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A new era for the USWNT: Andonovski's young roster shows 2023 World Cup planning is now under way

8:30 AM IST 12/11/21
Balcer Sanchez Weaver GFX
The U.S. boss will face a major task of blending in new faces with some of his established veteran stars

With just over 18 months to go until the 2023 World Cup kicks off, the new cycle is now well and truly under way for the U.S. women’s national team.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski named a 22-player roster on Tuesday for his side’s two friendlies in Australia later this month, beginning the road to Australia/New Zealand in earnest

Though the USWNT has had four friendlies since their disappointing showing at the Olympics this summer, those rosters were contractually obligated to feature players from the Olympic team, with the only new blood coming in the form of injury replacements.

Andonovski emphatically opened the curtain on a new era with his roster for Australia, though, with only 10 survivors from the Olympic squad and an average age of 26.3 years – more than four years younger than the Tokyo 2020 median.

“We’ll find out very fast who is cut out for big games under pressure,” Andonovski said.

“We need to increase the overall experience of the players, so we have to give them games like these. We have to put them in tough environments like these.”

A few names on the roster stuck out as Andonovski considers which new faces could help his team over a condensed cycle. 

At goalkeeper, the uncapped but promising duo of Bella Bixby and Casey Murphy join Jane Campbell, the veteran of the group with seven caps. Sofia Huerta, who has had an excellent season with OL Reign at outside back, returns after a three-year absence and could feature heavily should Midge Purce and/or Crystal Dunn return to their more natural attacking spots moving forward.

But much of the intrigue is found further up the pitch. Ashley Sanchez is uncapped but has the ability to be a major part of the group after a standout season with the Washington Spirit. 

“She’s better at the things she was good at, like solving problems under pressure, finding tight spaces, connecting with the front line, and it shows,” Andonovski said of the versatile 22-year-old, whom he views as an attacking midfielder.

Bethany Balcer is also uncapped but is a proven goalscorer in the NWSL, while Ashley Hatch won the league’s Golden Boot this season and will have the chance to add to her two caps. Morgan Weaver scored just once this season but Andonovski spoke highly of her ability to stretch defenses and put the opposition under pressure. 

While the injection of new blood is most welcome, Andonovski’s most difficult task will come after the friendlies in Australia and the subsequent January camp. 

As the calendar turns to 2022, the USWNT boss will have to decide which new players deserve a real chance to compete with those veteran stars who won’t be heading Down Under, like Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe and others.

“The team does rely on veterans,” Andonovski said, “and this camp doesn't mean that any of those veterans are out of the picture.

“We'll see a little more interchanging. But time will tell if anyone from this group is going to be out, and who's going to be in."

Andonovski’s success in blending in some of his young stars – including Mallory Pugh and Trinity Rodman, who both were called up but opted out of this camp – with his veteran core will likely be the biggest factor in his team’s ability to win a third straight World Cup come the summer of 2023.

With his new roster, though, it’s clear that the door is open for any fresh talent to make their case.

“Part of the reason we picked some of the younger players is to give them a little taste of what this environment is all about, and also to show them that they have the potential to be on the World Cup team,” Andonovski said. “I think that’s the best motivation they can have.”