We’ve entered the evaluation phase of the United States Women’s National Team program, and while the 2023 Women’s World Cup wraps up this weekend, the focus here has already shifted to the future. With the 2024 Olympics just under a year away, the next major tournament for the USWNT, speculation has already begun over how the program will respond as they begin retooling for the next year.
The end of the USWNT’s run at the 2023 Women’s World Cup will certainly signal the final days of some players on the national team, which will leave some opportunity for new players to become integrated into the player pool. And with the Olympic teams being only 20 players as opposed to the 23 that are on a World Cup roster, the competition for those spots will only be more intense.
As we look at the player pool on the defensive side of the ball, there are several questions as we begin to evaluate which players will continue with the team over the next cycle and which may see their USWNT careers come to a close. We first take a look at the goalkeepers (bold - listed on the Women’s World Cup roster; age in parenthesis).
Alyssa Naeher (35), Aubrey Kingsbury (31), Casey Murphy (27), Adrianna Franch (32), Abby Smith (29), Jane Campbell (28), Bella Bixby (27), Phallon Tullis-Joyce (26), Katie Lund (26), Mikayla Cluff (24)
Alyssa Naeher was amazing for the USWNT during the World Cup, only allowing 1 goal during play. During the penalty shootout against Sweden, she stopped a shot, made a penalty of her own (the only goalkeeper in World Cup history, men or women, to convert a penalty), and was literally 1 millimeter from keeping the USWNT alive on the final shot. However, it’s assumed that she has played her last World Cup match. Could she try to go one more time in the Olympics? Certainly, but at 35, it might be time for someone to step up and be the new #1.
Casey Murphy might be the keeper in the best position to eventually take that #1 spot, but there are certainly a nice crop of goalkeepers that will need to step up and prove that they can play at the highest level. Aubrey Kingsbury and AD Franch might not be around for the next World Cup, but could still factor into the Olympics next summer. The question will be which of the younger goalkeepers will step up to eventually move onto the national team.
Kelley O’Hara (35), Crystal Dunn (31), Sophia Huerta (30), Emily Sonnett (29), Alana Cook (26), Emily Fox (25), Naomi Girma (23), Becky Sauerbrunn (38), Casey Krueger (32), Hallie Mace (26), Tierna Davidson (24), Gisele Thompson (17)
The back line might be the part of the team that could have some turnover over the next 4 years. Becky Sauerbrunn missed the World Cup due to injury, and at 38, her time on the USWNT could be over. Kelley O’Hara likely has seen her last World Cup as well. Crystal Dunn, Casey Krueger, Sophia Huerta, and Emily Sonnett could still have one more World Cup cycle in them, but the focus of the team should soon shift to the youngsters, which could mean one or more of them might not get as many call-ups, depending on the coach. Crystal Dunn still could move forward into a midfielder role, a role she prefers, but that would be based on whoever takes over the program buying into her effectiveness being needed in the midfield and having enough cover on defense to let her run free.
Naomi Girma is a future team captain and the solid rock of the back line, and we will likely see Alana Cook, Emily Fox, and Tierna Davidson back in the fold. Gisele Thompson could join her sister Alyssa on the USWNT very soon, and if she progresses at the same speed, she will be a force on the back line for years to come.
Hallie Mace is a player that many fans hoped would have been a bigger part of the USWNT, and she will likely factor into the player pool as an option depending on the new coach. And of course, there could be some players that aren’t considered to be a part of the current player pool that can play their way into getting a look from whoever happens to be the coach during the next cycle.
The future of the United States Women’s National Team requires a retooling of the player pool, and it begins with the defense. Tomorrow, we will look at the midfielders and forwards to continue our evaluation of the entire player pool as we prepare for the next cycle.