The USWNT had a memorable 2022, qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup as well as the 2024 Olympics, and establishing a new CBA to end the long feud with the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. We also witnessed the youth movement initiated by coach Vlatko Andonovski still needs some improvements before the final roster selection for the World Cup in July.
A new year is on its way, and the USWNT has an opportunity to make create another historical moment, becoming the first national team — men or women — to achieve a World Cup three-peat. Leading up to the first World Cup in Oceania, there will be important moments, players, and games to watch that will give us a good indicator of where we stand against the rest of the world.
An early trip to New Zealand
The two friendlies against New Zealand in January won't give us much of an idea of how the Stars and Stripes match up against top-ranking nations, but it gives the USWNT an early chance to play in the same stadiums hosting the Women's World Cup.
The early trip to New Zealand will present an opportunity to see if and how Andonovski will transition the team from old to new or back to old. The decision to go with youth made sense when injuries and pregnancies forced some veterans to miss the CONCACAF W Championship last July. The trust for the young faces grew in Mexico, but with the team losing three straight during the final stretch of 2022, many wonder if it is time to panic.
The mental effects of the NWSL abuse scandal
The findings in the Sally Yates report hit U.S. Soccer like a cannon. The report by U.S. Attorney General Yates opened the domestic women's league to criticism for its lack of protection provided for its players.
Former Stars and Stripes FC editor Stephanie Yang put it best: “[The report] amply demonstrated how these players had been failed by multiple officials and organizations at every turn for years.”
And it seemed to have affected the players during their trip to Europe, where the team loss to England and Spain by a combined goal differential of 4-1. Players did not hide that the reports impacted them, Becky Sauerbrunn confirming players were not doing well leading up to the historical game against England.
The scandal seems to be moving forward, with a new league commissioner, teams being sold, and all abusers being identified. Still, the media's coverage will make it difficult for the players to block out the noise and attempt to play soccer when it's more important to be concerned about.
The United States will host the 2023 SheBelieves Cup, the first international tournament of the year for the USWNT. They will host Brazil, Canada, and Japan, all participants in the World Cup.
USWNT will play Canada on February 16 in Orlando. The last matchup between the two rivals was in the CONCACAF W Championship final. The 1-0 victory over Canada was a challenging game that needed some heroics from Alex Morgan late in the game.
Brazil won the Copa American Femenina, and Japan lost to China in the AFC Women's Cup. All three nations are ranked in the top 15 of FIFA women's rankings, with Canada the closest to the top at #6. The domestic tournament will serve as a great indicator of how good the team is.
The return of Catarina Macario
2022 proved the USWNT has a deep group of young and veteran attackers that could be used for the World Cup.
When Christen Press and Catarina Macario both suffered ACL injuries, Andonovski brought back Morgan after leaving her off the 2022 SheBelieves Cup roster for the W Championship. She proved early that she was still one of the best strikers in the world, winning the tournament’s most outstanding player award. Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh emerged as future stars of USWNT with their speed and relentless attacks toward the goal, but at times their inexperience did show with missed opportunities.
But with Macario returning later than sooner, it leaves questions to see how Andonovski will incorporate her in the attack and into the no. 9 spot held by Morgan.
The rest of the world
This will be the most challenging World Cup run for the USWNT, primarily because the rest of the world has closed the gap. The friendlies against England, Spain, and Germany exposed the USWNT to be mortal.
The European countries continue to improve, six ranking in the FIFA rankings top ten. The Netherlands sits in group E with the USWNT and is possibly a favorite over the Stars and Stripes to win the World Cup. The Lioness has a roster filled with WSL stars. Sweden defeated the U.S. in the 2020 Tokoyo Olympics.
Brazil has the sport's best women's striker, leading them in their quest for the country's first World Cup, and Canada is a formidable rival.
What are you most looking forward to seeing from the USWNT in 2023? Hit the comments and discuss.