United States women's national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski named a 23-player roster for the 2023 SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday. The annual tournament is in its eighth edition and is slated to be one of the final prep stages for the USWNT in their march to the 2023 Women's World Cup this summer. The team will host Brazil, Canada, and Japan in the competition beginning on Feb. 16.
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"All three of these matches are great opportunities for the players and coaches as we enter the final stretch to choose the World Cup roster," said Andonovski. "To get to play three top teams, all who are in the World Cup, over seven days, will test our team mentally and physically, and that's exactly what we need at this point in our preparations. We still have a few players in the pool recovering from injuries, but we are confident that they will be ready for selection for our April matches."
2022 NWSL MVP and U.S Soccer female player of the year Sophia Smith is still out as a precaution after a minor foot injury. The forward was unavailable for the USWNT's January camp in New Zealand. Veteran forward Megan Rapinoe returns to the team after missing January camp with an ankle injury. Rapinoe is currently sitting on 197 appearances with the national team and could earn her 200th cap during the tournament.
Defender Tierna Davidson, is in the final stages of her recovery from an ACL injury and returns to the USWNT player pool for training camp but will not be part of the tournament roster. Davidson recently spent time in Germany with VfL Wolfsburg as part of her rehab stint.
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USWNT SheBelieves Cup Roster
Goalkeepers (3): Adrianna Franch (Kansas City Current; 10), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage; 12), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 87)
DEFENDERS (7): Alana Cook (OL Reign; 21/0), Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage; 24/0), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC; 128/24), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC; 12/0), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign; 27/0), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 212/0), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign; 70/1)
Midfielders (6): Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 123/26), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC; 9/2), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 86/24), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 47/7), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit; 19/3), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 39/3)
Forwards (7): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit; 15/5), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave FC; 201/120), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 22/4), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign; 197/63), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit; 12/2), Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars; 84/28), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 49/15)
Continuity is key
Midfielder Sam Mewis recently announced on social media that she had another surgery on her knee and will continue rehab with no timetable for her return. The update effectively eliminates the possibility of her availability for the 2023 World Cup. The USWNT have navigated games while Mewis has been out of camps and in the absence of Julie Ertz. Ertz has been away from the team post-Olympic games and has been on maternity leave after the birth of her son in August 2022.
The duo has seemed, at times, irreplaceable on the pitch as Andonovski continues to evaluate the roster in the build-up to the World Cup, often settling on a trio built around Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Andi Sullivan. But the head coach feels like the current group of midfielders will find success on the pitch.
"That's something that we've known for a while we just wanted to allow Sam to make a decision on when to make this public," Andonovski said on Mewis.
"Another person that hasn't been in camp for awhile [is] Julie Ertz . . . someone we see that she hasn't committed to any team in the league so far and the time is running out pretty much for her as well. She's someone that we're probably not going to be able to count on in the World Cup.
"These are two big names that will be absent from World Cup selection and this is something that we have planned for and that's why we've tried different names, different players, in these positions, and we're going to continue trying in this camp until we solidify the players that we believe will give us the best chance to be successful."
The team picked up two wins during January camp against New Zealand, but the matches against the World Cup co-host nation resulted in lopsided victories for the U.S. among additional rotation in the midfield. Taylor Kornieck featured as a defensive midfielder for the team, the first time for her in the role with the USWNT, and she split time as a No. 6 over the two friendlies.
The camps were held during an unofficial FIFA window and that meant the departure of Horan back to her club team Olympique Lyon after the first match. With Horan back in France due to a prior agreement, the coaching staff continued to tinker, and Lavelle was featured as a No. 8 during the teams' second game against New Zealand. Lavelle's lower role delivered promising results, despite her dropping lower at times on the pitch. The position didn't seem to hinder her ability to remain the team's most creative player in the attack.
However, the unique opportunity was against a New Zealand side that the U.S. have typically dominated in play over the course of their all-time record. The team will get their first matches against top-ranked teams in 2023 during the SheBelieves Cup.
"This is actually a very good tournament for us to see what parts of what we tried in the previous games [are] going to work against good teams. Because it's one thing working in January, against New Zealand, but it's different working against Canada, Japan, or Brazil. So, we will see a little bit of everything," he said.
I'm not sure what game, or what part of the game, we're gonna see that -- but I was very happy to see the fluidity between the midfield when Rose was there. The second half of the first game was really good as well when we allowed the players to interchange their positions a little bit more. We will see a little bit of everything, and then hopefully we can judge and analyze what will work going forward."