23 tickets to France: Projecting the USWNT's World Cup roster
The World Cup is fast approaching, and U.S. women's national team head coach Jill Ellis is closing in on the 23 players she will bring to France in less than three months.
Realistically, Ellis has had a good idea of her roster for months now, with the core of her group long since settled.
However, there are still positional battles taking place, with at least two or three spots still up for grabs as the USWNT enters the home stretch before looking to win its second straight World Cup title.
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Next month's friendlies against Australia and Belgium will be of the utmost importance, then, to bubble players, as it will be their last chance to make their case before Ellis names her roster.
With the World Cup roster set to be named in less than a month, here is Goal's projection of the 23 players Ellis will bring to France.
MAKE THE CUT: Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris, Adrianna Franch
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Jane Campbell
Barring injury, Naeher will be the starter in goal throughout the World Cup. A longtime USWNT reserve, Naeher will be 31 when she takes the starting role for the first time at a major international tournament.
Franch has been the best goalkeeper in the NWSL for the past two seasons, and finally got a shot with the USWNT in the SheBelieves Cup earlier this month. But Franch made a crucial error that led to an England goal, and Harris then put in a strong showing in the following game against Brazil to hold her ground as the backup behind Naeher.
Campbell was called in as a non-roster player for the SheBelieves Cup, meaning a World Cup roster spot is likely hers if there are any injuries ahead of her.
MAKE THE CUT: Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O'Hara, Casey Short, Emily Sonnett, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Merritt Mathias, Jaelene Hinkle, Sofia Huerta, Emily Fox, Hailie Mace
Sauerbrunn is the team's anchor, and the veteran will be one of the USWNT's most important players this summer. Dahlkemper appears likely to start alongside her at center back, while Dunn and O'Hara are set as starters at left back and right back, respectively.
Davidson's versatility is a huge plus, with the 20-year-old looking like the top backup at center back and left back. Sonnett is currently the second option at right back. The Portland Thorns player is great defensively but doesn't offer the same attacking impact as O'Hara. Short has yet to play for the USWNT in 2019 and may have to start looking over her shoulder if that trend continues.
Huerta plays attacking midfield at the club level, but Ellis appears to view her more as a right back. The Houston Dash star is looking like this cycle's Dunn: a player who just misses the cut and then becomes a fixture of the team next cycle.
Fox is a young player who has got a shot recently, but appeared slightly overmatched at the international level. Mace is another intriguing talent whose versatility may yet earn her one of the final roster spots. Mathias is just outside the mix, while Hinkle is out of the picture mostly because of non-soccer issues, though Ellis continues to insist otherwise.
MAKE THE CUT: Julie Ertz, Samantha Mewis, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, McCall Zerboni
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Andi Sullivan, Allie Long, Danielle Colaprico
Ertz and Horan are locked in as two of the three starters in the team's three-player midfield. Horan's value was evident by her absence in the SheBelieves Cup, with the USWNT midfield out of balance and struggling to keep the ball without its centerpiece. Lavelle is still favored to start at the No. 10 spot but the fast-charging Christen Press, who would otherwise be a backup at winger, may have a say.
The battle for backup spots is a tight one. Mewis is a near-lock, with the NC Courage star a key option off the bench and an outside bet to start next to Horan if Ellis opts for a more defensive setup. Behind Mewis, things truly get interesting. Zerboni appears to be in line for a roster spot as a true backup for Ertz at the No. 6 position, but is no lock. Brian was a vital performer on the 2015 World Cup squad, but her roster spot is in real danger after Ellis did not select her for the SheBelieves Cup.
For now, though, Brian gets the nod over two players who made the SheBelieves Cup squad ahead of her: Sullivan and Colaprico. Sullivan didn't see any game time in the tournament, a troubling sign for her given Horan's absence seemingly cleared the way for her to get a look. Colaprico was also in line to be a beneficiary of Horan's injury, but she picked up an untimely injury of her own just before the tournament. Like Brian, Long also didn't make the cut for the SheBelieves Cup, but she appears to be further back on the depth chart.
This is a fluid situation though, perhaps more than any other position, so watch this space.
MAKE THE CUT: Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh, Christen Press, Jessica McDonald
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Lynn Williams, Amy Rodriguez, Savannah McCaskill
Morgan, Rapinoe and Heath have all been playing at an exceptionally high level for more than a year, and it's hard to imagine any of them losing their starting spot if healthy.
As previously mentioned, Press has gotten off to a fast start in 2019 and is locked in as the primary winger backup for now, with playing time in the midfield also a possibility. Pugh was surprisingly deployed in the midfield during the SheBelieves Cup, but unsurprisingly failed to thrive at an unfamiliar role. She's set to be an attacking option off the bench.
McDonald has played her way onto the right side of the roster bubble, showing she can function as a true backup to Morgan at the No. 9 position. The striker's emergence poses an interesting question for Lloyd's roster chances. The veteran has been reduced to cameo appearances in 2019, and McDonald's presence on the roster could make her redundant in an on-field sense. But Ellis may bring the 2015 hero to France anyway for her locker room presence and experience.
Williams, Rodriguez and McCaskill are all real longshots at this point, with none of the trio making a USWNT roster in months.