Tokyo, there have been player rotations, there have been injuries, and there have been returns. But who will make the final 23-player roster for the World Cup? 

Our projected roster;

Goalkeepers (3)

Locks: Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphey, Adrianna Franch

Out: Aubrey Kingsbury, Abby Smith

The goalkeeper position might be the one area that the coaching staff had solidified a year ago. Naeher and Murphy split duty during the Concacf W Championships and have been constant features in camps. Naeher has been the de facto No. 1 for the team since 2016 and helped lead the team to victory during the 2019 World Cup. The six-foot Murphy has maintained elevated form with her club team North Carolina Courage this season. 

While I think Andonovski will roll the dice with what is known versus what isn’t, Franch will get the third spot based on prior World Cup experiences and prior standout goalkeeping seasons in NWSL. She is splitting time in goal with Kansas City this year, leaving room for pundits and fans to doubt her inclusion on the roster. 

Aubrey Kingsbury has had a resurgence in form but recently exited a match with an injury after trying to play through it. With the World Cup nearly a month away, it could quiet the buzz she’s generated. However, if league praise has raised player profiles, I ask why not for Abby Smith of NJ/NY Gotham FC? Smith has had a stellar return to form after finally finding a home for a starting role and tied for a league-low in goals conceded (10) and has three clean sheets.

Defenders (7)

Locks: Becky Sauerbrunn, Alana Cook, Naomi Girma, Kelley O’Hara, Crystal Dunn, Casey Krueger, Emily Sonnett

In contention: Emily Fox, Sofia Huerta, Tierna Davidson

The most interesting thing about the defender core heading into the World Cup is that nearly every single one of the players within the pool is in outstanding form. Some of them are playing in midfield roles for clubs and excelling at it. It’s a factor that could complicate where they land on a final roster or it may allow for some versatility down the stretch.

Portland Thorns are taking precautions with Sauerbrunn as she works back from a foot issue. Davidson is back from an ACL injury and can physically play 90 minutes but has struggled for the Red Stars this season. Krueger also plays for Chicago, but despite the team’s losing record, she’s been the Red Stars’ MVP this season and has played across the entire backline. O’Hara has played nine of Gotham’s 13 games and three have been at full minutes. If you widen the lens past those players, several defenders are making a case to crack the roster. 

Minutes load, late-game defensive scenarios and system familiarity are things that might be the final boxes the coaching staff check off to bring what I think might be seven defenders. Dunn and Sonnett have been midfielders for their respective clubs since week one this season and their versatility may come in handy during a grueling month-long tournament.

Girma and Cook have been the most consistent and healthy center back options for the team over the last year. Fox, Huerta, and Krueger all seem to be competing for a specific spot on the pitch (that mainly belonged to O’Hara at one point) but continue to prove they’re essential players for club and could all make the final roster.

I think it’ll all come down to experience and system familiarity with such strong form in consideration because taking five players to their first-ever World Cup might not be an ideal scenario for the coaching staff. 

Midfielders (6)

Locks: Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Andi Sullivan, Kristie Mewis, Ashley Sanchez

In contention: Taylor Kornieck

Out: Sam Coffey, Savannah DeMelo

Mewis has been in elite form with Gotham this season and it raises a question of how she’ll be utilized with the national team in the World Cup as she’s typically been an option off the bench. Ertz made her return to play in April and has since featured in six matches with Angel City this season. 

Lavelle hasn’t played a club match since April, and with the roster dropping any day, that has raised eyebrows on her readiness ahead of the tournament. Sullivan and Horan will be relied upon as regulars in Andonovski’s system, and Sanchez can play a last-minute role off the bench if needed. After an injury early this season, Kornieck is available and playing matches, but the timeline may have been too slim to crack this roster. 

Despite excellent club performances by Coffey as a defensive mid for Portland, the coaching staff hasn’t shown any indication that she’s in contention to knock out other players at that position though her play suggests otherwise. A similar argument can be made for DeMelo with her stellar sophomore season in Lousiville this year. Both players should be part of camps this year after the World Cup.

Forwards (7)

Locks: Lynn Williams, Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Ashley Hatch, Alyssa Thompson

In contention: Jaedyn Shaw

Out: Midge Purce

A patella tendon injury to Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario’s withdrawal due to a rehab timeline from an ACL injury presented a unique set of scenarios for attackers on the final roster. Williams, Smith, and Rodman are having MVP-caliber seasons for their club teams at the moment. Morgan and Rapinoe are veteran players that have experience and will play specific roles in the tournament. 

Macario was on pace to be the No. 9, at times playing lower, or as a false nine with budding chemistry alongside Lavelle, Smith, and Swanson. An ACL tear in June 2022 and a return to form by Morgan post-pregnancy reset the attack. Hatch is a clear backup to Morgan with adjustments needed, and she’ll need to show she can bring it off the bench. 

The injury to Swanson further complicated things but introduced Thompson into the mix. The 18-year-old Thompson is playing her first pro season with Angel City but has literally been turning heads her rookie year as she blazes past defenders on the pitch. She was called in immediately during the squad’s April international window in light of Swanson’s injury. 

Purce has been called into national team camps ever since Andonovski’s arrival with 23 appearances, four goals, and three assists, but injuries hampered her time on the pitch this season. Jaedyn Shaw’s ability to turn a game around in mere minutes should keep her in contention, but lots of first-time World Cups players heading to the competition might mean she finally gets called into consistent camps post-tournament.

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