USWNT fans received news earlier this week that will have a big effect on the national team’s shape as they enter an important year. Sam Mewis announced yesterday that she has undergone yet another knee surgery, which makes the youth movement of USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonoski seem more critical.
Mewis had already missed the 2020 Olympics, rehabbing an injury on the same knee that required surgery. It seems to be another forcing factor for Andonovski to continue looking at younger faces for this summer’s Women’s World Cup. It was only a matter of time before we saw a transition into a different era of USWNT players, but with the labor disputes, the last four years have been a blur. Still, generational talent developed during that time, but a three-game losing streak towards the end of last year has given pundits something to criticize going into the final training camps before July.
While Mewis' injury is the worst news for the morale of the USWNT, it makes the transition seem inevitable. The midfield has been without Mewis and Julie Ertz (who gave birth to a baby boy in August), which has left Andonovski no choice but to experiment with new trios and tactics in the midfield.
During the CONCACAF W Championship, Andonovski used Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Andi Sullivan. It looked like the trio fit well with Andonovski's potential system, which needs Horan and Lavelle to force turnovers in the opposition's backline. We also saw the rise of Ashley Sanchez, who may be the most underrated call-up on the USWNT. Sanchez finished 2022 with 15 caps and three goals. The 2016 Young Female Player of the Year received her first call-up when she was 17 and has progressed each season since then.
"You could tell quickly that she was a good player, but still had a ways to go to be at the senior level," Kelly O'Hara said about her Washington Spirit teammate. "But again, I could have never walked into a camp at that age."
The concerns didn't begin to appear until after the Concacaf W Championship was complete and the team had qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. The trip to Europe was overshadowed by the NWSL scandal, publicized just days before the sold-out friendly match at Wembley Stadium. Everyone could tell the players were mentally exhausted during the matches in October against England and Spain. Still, it also exposed that the youth movement may not be ready for the European countries looking to end America's dominant World Cup run.
Being without Ertz and Mewis, defensively, the USWNT seems penetrable. Mewis was once considered the best midfielder in the world, and Ertz was recognized as the most dominant defensive midfielder for how well she covers the pitch. Replacing that kind of talent hasn't been fun for Andonovski.
Against New Zealand, he attempted to use Taylor Korneick as a defensive midfielder, but the USWNT struggled to find a rhythm. Andi Sullivan entered the game at halftime, and the USWNT went on to score four goals in the second half. However, Sullivan isn't enough to replace the defensive prowess of Julie Ertz, which admittedly would be unfair to ask of anyone. Sam Coffey, another player without World Cup experience, could also be called to help assist in the defensive midfield, but she didn't play in the friendly match against New Zealand.
Unlike the countries in the CONCACAF W Championship, the European nations didn't concede the ball to the high-powered Americans. England and Spain hold much more offensive power. The Lionesss had 69% possession against the USWNT due to the confusion in the midfield. Against Germany and Spain, it was the same story.
Andonovski said that his list of players in consideration for the Women’s World Cup roster spots is down to 32. The SheBelieves Cup offers another opportunity for Andonovski to find the right mixture for the holes in the midfield, and he once again will try to tap the fountain of youth.