Coach Vlatko Andonovski’s ushering in a new generation of talented youngsters who may replace big-name veterans as the USWNT start their tournament preparations with the first of two friendlies against co-hosts Australia on Saturday.
No other country has dominated the Women’s World Cup like the United States. American teams past and present have reached the pinnacle of women’s international football on four occasions since the major tournament’s inception in 1991 – and now the defending champions are bidding for a third straight title.
We may still be 18 months away from the 2023 World Cup but preparations for the competition’s qualifications have already begun, with USA coach Vlatko Andonovski recently announcing multiple fresh-faced stars who’ll join his established veteran players.
The USA women’s national team boasts a 22-player squad. Earlier this month Andonovski announced his player choices for their scheduled Australian friendlies, which begins the road towards the 2023 World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Last time out, the USWNT was contractually blocked from allowing new blood onto the pitch outside of injury replacements. A disappointing time at the Olympics also held obligations to feature players from the same team in the four friendly fixtures that followed. However, the contract is up, and Andonovski has shown his eagerness to display new talents and get the champions back to the high calibre they’re known for.
A mere 10 players from the Olympic squad made the cut for Andonovski’s squad for Australia. The USA coach is ushering in a new era of stars with an average age of 26.3 years old – four years younger than the Olympic team.
Speaking to the media, Andonovski said: “We’ll find out very fast who is cut out for big games under pressure. 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.”
Fans are yet to witness the performance level of this new squad but with two fixtures lined up for this Saturday and next Tuesday to close the USWNT 2021 schedule, we’ll soon find out.
Confidence in Andonovski’s team selection is already showing, as Caesars Sportsbook in New York is listing the USA as the -137 favourite on the 90-minute money line, while Australia is the +375 underdog. Oddsmakers are respecting the new faces who’ve had impressive outings in domestic action.
New arrivals combine with veteran knowledge
Starting at the back, Bella Bixby and Casey Murphy are the uncapped tag team who’ll be looking to gain some expertise from Jane Campbell – the O.G. goalkeeper with seven international caps to her name. Sofia Huerta returns to defence from a three-year hiatus and could be positioned in the first team if Midge Purce and Crystal Dunn return to their original attacking backgrounds.
However, it’s the attacking prowess that draws the most intrigue. Ashley Sanchez has been picked for the squad following her impressive season with Washington Spirit.
“She’s better at the things she was good at, like solving problems under pressure, finding tight spaces, connection with the front line, and it shows,” Andonovski said of the talented 22-year-old, whom he believes could be a great attacking midfielder.
Bethany Balcer is another player unproven on the international stage, but her goalscoring ability in the NWSL makes her a prospect to watch out for. Ashley Hatch is the Golden Boot winner from this season, and although playing in two international meetings, she’s yet to display her true colours. Morgan Weaver’s only scored one goal this term, but Andonovski insisted that her ability to open the opposing defence and lay on the pressure is noteworthy.
Australia meetings will be revealing
While the injection of young up-and-comers is most welcome, Andonovski’s real task will come after the friendly fixtures against Australia and the January camp.
As we head into a new year, the USA coach must decide which new players deserve a position to challenge the veteran players who may not be heading to the World Cup in 2023 – like Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, amongst others.
“The team does not 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.”
With a clear door open, emerging talents have the opportunities to make their mark. The USA women’s team is the gold standard of American football – and they’ve won half of the eight World Cups since the competition’s inception in 1991 – so those are some big boots to fill. But if there’s any time to make a case, it’ll be against the Aussies.