Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the United States’ roster for the Women’s World Cup. some stats on each of the 23 players, and some of the key questions coach Jill Ellis must answer as she picks her starting lineup.
This is the most potent group of attackers anywhere in the world of women’s soccer. Alex Morgan leads the way, and has refined her skills by adding strong hold-up play to her renowned scoring touch. In coach Jill Ellis’ preferred 4-3-3 formation, Morgan is flanked by Megan Rapinoe on the left and Tobin Heath on the right. There might not be two better creators in all of American soccer history, not just on the women’s team. And of course, they bring star power as some of the squad’s best-known names.
The bench is just as terrifying. No opponent in the world, even the game’s superpowers, will want to see Carli Lloyd, Christen Press and Mallory Pugh rising from the bench in the second half. Though Lloyd is 36 now, the Delran native still has every bit of her clutch scoring instincts. Press can bring dynamism to the center or the wing. Pugh is a fireball, and at 21 will keep burning for a long time to come. Jessica McDonald will be a reserve, but can fit in multiple holes if needed.
Ellis has her toughest decisions to make here. Julie Ertz is a lock as the defensive anchor, but who should play in front of her? Ellis wants to deploy dual playmakers in Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan to break down lesser opponents that are likely to bunker.
There’s no doubt about their talents: Lavelle’s passing skills make her the Americans’ best pure No. 10, while Horan’s mix of scoring, passing and defensive work make her the team’s best overall player. If the U.S. wins it all and Horan is used to her full potential, she’ll become the favorite to win FIFA Player of the Year.
But will an all-out attack work against teams that won’t bunker — in particular, a potential matchup with host France in the quarterfinals? If you think it won’t — and you’re probably right — then look to Samantha Mewis. She can do it all at both ends of the field, hustling to make tackles and hitting some of the team’s best long-range shots.
Allie Long and Morgan Brian are backups on the squad who bring experience and chemistry. Ellis’ pick of Brian was her most controversial, since Brian hasn’t played much (or well) lately and McCall Zerboni did more to earn a spot. But Brian was a key contributor on the 2015 World Cup-winning team, so Ellis went with her.
Ellis’ decisions are mostly already made here. Becky Sauerbrunn leads the unit, as she has done so well for so long. Crystal Dunn is the starting left back, even though she’s a converted winger. She hasn’t grown all the way into the role yet, but she fulfills Ellis’ goal of having outside backs who get up and down the field. There are no such worries about right back Kelley O’Hara, a veteran of the position. She can also play on the left if needed.
Then the questions start. First, is Abby Dahlkemper or Tierna Davidson the other starting centerback? Dahlkemper is a better passer and more experienced pro, but gets caught out of position a little too often. Davidson is a better one-on-one defender, but has dealt with some injuries in recent weeks.
Second, who’s the backup left back if Dunn gets injured or suspended — which can include getting two yellow cards from the group stage through the quarterfinals? Ellis’ depth chart projects Davidson as the answer, and also has Heath as a possibility. That had better be a slim possibility, because Heath’s skills are wasted there. If it ends up happening, Ellis will be pounded with questions about why she omitted true left back Casey Short from the team.
At least we know what Ali Krieger and Emily Sonnett’s roles are. Krieger is a backup right back, and Sonnett can play centerback or on the right.
Alyssa Naeher has been the starter ever since the 2016 Olympics ended, and her place atop the depth chart is unquestioned. In fact, she may have played too much. Backup Ashlyn Harris has played in just 13 of the U.S.' 52 games since then, and No. 3 Adrianna Franch has played just once — and only because Naeher had to miss a game this year injured.
The most important stat is zero: the combined number of games in major tournaments that all three women haven played in. Naeher has played against a lot of big teams, but never on the big stage. Her time has come, and U.S. fans can only hope she’s truly ready.
* — includes a combined shutout on April 7.