Update: U.S. Soccer announced on April 1 that Sam Mewis has withdrawn from the roster due to a knee issue.
When Vlatko Andonovski unveiled the roster for the U.S. women’s soccer team’s two-game set against Uzbekistan next month, his squad was as notable for who wasn’t on it as for who was.
Ahead of the series, with games in Columbus on April 9 and Subaru Park on April 12, the American ranks have been hit by some major injury absences. Centerback Tierna Davidson suffered a torn ACL last week. Striker Lynn Williams sustained a season-ending right hamstring injury in her first NWSL game of the year, on March 18. Goalkeeper Casey Murphy, a breakout star of recent months, is dealing with a MCL issue in her right knee.
Among the team’s veterans, centerback and captain Becky Sauerbrunn is sidelined after knee surgery; Morgan Gautrat has a left calf injury; and versatile defender Emily Sonnett is banged up in the abdomen.
Then add do-it-all star Crystal Dunn’s absence as she awaits the arrival of her first child; and Julie Ertz’s absence for undisclosed reasons.
But for as long as that list is, the biggest news is still the players Andonovski chose not to invite. Specifically, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Christen Press still haven’t been called back. Nor has Megan Rapinoe, who’s dealing with a calf injury that is consequential, but seemingly not long-term.
Instead, the forward corps will once again be entirely composed of the U.S. team’s new generation: Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch, Margaret Purce, and Mallory Pugh — who despite having 70 caps and two major tournaments under her belt is still just 23 years old.
Andonovski said the veteran group is “not out of the picture by any means. But as for these particular games, we felt like this is the group that we want to go forward with, and will give us the best chance to be successful.”
There’s only one FIFA window left after this one, in June, before July’s Concacaf qualifying tournament for next year’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics — yes, both in the same event.
The midfield group has plenty of experience, headlined by Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan. But the biggest name to watch is another young player, Catarina Macario, as electric a prospect as the national team has ever had. (She also is as likely to play at forward as in midfield, though U.S. Soccer officially listed her as a midfielder on the roster.)
The defense will be in a spotlight in this series, even though Uzbekistan — No. 48 in FIFA’s global rankings — isn’t likely to pose a challenge. With Davidson and Sauerbrunn out, Alana Cook and Abby Dahlkemper are likely to start. But keep an eye on Naomi Girma, a 21-year-old Stanford product in her first pro season. She has a high ceiling.
Watch the outside back spots, too. Emily Fox, 23, will probably get all the minutes at left back because she’s viewed as Dunn’s successor at the role. But there’s a competition underway at right back between Sofia Huerta and veteran incumbent Kelley O’Hara.
“I’m happy that we were able to get these games in, and Uzbekistan was the highest-strength team that was in front of us — of the opportunities that we had to play the teams that we could play,” Andonovski said.
That was a reference to the fact that the U.S. had lined up one of Asia’s big teams as the April opponent, but the nation (it’s not known which one) backed out after initial talks. COVID-19 quarantine regulations that would have affected players returning from the trip may have been a factor.
“We’re going to take this game no different than any other game or opponent,” Andonovski said. “We’re taking these games very seriously, and I know that the players look at this game as an opportunity to showcase themselves, to prove that they belong on this team. … Regardless of where the opponent stands on the rankings, this is a game and opportunity for us to get better.”
The U.S. roster
Goalkeepers (3): Bella Bixby (Portland Thorns), Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
Defenders (7): Alana Cook (OL Reign), Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave), Imani Dorsey (Gotham FC), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit)
Midfielders (8): Lindsey Horan (Lyon, France), Jaelin Howell (Racing Louisville), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Catarina Macario (Lyon, France), Kristie Mewis (Gotham FC), Samantha Mewis (Kansas City Current), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)
Forwards (5): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars), Margaret Purce (Gotham FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns)