USWNT reveals roster depleted by injuries

SAINT LOUIS, MO - APRIL 11: Alyssa Thompson #28 of the United States jersey hangs in the locker room before a game between Ireland and USWNT at CITYPARK on April 11, 2023 in Saint Louis, Missouri. (Photo by John Todd/USSF/Getty Images).

On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer named the 23 players who will represent the U.S. at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia this summer. (Photo by John Todd/USSF/Getty Images).

The U.S. women’s national team will head to the 2023 World Cup with a roster depleted by injuries but brightened by emerging stars.

U.S. Soccer revealed that roster Wednesday — with some help from the Bidens and Taylor Swift. It features two-time World Cup champions like Megan Rapinoe, but also 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, and a gaping defensive hole left by injured captain Becky Sauerbrunn.

In Sauerbrunn’s absence, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski named only two true center backs — but five right-footed fullbacks — to his 23-woman squad. And rather than replace injured attacker Catarina Macario with a traditional striker, he chose five wingers who’ll partner with and back up Alex Morgan, the starting center forward and only seasoned No. 9.

All of that was bad news for striker Ashley Hatch and defender Tierna Davidson, both of whom missed the cut. So did fullback Casey Krueger. In midfield, Andonovski chose Kristie Mewis — sister of the injured Sam Mewis — and uncapped 25-year-old Savannah DeMelo over 6-foot-1 Taylor Kornieck.

He also took chances on Rose Lavelle, who’s been sidelined since April 8; and on Julie Ertz, who only returned from maternity leave in April after quietly stepping away from soccer in 2021. They are among nine holdovers from the 2019 title-winning squad.

But that means there are 14 World Cup newbies. Veterans like Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath and Christen Press have either retired or fallen out of the USWNT picture. The roster owns 319 fewer caps than it did in 2019. It is still a relatively old squad — with an average age above 28, similar to 2019 and 2015 — but it is greener and shallower.

Amid the USWNT’s charge to its fourth title four years ago, its unmatched depth led fullback Ali Krieger to boldly proclaim: “We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world.” In 2023, it’s unclear whether they have either.

Below are the 23 players whom the USWNT will take to Australia and New Zealand, where the World Cup begins on July 20.

U.S. 2023 Women’s World Cup roster

(World Cup veterans in italics.)

Goalkeepers (3): Alyssa Naeher, Casey Murphy, Aubrey Kingsbury

Defenders (7): Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Alana Cook, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Sofia Huerta

Midfielders (7): Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Andi Sullivan, Savannah DeMelo, Ashley Sanchez, Kristie Mewis

Forwards (6): Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Megan Rapinoe, Alyssa Thompson, Lynn Williams

Projected starting forwards

Alex Morgan | Age: 33 | Caps: 206 | Club: San Diego Wave | Position: Striker

Morgan enters her fourth World Cup (and first as a mother) in a role that’s evolved considerably since she burst onto the USWNT scene as a 20-year-old. Her initial weapon was her pace. Over the years, she lost some of it but became an expert in the nuances of the game. She now occupies defenders and links with the speedy wingers who play alongside her. She checks to the ball, allowing them to run beyond her.

One thing, though, has not changed: Morgan is still lethal in the penalty area. In 2022, at 33 years old, she scored a career-high 15 NWSL goals. She remains the USWNT’s undisputed starting striker.

Sophia Smith | Age: 22 | Caps: 29 | Club: Portland Thorns | Position: Left wing

Smith arrived in the NWSL as a teen with nearly unprecedented expectations — and has met or exceeded every single one of them. At 22 years and 2 months old, she won the league’s MVP award and led Portland to a title. Now, she’ll head to her first World Cup with global superstardom beckoning, and with unexpected responsibility: When Mallory Swanson (née Pugh), the USWNT’s leading scorer, tore her patellar tendon in April, Smith instantly became the team’s primary wing threat. (She can also fill in at striker — which is where she’s played for Portland.)

Trinity Rodman | Age: 21 | Caps: 17 | Club: Washington Spirit | Position: Right wing

Yes, she’s the daughter of Dennis. No, that fact is not particularly relevant when she steps on a soccer field. With physical prowess and technical skill and a work ethic that wows coaches, Rodman has taken the NWSL by storm. In 2022, she signed the richest contract in league history. She’ll likely replace Swanson in the USWNT’s starting lineup — and, like Smith, could play centrally as well.

Projected starting midfielders

Rose Lavelle | Age: 28 | Caps: 88 | Club: OL Reign | Position: Attacking midfield

Lavelle, a delightful personality and daring dribbler, was the breakout star of the 2019 World Cup. Four years later, she’s arguably even better — but the journey in between has been anything but linear. For the first two years after fame ambushed her, she struggled with injuries and subpar performance. A move to Manchester City in England went poorly.

By 2023, she’d recaptured top form, and is the USWNT’s most creative midfielder, by far. The main problem: She sustained a knee injury on April 8, then a “setback” in May, and hasn’t played since. Her fitness is a chief concern as the U.S. prepares for New Zealand.

Lindsey Horan | Age: 29 | Caps: 128 | Club: Lyon (France) | Position: Central midfield

Horan, a one-time teenage trailblazer and now the only member of the squad who plays abroad, is (not coincidentally) the USWNT’s most technically cultured player. She’s clean and confident on the ball. She’s integral if and when the U.S. decides to build attacks through midfield. The main question — for her and for Andonovski — is whether she can handle significant defensive responsibility as well.

Julie Ertz | Age: 31 | Caps: 118 | Club: Angel City | Position: Defensive midfield

From August 2021 through March 2023, Ertz did not play a competitive soccer game — and the USWNT suffered in her absence. For years, she’d been a one-of-a-kind destroyer at the base of midfield, a one-woman terminator of counterattacks. In 2022, as she gave birth to her first son, Madden, the U.S. struggled to replace her.

And so, as she regained fitness in 2023, Andonovski named her to a USWNT roster before she’d even signed with a professional club. He seemed to view her as the long-shot solution to an increasingly urgent problem. Ertz has played only three full 90-minute games since returning, but could start at the World Cup ahead of Andi Sullivan, her top defensive midfield deputy.

Projected starting defenders

Crystal Dunn | Age: 30 | Caps: 131 | Club: Portland Thorns | Position: Left back

Dunn doesn’t particularly enjoy playing fullback. It’s pretty clearly not her best position. She was an NWSL golden boot winner and MVP as a forward at age 23. She’s now an imperious attacking midfielder in Portland. And yet, for years, two different USWNT coaches have relegated her to left back out of necessity. It’s been a “massive burden,” Dunn told GQ last year. “I step into [USWNT] camp, and I feel like I lose a part of myself.”

But she’s shouldered that burden remarkably well. She’s steadily improved since returning from pregnancy last fall. And she’s now the only veteran among the starting back four after Sauerbrunn’s injury.

Naomi Girma | Age: 23 | Caps: 15 | Club: San Diego Wave | Position: Center back

The USWNT’s next great defensive whiz is Girma, the precocious daughter of Ethiopian immigrants who broke through many of American soccer’s systemic barriers to entry. She was the No. 1 overall NWSL draft pick and rookie of the year in 2022. By 2023, at age 22, she’d established herself as the national team’s center back of the future — and the present.

“There’s very few players in my whole [USWNT] tenure that have stepped in and it’s just like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a first-person-on-the-team-sheet type of player,” Rapinoe said of Girma earlier this year. “The last person I can really think of would probably be Julie Ertz. … The impact just immediate with Naomi. She’s going to be the future of the team for a long time.

Alana Cook | Age: 26 | Caps: 24 | Club: OL Reign | Position: Center back

Cook will step into the starting role vacated by Sauerbrunn. She’s intelligent and decent in the air, but she’s had some wobbly moments in a U.S. jersey, and can be exposed by quicker opponents.

Emily Fox | Age: 24 | Caps: 28 | Club: North Carolina Courage | Position: Right back

Another former No. 1 overall draft pick, Fox is a 1-v-1 defensive savant who, like Dunn, can play on either the right or the left. She’s not flashy, but did score her first USWNT goal in April, and is as consistent and steady as a third-year pro can be.

Projected starting goalkeeper

Alyssa Naeher | Age: 35 | Caps: 90 | Club: Chicago Red Stars | Position: Goalkeeper

Naeher was the team’s biggest question mark entering 2019. She’s now a proven and trusted No. 1 — though she has competition for the starting job from Casey Murphy. Andonovski has not publicly named a starter. Naeher is the favorite, but the two have rotated so far in 2023.

Projected reserves

Megan Rapinoe | Age: 37 | Caps: 199 | Club: OL Reign | Position: Winger

Rapinoe is still a celebrity and beloved leader. But she’s no longer the talismanic, ruthlessly productive winger who won the World Cup Golden Boot and Golden Ball at France 2019. She’s accepted a bench role. When healthy, she’s still a top playmaker, but “no,” she told Yahoo Sports last year when asked whether she wanted to be a USWNT starter again come the 2023 World Cup knockout rounds. “If I’m really honest, like, should I be the best person to be starting those games? No, definitely not.”

Alyssa Thompson | Age: 18 | Caps: 199 | Club: Angel City | Position: Winger

Thompson only just graduated high school. She entered her senior spring as a phenomenal USWNT prospect, but probably one for 2027 and beyond. Then two things happened: 1. Swanson tore her patellar tendon. 2. Thompson dazzled in the NWSL almost immediately. She’d bypassed college and engineered a deal with hometown Angel City, who’d drafted her No. 1 overall. She scored a golazo on her debut and stupefied viewers with her blinding speed. She’ll be the ultimate wild-card weapon off the bench for the U.S. in New Zealand.

Lynn Williams | Age: 30 | Caps: 52 | Club: Gotham FC | Position: Winger

An industrious forward with underrated final-third skill, Williams should be the first winger off the bench if the U.S. is protecting a lead.

Andi Sullivan | Age: 27 | Caps: 44 | Club: Washington Spirit | Position: Defensive midfield

Sullivan, a consistent NWSL performer, was one of the final cuts from the 2019 team. But she kept grinding. When Ertz stepped away in 2021, she ascended into the starting 11. She appeared to be in line to keep her place until Ertz returned this spring. Now, her role is somewhat unclear.

Ashley Sanchez | Age: 24 | Caps: 24 | Club: Washington Spirit | Position: Attacking midfield

An audacious No. 10, and one of eight players on the roster from California, Sanchez is the only one who can emulate Lavelle’s creativity. But she’s more of a passer than a dynamic dribbler. She’ll likely only be used as a substitute if the U.S. is chasing a game from behind.

Savannah DeMelo | Age: 25 | Caps: 0 | Club: Racing Louisville | Position: Central midfield

DeMelo’s red-hot NWSL form was impossible to ignore. She’s never played for the USWNT. She was called into two camps last fall, but never saw the field. She was then overlooked this past winter. But over the past two months, she’s added goals to a strong all-around midfield game, and very well could get meaningful minutes in New Zealand.

Kristie Mewis | Age: 32 | Caps: 51 | Club: Gotham FC | Position: Central midfield

A late-blooming midfielder whose reward for a decade of professional service is this World Cup nod.

Kelley O’Hara | Age: 34 | Caps: 157 | Club: Gotham FC | Position: Right back

One of three U.S. players headed to their fourth World Cups, O’Hara has battled injuries recently. But she’s still an aggressive, combative fullback when healthy — and, perhaps more importantly, a veteran presence within a defensive unit otherwise lacking experience.

Emily Sonnett | Age: 29 | Caps: 74 | Club: OL Reign | Position: Fullback, center back, defensive midfield

Sonnett was already one of the most versatile USWNT players when, this past offseason, the Washington Spirit traded her to the OL Reign. She’d spent the early years of her career playing every position imaginable across the defensive line. Reign head coach Laura Harvey then decided to expand her repertoire and deploy her as a defensive midfielder.

With the national team, Sonnett has mostly been a fullback. But she’s likely going to New Zealand as the third center back, with that area of the depth chart suddenly alarmingly thin.

Sofia Huerta | Age: 30 | Caps: 29 | Club: OL Reign | Position: Right back

Huerta is the first USWNT player to make a World Cup roster after previously playing for Mexico. The Boise, Idaho native filed for one-time switch of association in 2017, a few years after representing her father’s homeland in an unofficial tournament.

Huerta is an expert crosser from her right back role — which is why she made the 23 — but oftentimes a shaky defender.

Casey Murphy | Age: 27 | Caps: 14 | Club: North Carolina Courage | Position: Goalkeeper

A rangy shot-stopper, Murphy has impressed when called upon, and has pushed Naeher for the starting job.

Aubrey Kingsbury | Age: 31 | Caps: 1 | Club: Washington Spirit | Position: Goalkeeper

Kingsbury’s NWSL form for the table-topping Spirit earned her the No. 3 goalkeeper spot ahead of longtime reserve AD Franch.

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