Lloyd and Rapinoe out, Smith and Rodman in: How the USWNT could line up at 2023 World Cup

Megan Rapinoe Sophia Smith USWNTGetty/Goal

And now, all eyes are on the 2023 World Cup.

The U.S. women’s national team had a disappointing showing at the Olympics, entering as the tournament favorites but ending with a bronze medal after winning just two of six games inside 90 minutes.

The USWNT’s over-reliance on veteran players was a major talking point heading into Tokyo 2020, and the team’s performance in Japan ensured that discussion will continue long after the tournament is over.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski was somewhat hamstrung going into the competition, as he had little choice but to stick with his experienced core due to their strong displays in the two years after their 2019 World Cup triumph.

But it was made painfully clear at the Olympics that this USWNT needs an injection of new blood. 

Thankfully, there is plenty of talent in the pipeline, so here are a few ways the USWNT could line up at the next World Cup:

Youth invasion

Carli Lloyd, 39, along with 36-year-olds Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, may have played their final major tournament with the USWNT, but there are also questions over the future of other stalwarts in their 30s.

Alyssa Naeher, Kelley O’Hara and Tobin Heath are 33, while Alex Morgan and Christen Press are 32. All five could be back at the World Cup in two years, but nothing is a given when players approach their mid-30s.

AD Franch, 30, and Jane Campbell, 26, appear to be next in line to take Naeher’s spot at goalkeeper, but 25-year-old Casey Murphy could also have a say.

In the back line, Emily Fox is having a strong rookie season with Racing Louisville and appears ready to properly enter the full-back picture, having already made her national team debut in 2018.

Tierna Davidson, 22, had a strong Olympics and the starting center-back spot could be hers for years to come.

It will also be worth watching the development of college stars Naomi Girma and Maycee Bell, who could enter the USWNT defensive picture sooner rather than later.

The U.S. midfield, meanwhile, is filled with stars in their prime, with Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan all between 26 and 29.

All four should be back in two years, but the development of Catarina Macario should be tracked closely. If the 21-year-old is anywhere near the player she is expected to become in two years, the Lyon star may be impossible to keep out of the lineup – either as a midfielder or as a forward.

Ertz will be 31 by the next World Cup, so Andonovski will hope that Andi Sullivan or Jaelin Howell will have developed enough to potentially replace her at defensive midfielder if required.

USWNT at 2023 WC 1

Up top, four young talents appear ready to take the reins of the USWNT attack.

Washington Spirit pair Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman have been two of the best NWSL attackers this season, while Sophia Smith just missed out on the Olympic squad at age 20.

And then there is Mallory Pugh, who already has 63 caps and a World Cup title at age 23, but has fallen off the radar in the past couple years due to injuries and indifferent form.

Pugh has had a nice bounce-back season with the Chicago Red Stars in 2021, and appears ready to re-enter the national team picture.

One potential issue is that all four of the aforementioned players operate best in wide attacking positions or as a No.10, and Andonovski will have to hope Morgan can keep going or a younger No.9 option, like UCLA star Mia Fishel, will emerge.

One more ride with the vets

If there is one thing we have learned with the USWNT, it is that seniority trumps almost all else.

Though the U.S. is in need of some new blood, there are still plenty of veterans who could stick around over the next two years.

That time span of two years is key. Normally there are three years between the end of an Olympics and the next World Cup, but with the Tokyo Games pushed back a year, there could be more of an incentive for U.S. vets to stick around.

Though Rapinoe and Lloyd may have departed by the time Australia/New Zealand 2023 rolls around, several of the team’s other established stars could still be in the picture.

Sauerbrunn is an interesting case. She will be 38 at the next World Cup, but her importance to the team has arguably never been higher. As the team's captain and defensive bedrock, it will take some doing to dislodge her from the lineup.

The 2023 World Cup could be a final chance for the likes of Sauerbrunn, Morgan, O’Hara, Heath and Press to ride off into the sunset.

USWNT vets at 2023 WC

Unleash Purce and Dunn

Two players we have not yet mentioned will be very intriguing to watch moving forward: Crystal Dunn and Midge Purce.

Dunn, 29, and Purce, 25, have been deployed mostly as full-backs with the U.S. in recent years, despite both players being natural attackers.

While Dunn has been a lock starter for the USWNT at left-back, Purce just missed an Olympic roster spot this year.

There is little doubt that both players are more effective as attackers, but moving the pair up top would remove them from a thin position group, and add them to a spot with plenty of depth already.

Should Andonovski give one or both a chance in their natural position, it would be even more imperative for alternatives like Fox and Emily Sonnett to solidify starting places.

USWNT at 2023 WC 3

Blend the new with the old

The most likely outcome, of course, is that Andonovski builds his 2023 roster around a core of experienced stars while sprinkling in some untested young players.

The likes of Press, Morgan and Ertz seem to have enough left to make it through the next two years with their spots intact.

Meanwhile, youngsters like Macario, Rodman and Smith may be too good by 2023 to leave off the field. 

The USWNT always excels through veteran leadership but the Olympics this summer showed that relying on all the same players in 2023 simply will not cut it.

USWNT at WC 2023 5

For more on the USWNT's performances at the Olympics and to hear from guests such as Hope Solo, subscribe to Goal's podcast, 'All Of Us: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show', wherever you listen to your podcasts.