Big decisions lie ahead for United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) head coach Vlatko Andonovksi after his team lifted the SheBelieves Cup Wednesday night following a 5-0 win over Iceland.
The tournament gave Andonovski an opportunity to watch the young talent he called up to the roster, and his decision to leave veterans off luckily worked better than fans may have imagined.
The focus now shifts to the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and 2024 Paris Olympic Games qualifiers in July. And players like Catarina Macario and Mallory Pugh may have solidified their spots on the summer roster due to their elite performance in the SheBelieves Cup, both scoring two goals in the rout against Iceland.
Ashley Sanchez and Emily Fox also played high minutes and performed at an excellent level, creating opportunities on offense and winning the ball back on the defensive end.
For Andonovski, the next few months are crucial as he decides who among veterans and young talent should be included on the roster for the upcoming summer tournament.
It is well known that Andonovski, while still praising the performance of past elite members of the team, values the youth movement and next generation of players. He will have to decide whether he wants to lean on reliance and trust that older players like Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, and Christen Press—all of whom were left off the SheBelieves Cup roster—can carry the load. Or, Andonovski can take a gamble in the future of the USWNT and take the speed and longevity in players like Macario, Margaret Purce, Fox, Sanchez, Andi Sullivan, and Trinity Rodman.
There are those too who are near guaranteed to make the roster, including captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Sofia Huerta and Kristie Mewis also likely earned spots due to their strong comebacks with the USWNT. Huerta’s ability to win the ball and spread the field, along with her speed makes her a multifaceted player who is difficult to stop on the run. K. Mewis once again proved herself in the SheBelieves Cup as a versatile piece to the midfield and added two goals during the tournament.
Others like Tierna Davidson and Pugh have experience performing in high-pressure matches with the team, and I can see Andonovski selecting them to compete in July as well.
Here’s how the summer tournament will look: For the first time, the CONCACAF W Championship will serve as the qualification tournament for both the World Cup and Olympics. The road to the tournaments will go through Monterrey, Mexico from July 4-18.
Both the USWNT and Canada will automatically play in the W Championship and 30 other teams will compete for the six spots in a play-in tournament that started this month and runs through April. The teams will play two home and two away matches in a single round-robin format, with the six winners advancing to the final tournament.
The USWNT and Canada qualified automatically as both teams were the two highest-ranked CONCACAF teams in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings of August 2020.
The eight qualified teams will be split into two groups and will play single round-robin matches. The top two teams of each group will advance to the knockout stage and qualify for the World Cup. The knockout stage includes the semi-finals, a third-place play-off, and the final to determine the winner. The winning team will qualify for the Summer Olympics in France and the second and third-place teams will move onto the CONCACAF Olympic play-off.
Whether fans like it or not, the names and players we’ve grown to know and love over the last decade are likely fizzling out with age and other opportunities. It’s time to put our trust and loyalty into the future of U.S. Women’s soccer. If the next generation of the team is here, I am more than encouraged after seeing their grit, patience, and speed against Czech Republic, New Zealand, and Iceland in the SheBelieves Cup.
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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