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The United States women's national team will host Brazil, Canada, and Japan in the eighth edition of the SheBelieves Cup, which officially begins on Thursday. The SheBelieves Cup is a rare occasion among several round-robin tournaments taking place during February's official FIFA window. All four participating nations have qualified for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer. The annual event will be a final opportunity for the World Cup-bound teams to mirror group-stage play within the competition. 

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski named a 23-player roster ahead of the SheBelieves Cup and while the player pool is getting smaller for the USWNT, there are still positional areas and tactical issues that need ironing out. As players continue to build toward the World Cup this summer, let's take a look at three things we want to see from the team in SheBelieves Cup:

More minutes for returning players

Part of the team's run of form in 2022 was affected by injury and player absence. Roster selection for friendlies and the Concacaf W Championship introduced new players over the course of 2022. Players that sustained season-ending injuries or who were on maternity leave are now integrating back into the fold. 

Crysta Dunn returned from maternity leave in September and earned her first start with the team during January camps against New Zealand. Dunn's two consecutive starts were two 45-minute shifts as she continues to build her minutes with the team. Three games over the span of a week will be a new challenge, and the coaching staff may remain cautious with game management. 

Lynn Williams featured off the bench against New Zealand and exited January camp with a goal and an assist. Her hamstring surgery kept her out of callups over 2022 and her 20-30 minute window of restriction may expand against either Brazil, Canada, or Japan. Emily Sonnett also returned to the team during January camps. She had limited minutes on the defensive backline, though her minutes may depend on what personnel the coaching staff may want to see across the backline unit.

Midfield tinkering

January camps finally introduced some tactical shifts by Andonovski. He's been overly reliant on a 4-3-3 for the team that has unfortunately looked stagnant at times over the last year. While the formation was typically something that worked post-2019 World Cup when the options were Sam Mewis and Julie Ertz, injury has since forced player rotations in the middle third in the No. 8 and No. 6 roles specifically.

Lindsey Horan, Kristie Mewis, Sam Coffey, Andi Sullivan and now Taylor Kornieck are all players that have been asked to spend time in the defensive mid position. While Sullivan has been the player typically featured in the No. 6 role over the last year, Andonovski introduced another player into the rotating cast of defensive mids during January camps with Kornieck getting a start against New Zealand.

While it's not a wild concept to put your tallest player in the most demanding position, Kornieck's limited time in the role will likely expand during SheBelieves Cup. Andonovski told reporters during the roster announcement that midfield scenarios they introduced during January camps will get more evaluation during matches against Brazil, Canada, and Japan. 

Kornieck has featured as a defensive mid for San Diego Wave FC but with more collaborative options around her while with her club. Head coach Casey Stoney has also been keeping an eye on the new development with Kornieck and the USWNT.

"I did play her lower at times but with freedom," said Stoney during recent media availability. "I always played her with somebody else so she wasn't an isolated six. I don't see Taylor in that light for us. I think we'd be taking away her strengths if she played as an isolated six.

"If she played as a double six with the freedom to go forward, yeah, potentially, and we did that last year. But I did put her in training because I knew that she was going away with the national team and she needs to work on it if she plays as a single six, you have to be disciplined and understand that role very clearly."

Defensive organization 

January camps didn't offer much in the way of defensive evaluation after two lopsided scorelines but SheBelieves Cup may provide different scenarios. Much like the midfield, there has been player rotation across the backline due to player absences and injuries. The return of Dunn makes the evaluation of outside back depth harder for the coaching staff, and Sonnett has been utilized across the backline entirely. 

When Andonovski revealed the 23-player roster for SheBelieves Cup it included defender Tierna Davidson as a training camp player. The 24-year-old center back is in the final stage of her ACL rehabilitation and is considered part of the USWNT's young core. Despite her young age, Davidson offers a level of experience in the position as a World Cup champion and Olympic bronze medalist but will be unavailable for match selection during SheBeleieves Cup.

The biggest spotlight may remain on Alana Cook and Naomi Girma. The duo struggled in the opening minutes against England under the bright lights of Wembley Stadium in London but regrouped and maintained composure throughout the remainder of the match. The duo also started against New Zealand during January cameos, but a shutout with a five-goal scoreline is hardly the measurement to evaluate the pair. The coaching staff is aware of the reliable performances they can get from veteran cetner back Becky Sauerbrunn. Competition against other World Cup teams can provide more in-game film to better analyze and determine in what direction to go defensively. 


All times Eastern

Thursday, Feb. 16
Japan vs. Brazil, 4 p.m.
USA vs. Canada, 7 p.m. 

Sunday, Feb. 19
USA vs. Japan, 3:30 p.m.
Brazil vs. Canada, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 22
Canada vs. Japan, 4 p.m. 
USA vs. Brazil, 7 p.m.