It’s January of the World Cup year, and the U.S. women’s national team is about to kick off the first of the friendlies series that will take the Americans to the start of the quadrennial tournament.
Prior to the 2019 and 2015 Women’s World Cups, trips to France were for the United States, resulting in a loss Why blue, while in 2011 it was a trip to China, where he started that year with a loss to Sweden. This time, however, the Americans are heading to the Southern Hemisphere for a doubleheader against New Zealand that will see them play in two group-stage stadiums in which they will compete in this summer’s World Cup.
Indeed, the USWNT is tempted to break out of its usual routine of playing games domestically and traveling abroad to kick off the World Cup year – but there’s one big difference for the US now compared to past tournaments: Perhaps more than ever, there are endless question marks about US team. The couple, who will take place in New Zealand on Tuesday and Friday, will provide two opportunities to find answers.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga and more (US)
– Read on ESPN+: January deals won’t help Arsenal
While there is always a certain degree of fan anxiety about the USWNT when starting a new championship year, the team’s pedigree remains measurably high, as does the tacit understanding that the team will always be one of the strongest in the tournament. Despite the many questions that prevailed during the era of former coach Gil Ellis, the team still usually succeeded in providing results in the decisive moments and won two World Cups back to back. However, during the current coach Vlatko Andonovski, such assurances were absent.
When Ellis brought the players together for the 2015 and 2019 World Cup warm-up friendlies in Europe, his aim was to test them, highlight the team’s shortcomings and fix them before the long summer – but there was already a fairly clear picture of who had done enough to earn. place in the World Cup. This time, however, that special clarity is missing, and players race for a plethora of locations that seem up for grabs.
Can anyone replace Julie Eerts in midfield?
In the American job for more than three years, Andonovsky played almost exclusively in a 4-3-3 that rarely failed with defensive midfielder Julie Ertz playing at the bottom of the diamond midfield – but without Ertz to fit in, things often fell apart.
In her place, she chose coach Lindsey Horan or Andy Sullivan, neither of whom would take on the role the way Ertz did. In fact, there isn’t a single person in the group of American players who could fulfill the role anymore — not even Ertz herself, who’s been on vacation since giving birth to her first child in August.
While it’s possible that Horan will be on board this summer, the role she plays for the USA is still open to interpretation because the midfielder is the role you’d ideally want at the top of the pitch, creating rather than nullifying – or trying to nullify. – The opposition.
With just four caps to her name, Sam Coffey can assert her authority in the defensive midfielder role in this camp as she is better suited to the rising defensive role in midfield than Sullivan. Back from injury, Emily Sonette, who usually played right back or centre-back for the United States, can throw her own hat in the ring as she has the aptitude as well as the versatile experience for the role.
It’s all assuming Andonovsky continues his preferred 4-3-3 style, with the caveat being that during the USWNT’s second game against Germany at the end of last year, the coach tweaked his system to allow more offense to flow forward and decompress. exposed defence.
If the coach continues with this approach, fans can expect to see more pressure on both his offense and defense as the team continues to push more into their game, rather than allowing the vast talents of the available players to shine.
Veterans or novices in the back?
With Sofia Huerta serving as the right-back as veteran Kelly O’Hara dealt with injuries last year, the left-back remains uncertain territory for Andonovski.
Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, and Hailie Mace are all able to play the part, though Fox is the only one of the trio to play her club team, Racing Louisville. While all three are also capable of getting forward and assisting the attack, they all have different abilities when it comes to defensive duties that will be put to the test during the closing stages of the World Cup. For that matter, facing a young team from New Zealand ranked 24th in the world – who likely have plenty of experience in offense – might not be the best test of the USWNT’s defensive mettle.
Although both outfielders Alana Cook and Becky Sauerbrunn are close with certainty to make the team that travels to the World Cup, with hit-and-miss performances from both late last year, there’s a question about who will start to turn the tournament around. defense. Naomi Girma, who is entering her second season as a pro this year for the San Diego Wave, looks like she has managed to land one of the starting center back positions.
Beyond that, Casey Murphy could make a case for herself to be the starting point guard for the team with the coach who’s been switching between her and starting starting Alyssa Naher for the past year or so. Likewise, if she is given the nod, Adriana Franch can force herself back into consideration, having been the coach’s choice during the 2021 Olympics when Naher was forced out with an injury in their penultimate match in Japan – but she has clearly fallen out of favor since then. distance.
When players come back from injury, the attack gets crowded
For the sheer depth of talent available to Andonovsky, or any coach who has ever captained the US National Team, there is no area where Americans indulge more than offense.
After being injured since March 2022, Lynn Williams welcomes back to the team and has proven to be a favorite with her coach, with her selfless work and piercing runs in the Andonovsky years. But Williams finds herself joining a team where Mallory Swanson (née Pugh), Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith (not included in this list due to a foot injury) have become regular contributors.
With both Smith and veteran Megan Rapinoe absent, Williams has the best chance of proving her worth and interest in her coach. But after this extended layoff, it may be her work on the field during camp that will matter most.
Foday: The USWNT World Cup draw is very favorable
Julie Foody interacts with USWNT group opponents for the 2023 World Cup.
The broader question is not whether Andonovski will take Williams or Smith to the World Cup, but rather which players make up his best attacking unit, and who could benefit most from the creativity generated by a midfield that could feature any combination of Rose Lavell, Horan, Ashley Sanchez , Taylor Kornic, Kristi Mewes, Sullivan & Covey.
Indeed, there are very few players who seem to have locked themselves in firmly in Andonovski’s plans for this summer, and with the prospect of Catarina Macario, who continues to work back to fitness after an ACL injury, the list spots are up and strong. The national team’s performance leading up to the World Cup could be the difference for many who have been called up.
In past cycles, World Cup finalists often had an air of inevitability to them, even as coaches tinkered and tested players all the way up to the tournament, but Andonovsky has some real questions without clear answers – and only six months to sort them out until the World Cup begins.