Is U.S. women’s soccer ready for its toughest test? Analyzing the World Cup roster

The United States women's national team celebrates a win against Wales.
The United States women’s national team celebrates a win against Wales during a FIFA Women’s World Cup send-off soccer match in San Jose on Sunday.
(Josie Lepe / Associated Press)

Alex Morgan has played in three World Cups and won two of them, enough experience to know the tournament doesn’t get any easier.

“By far it’s going to be the most competitive World Cup,” she said of this summer’s tournament, which kicks off in 10 days. “It’s just getting increasingly competitive.”

Since 2011, the field has doubled from 16 to 32 teams, the number of games has gone from 32 to 64 and where once you could count the number of legitimate contenders on one hand, now you need all of your fingers — and perhaps a few toes as well.


And for those contenders, winning means knocking off the U.S., which has never finished lower than third in eight World Cups, winning the tournament four times.

“For us, it’s just about continuing to put our best foot forward and continuing to try to be dominant and be the best team in the world,” said Megan Rapinoe, who will be playing in the tournament for the fourth time. “I can’t believe we’re back at the World Cup. This is the best moment of our career. It never gets old.

“There’s always something incredibly special about being able to compete at the very highest level against the very highest level and try to go out there and do your thing.”

The challenge this time will be far greater though. Not only is the field larger and better, but 14 women on the 23-player U.S. roster are going to the tournament for the first time, the largest turnover from one World Cup to the next. The players range in age from the 38-year-old Rapinoe, who graduated high school during George W. Bush’s first administration, to the 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who graduated high school last month, and in experience from Morgan, who has played 207 times for the national team, to Savannah DeMelo, who made her debut Sunday.

Days before heading to her fourth World Cup, Megan Rapinoe announced Saturday she’ll retire at the end of the National Women’s Soccer League season.

July 8, 2023

Even the coach is new; Vlatko Andonovski was coaching in the NWSL four years ago.

After riding two second-half goals from Trinity Rodman to a cautious 2-0 win over Wales in its final tune-up match Sunday, the team headed for its 13-hour commercial flight to New Zealand carrying a wave of momentum since the victory ran its unbeaten streak to nine games, the first eight over World Cup qualifiers. But the team also boarded the plane with a number of questions, the answers to which will determine just how far the U.S. will go.


Here’s a breakdown of the roster (with age, international appearances and World Cup experience in parentheses):



Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher during an NWSL Challenge Cup match.
Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher during an NWSL Challenge Cup match in Houston.
(Matt Patterson / Associated Press)

Alyssa Naeher (35 years old, 91 caps, third World Cup), Aubrey Kingsbury (31, 1 cap, first World Cup), Casey Murphy (27, 14 caps, first World Cup)

Goalkeeper is a position of strength for the U.S. with Naeher, once the backup to Hope Solo, not only taking Solo’s spot on the field but arguably replacing her as the world’s best at the position, having lost just five of the 91 games she has played in while recording 54 clean sheets.

In most of those games she was playing behind captain Becky Sauerbrunn, the rock in the middle of a defense that made Naeher look good by giving up few shots. A foot injury is keeping Sauerbrunn home, however, leaving the U.S. with two World Cup rookies — Naomi Girma and Alana Cook — in the center of its back line. That could make Naeher’s job quite a bit more difficult.


“Obviously it’s a big loss not to have Becky, not only for what she does on the field but just the leadership and experience that she brings to the team. So there’s definitely a hole to fill there,” said the soft-spoken Naeher, who has started behind Girma and Cook three times, including Sunday.

Naeher might not play every minute of the World Cup as she did four years ago. After a knee injury forced Naeher to limp off in the first half of the U.S.-Canada semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics, her replacement, Adrianna Franch, gave up four goals in 120 minutes and the U.S. had to settle for bronze. Andonovski learned from that experience and has rotated his keepers the past two years with Murphy — who leads the NWSL with seven shutouts in 13 games for the North Carolina Courage — making 12 starts and Naeher 13. So though Naeher, the second-oldest player on the roster, remains the team’s clear No. 1, expect Murphy to get some playing time to keep her sharp.

LAFC earned a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes after Denis Bouanga hit a penalty kick during the first half Saturday.

July 9, 2023


Outside back

United States' Crystal Dunn and New Zealand's Grace Jale compete for the ball.
United States’ Crystal Dunn, left, and New Zealand’s Grace Jale compete for the ball during their women’s international friendly.
(Mark Tantrum / Associated Press)

Crystal Dunn (31 years old, 132 caps, 24 goals), Emily Fox (25, 28 caps, 1 goal), Sofia Huerta (30, 30 caps, 0 goals), Kelley O’Hara (34, 157 caps, 3 goals)

Dunn is the shining star of this unit. Although she started her career as a forward and plays in the midfield for her club team, the Portland Thorns, she has turned herself into one of the top left backs in international soccer with the USWNT. She paused her career after the Tokyo Olympics to give birth, playing just three times in 2022, but she’s proven her fitness this year and is versatile enough to push forward in the attack or drop back and take on opposing forwards. The equally versatile Fox, who also gets involved in the attack, has played on both wings for the U.S. but probably will start on the right side ahead of O’Hara, who sat out much of 2022 because of a hip injury. This will be her fourth World Cup. Huerta, primarily a right back, is one of five OL Reign players on the team. She provides depth and is an excellent passer, making her an offensive weapon off the bench.


Center back

OL Reign defender Alana Cook jogs on the pitch against the Portland Thorns.
OL Reign defender Alana Cook jogs on the pitch against the Portland Thorns during the first half of an NWSL match.
(Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press)

Alana Cook (26 years old, 25 caps, 1 goal), Naomi Girma (23, 16 caps, 0 goals), Emily Sonnett (29, 75 caps, 1 goal)

The loss of Sauerbrunn and her 216 caps has turned this position, long a strength of the U.S., into one now fraught with doubt. Girma, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NWSL draft and the only player to be named the league’s top rookie and top defender in the same year, made her international debut 15 months ago and has started in tandem with Cook just eight times since. However, in five of those games, including Sunday’s, the U.S. didn’t give up a goal and both players have shown splendid form with their clubs, Girma in San Diego and Cook with the OL Reign. Despite her relative youth, Girma is a calming presence and has provided solid leadership in San Diego while Cook is very good in the air, making her a solid defender on set pieces. Sonnett is the only center back with World Cup experience, but she played just eight minutes in the 2019 tournament. If this position becomes a major liability, Andonovski said he could move Julie Ertz from the midfield to central defense, where she played every minute of the 2015 World Cup. But that move could create more problems than it solves.



Racing Louisville FC's Savannah DeMelo in action during an NWSL match.
(AJ Mast / Associated Press)

Savannah DeMelo (25 years of age, 1 cap, 0 goals), Julie Ertz (31, 118 caps, 20 goals), Lindsey Horan (29, 129 caps, 27 goals), Rose Lavelle (28, 88 caps, 24 goals), Kristie Mewis (32, 52 caps, 7 goals), Ashley Sanchez (24, 25 caps, 3 goals), Andi Sullivan (27, 45 caps, 3 goals)


With the U.S. missing Sam Mewis and Catarina Macario because of knee injuries and questions remaining about the fitness of Ertz and Lavelle, the midfield could become another problem for Andonovski. Lavelle hasn’t played since injuring her knee in early April and Ertz has played just 69 minutes with the national team and 650 overall since the Tokyo Olympics. Experience at this level could also be an issue because DeMelo was named to the World Cup team despite never having played for the national team — she had her debut Sunday — and Mewis, Sanchez and Sullivan are three of the team’s 14 World Cup debutantes. That leaves a lot riding on the play of Horan. The best lineup will have Horan starting alongside Lavelle and Ertz, but with the expanded field meaning the U.S. will have to play seven times in 29 days if it is to reach the final, that’s a workload that could be beyond Lavelle. The situation could become muddled even further if Andonovski is forced to move Ertz out of her holding midfield position to center back since her replacement probably would be Sullivan, who struggled in that role during Ertz’s maternity leave. Sonnett, who has played in the midfield with the Reign, is another option there, as is the versatile Mewis, a tireless box-to-box player. Sanchez, the former UCLA standout who led the Washington Spirit in assists, shots and shots on goal last year, gives Andonovski an additional attacking option.

Tyler Boyd scored early and the Galaxy pulled away for a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union Saturday, extending the team’s seven-game unbeaten streak.

July 9, 2023



United States' Megan Rapinoe looks on.
United States’ Megan Rapinoe looks on at the end of the second half of a FIFA Women’s World Cup send-off match against Wales.
(Josie Lepe / Associated Press)

Alex Morgan (34 years old, 207 caps, 121 goals), Megan Rapinoe (38, 199 caps, 63 goals), Trinity Rodman (21, 18 caps, 4 goals), Sophia Smith (22, 30 caps, 12 goals), Alyssa Thompson (18, 4 caps, 0 goals), Lynn Williams (30, 52 caps, 15 goals)

The U.S. was dealt a painful blow in April when Mallory Swanson, the team’s leading scorer over the past two seasons, tore the patellar tendon in her left knee. That blow need not be fatal though because the six forwards Andonovski has left are a talented blend of youth and experience. Morgan and Rapinoe, who tied for the tournament lead with six goals in 2019, are playing in their fourth World Cup and with Sauerbrunn sidelined, they rank 1-2 among active players in caps and goals while Thompson, a teenager 20 years Rapinoe’s junior, has just 179 minutes of international experience. Morgan, the team’s only true center forward, is playing some of the best soccer of her career, relying more on guile and experience than pure athleticism but she’s also 34, making it unlikely she’ll be able to play seven games in less than a month. When she rests, Andonovski probably will use Smith or Rodman, who scored both goals Sunday, in the middle. The versatile Smith, the reigning NWSL scoring leader and most valuable player, can play on either wing, which will allow Andonovski to pair her with Rapinoe, who is most comfortable on the left wing.