Only eight weeks remain until the first match of the 2023 World Cup US women’s national team Head coach Vlatko Andonovski still faces uncertainty over the World Cup squad.
Moving forward on Tuesday Catherine Makario announced that she had withdrawn from the World Cup qualifiers due to the setbacks she encountered while treating the ACL tear she suffered last June. Despite hopes that she will be able to rehabilitate before the tournament, she has not competed in almost a year. Tuesday also brought news that the midfielder Rose Lavelle he may not get a single club minute before the World Cup due to his failure to recover from an unspecified knee injury.
These two injuries are worrying enough, but they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to injuries the team has dealt with over the last few years. Players are absent or have questionable fitness levels across all lanes, but with such a large pool of talent in the United States, Andonovski can make plenty of choices to complete the roster.
It’s still about a month before the list is revealed, but here’s a rundown of the biggest challenges the team faces and the solutions they might find.
Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life for most professional athletes. What has been so worrying over the past few years is the sheer number and severity of injuries.
In addition to Macario, Mallory Swanson has also been out after rupturing her patellar tendon last April. She was in phenomenal form until her injury and many expected her to lead the attack in Australia and New Zealand. In addition, midfielder Sam Mewis, forward Christen Press and defender Abby Dahlkemper were key members of the team for the 2019 World Cup and all have not seen competitive minutes since last year as they all suffered serious injuries.
Even among players who are shoo-ins, there are questions about fitness. In addition to Lavelle, captain Becky Sauerbrunn has been out for several weeks with a foot injury. And while Julie Ertz is back and looking good after more than a year away from the pitch, we haven’t gotten a big enough sample to really judge her form. And like Lavelle and Sauerbrunn, she has also been flagged as questionable thanks to what was reported to be a thigh injury.
Of course, it is very possible that Lavelle, Sauerbrunn and Ertz manage minutes specifically to keep things fresh ahead of the World Cup. But the fact that three key players require such careful management doesn’t add confidence amidst all the other injuries – especially with so many bubble players also in questionable form. For example, defenders Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger struggled to regain form after returning from injury. Lindsey Horan was also not quite herself after rehabilitating after a long-term knee problem. Taylor Kornieck has just returned from a protracted abdominal injury and Midge Purce has missed games due to a hip injury. Although currently uninjured, Kelley O’Hara and Megan Rapinoe have been increasingly injury-prone in recent years.
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The last time the US faced so many injuries was Abby Wambach, Leslie Osborne and Cat Whitehill all missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Wambach broke her leg in a friendly against Brazil while Osborne and Whitehill suffered ACL tears. despite less than perfect performance in the final against Brazil, the U.S. actually went home with an Olympic gold medal after rookie star Amy Rodriguez’s winning goal in her first major tournament.
Similarly, Andonovski will need to look for emerging young talent to make the difference at the World Championships as the United States looks to defend its title and fight for a third consecutive championship. Luckily for him, there’s plenty to choose from.
While it seemed unlikely at the start of this year, it is increasingly likely that Angel City striker and teenage phenom Alyssa Thompson has been included in the squad for the World Cup. She is the closest the United States has come to replacing Swanson, as evidenced by her immediate call-up to complete the second of a pair of friendlies against Ireland after Swanson was injured during the first match. Whether Thompson will have significant minutes with the likes of Alex Morgan, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith ahead of her is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt she is a player the team will look to build around in the future.
Although she is not a promising young athlete, it is almost certain that Lynn Williams will be on her way to her first World Cup in July. After returning from her own serious injury in 2022, she has returned in top form and has five goals in eight games with Gotham. While the loss of Swanson and Macario will be felt acutely, the attack involving Smith, Morgan, Thompson, Rodman and Williams is not something to sneeze at. Ashley Hatch and Megan Rapinoe are also good bets to enter and complete the group. Although Hatch has been called up to the senior team since 2016, it will be her first major tournament if she gets a call from Andonowski.
In terms of midfield depth, both Sam Coffey and Taylor Kornieck received senior call-ups, although they missed the final camps. Coffey had a good run with the Portland Thorns and recorded two assists last week against the Chicago Red Stars. Kornieck is just coming back from injury but offers versatility across the line, and at 6’1″ she is the tallest field player in the program’s history, giving her a unique angle that no other player can match.
More and more often you hear about the versatility of the midfielder Savannah DeMelo deserves to be called up to the national team. The Racing Louisville player has been on fire lately, scoring four goals and providing an assist in her last five appearances. with all midfield questionscould DeMelo try to be in the roster? Perhaps, but Andonovski has said in the past that he wants to bring in players with senior team experience, and DeMelo unfortunately remains uncapped. Only once in U.S. history has an uncapped player been included in the World Cup squad – Shannon Boxx in 2003 – so it seems unlikely, but if Lavelle suffers an even more serious setback or another player drops in form significantly, DeMelo can be found on a plane to Australia and New Zealand.
While this is certainly far from a positive development, the only thing the United States is going for when it comes to injuries is that they are not alone in losing key players. Almost every top team has lost at least one important player, most commonly to ACL tears. To name a few, Canada’s Janine Beckie ripped hers in the NWSL preseason, England’s Leah Williamson ripped hers in April, and Dutch star Vivienne Miedema ripped hers in November. And just yesterday it was announced that Delphine Cascarino of France also tore her ACL. Of these players, only Miedema has a chance of making the World Cup squad, but even if that happens, there is no guarantee that she will be in top form.
ACL tears are nothing new in women’s sport, but as schedules get denser and the game gets more physical and demanding, they it seems to happen more often. While more needs to be done to prevent these injuries in the future, in the meantime they will almost certainly affect the final run of the World Cup as coaches rework their rosters to accommodate missing players. This is the task facing Andonowski, who is tasked with completing the 23-man squad of the United States national team and see if he can assemble another championship squad, despite the fact that several key elements are missing.