For the US women’s team, all routes to the 2023 Women’s World Cup and 2024 Olympics pass through Monterrey, Mexico, where the team will begin its qualifying campaign on Monday.
If you’ve never heard of the CONCACAF W Championship, which takes place July 4-18, there’s a good reason for it: It’s a brand new competition. But it is very important, especially because of its new format: it will serve as a qualifying tournament for both events mentioned above, the first time that CONCACAF has chosen a double qualification format. The stakes have never been greater.
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The tournament should be somewhat indulgent for Americans. The top four teams in the eight-team tournament automatically qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand, meaning the USWNT only needs to survive the group stage. But qualifying for the Olympics is where it gets more difficult: only the tournament winner will qualify directly for Paris 2024. The second- and third-placed teams—they will compete in a September 2023 playoff for second and final place in the CONCACAF region—did not exit but the US You would definitely like to qualify again, if possible.
Here’s a look at the key questions facing the United States at the tournament:
Who will lead the USWNT into the future?
Coach Vlatko Andonovsky hasn’t been shy about dismissing veterans in favor of the young talent who tore up the Women’s National Football League in 2022. Tobin Heath wasn’t called up for these playoffs and although Kristen Press tore up the AFC Champions League shortly before the roster was announced, Andonovsky said he He wasn’t planning on calling her anyway.
Instead, new players such as Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman are being asked to lead the attack, and they looked very capable. (Mallory Pugh is nothing new, but after years of playing with the national team, she’s back and also looks like a new player.)
It was a huge blow to Andonovsky’s planned youth movement when Catarina Macario tore up the AFC Champions League last month, but the USWNT showed plenty of threats when it won the SheBelieves Cup in February with a mostly empty roster of veteran strikers. However, when it came time for this qualifying roster to be selected, Andonovsky couldn’t move on from Alex Morgan, who was out of her top club at the start of her career at the age of 33, scoring 11 in 10 games. 36-year-old Megan Rapinoe (who turns 37 on Tuesday) may not have been a starter for the 90 minutes, but Andonovsky was clear that he felt she was bringing something special and unpredictable to the table. It seems that this veteran presence is still in demand.
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So who will lead the way to the next World Cup and Olympic Games? The United States had the oldest teams in the past two World Cups (and won both) but Andonovsky seems determined to go down a different path. For the first time since they joined the team, veterans like Morgan’s minutes aren’t guaranteed, let alone shortlisted, but it’s about who scores, who leads, and who makes the most impact.
Is USWNT ready for the next goalkeeper transition?
Alyssa Naher has been the USWNT’s primary guard since late 2016, succeeding a role that Hope Solo has held for the better part of a decade. So when the 34-year-old was injured during the Olympics last year, the safe assumption was that it would be the start once she was healthy again. However, this is still only an assumption because recent USWNT matches, and Andonovski’s own words, have provided little clarity.
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Recently, everywhere Andonovsky managed to find a younger player to take on a role, he took this opportunity. Defenders Naomi Germa and Alana Cook, who both had number-one caps when they were on the qualifying list, are likely to have important minutes in Mexico. Morgan was on fire in the NFL but Andonovsky still resisted calling her for friendlies, choosing to give new players a chance. So why is a goalkeeper different?
Casey Murphy, the 26-year-old North Carolina Courage protector, made a strong case in the NWSL, earning a nod to start the United States in a warm-up match before qualifying against Colombia.
Could Mexico or Canada Spoil USWNT Chances?
Let’s be clear: The United States should have fully qualified for the World Cup by the time it leaves Mexico. The Americans have never failed to qualify for the Women’s World Cup since FIFA started the event, and as the No. 1 ranked team in the world, it’s not sure to ask the US to finish in the top four in Monterrey either. .
Qualification for the Olympics is within reach, too. Of the nine previous CONCACAF tournaments the USWNT has competed in, they have won eight of them. But that thing they didn’t win in 2010 is where it gets interesting. The United States suffered a shock loss to Mexico and could not qualify directly for the World Cup: at the time, the Americans had to face Italy in the first leg to decide their place.
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While Mexico is likely to qualify for the World Cup on home soil and eventually prepare to see the benefits of the domestic league, Liga MX Femenil, Mexico joins the same group as the United States, so the Americans won’t even see them in the knockout round.
Instead, the team to focus on here is Canada. After winning the gold medal at the Olympics last year, there is no longer any dispute that Canada should be considered a dominant team in women’s football. Their style of play may be more defensive and gritty than their American counterparts – their path to gold in Japan wasn’t paved with many goals through the knockout rounds – but they can be extraordinarily effective nonetheless, especially against teams that love to attack, like the USWNT. Remember, the United States had to earn a bronze medal at the same Olympics after repeated stumbles.
It’s easy to imagine a final between Canada and the United States with an automatically Olympics qualifying spot, and at that point, it could go either way.