United States women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski has his sights set on the future, filling the SheBelieves Cup roster with young players and budding talent. Eleven of the 23 players who will be on the pitch when the United States open the tournament against the Czech Republic on Thursday night have 10 or fewer caps.
The coach intends to give opportunities to players with the potential to make the USWNT’s World Cup qualifying roster this summer.
“They’re a group we want to see more of at camp,” Andonovski said. “We want to give them a chance to be in our system and we want to give ourselves a chance to assess them, not just at camp but also at camp with games.”
Andonovski will have a lot to assess in the attacking third, in particular. Ashley Hatch, 26, started making her case in Australia in November when she scored twice in two games against the Matildas. She buried the first just 24 seconds into the USWNT opener, making it the third fastest goal in the history of the team. At the SheBelieves Cup, Midge Purce, 26, and Sophia Smith, 21, will also be looking to prove themselves.
“It really challenges you,” veteran midfielder Andi Sullivan said of Andonovski’s decision to sign young talent. “I think he’s just been consistent in what he expects from people here, from people in the league, and I think he’s constantly raising the bar no matter where you are and who you are, and whatever. there is always an opportunity.”
While Andonovski initially left the three least experienced players – Trinity Rodman, Jaelin Howell and Naomi Girma – off the roster after the January camp, he added Rodman and Howell after veterans Lindsey Horan and Abby Dahlkemper were ruled out due to injury.
It’s clear that Andonovski appreciates the performance of the NWSL. Look no further than the fact that seven players on the USWNT SheBelieves Cup roster come from defending champion Washington Spirit.
Preparing the list
Andonovski said Wednesday that while most players aren’t ready to play all three 90-minute round robin games, Catarina Macario is in great shape. The only member of the squad not to be in the NWSL, Macario is deeply committed to her season with Lyon, while her American teammates started their pre-season just two weeks ago.
“It’s very obvious when you see her on the pitch, when you see her in training, that she just looks a bit sharper with things that I’m pretty sure all players are going to get a time we will have more practice”, Andonovski mentioned.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the coach play Macario in midfield in all three games to set the bar high and maintain a consistent flow of play.
One of the USWNT’s primary goals with the SheBelieves Cup is to strengthen player relationships on the field.
A few pairings mentioned by Andonovski are Tierna Davidson and Alana Cook at fullback, Macario and Rose Lavelle in midfield, and Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh up front.
“These are players who we believe need to spend time together so that they can strengthen their relationships that we’ve seen in training, that make us believe that if those relationships get stronger or they learn to get to know each other better, we will be more than successful with this team,” he said.
With so many new faces on the roster, it’s fair to wonder if practices have been as competitive without so many veterans to set the tone. Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O’Hara are the USWNT’s highest capped players in the SheBelieves Cup.
It may take longer for the chemistry to build, but overall players say business was business as usual.
“I think the really special thing about this team is all the personalities and the history, and they’re all intertwined,” Sullivan said. “So I think the standard for this team is so high no matter what, and that’s because of the culture that’s been built over decades, so I feel like there’s no much different.”
Three names to note
Of the 11 young players on the team, the one to watch in this tournament is Trinity Rodman. Along with Spirit teammate Aubrey Kingsbury, Rodman is yet to earn his first USWNT cap after declining an invitation to Australia in November. After an outstanding 2021 NWSL campaign, during which she won a championship with the Spirit and Rookie of the Year, the 19-year-old will finally have the chance to prove herself in an international playing setting.
With 87 selections, double FIFA world champion Morgan Gautrat appears on his first roster since November 2019 against Costa Rica, Andonovski’s second game as head coach. The central midfielder played a key role in the Chicago Red Stars’ run to the NWSL Finals last season, starting all 24 games she appeared in. There’s a lot at stake as Gautrat makes his long-awaited return to the national team and uses the opportunity to make the case for a place on the 2023 World Cup roster.
Kelley O’Hara is a veteran team leader who is stuck despite the recent influx of young national team prospects. On both the USWNT and the Spirit, O’Hara is known for being fiercely competitive, setting the bar high, speaking her mind and expecting nothing less than the best from her teammates. The defender’s energy will be key to the team’s success this week.
The Czech Republic, New Zealand and Iceland join the United States in the tournament, teams Andonovski called “very, very good quality teams”.
USA will need to tap into another level of sophistication in order to break down their opponents’ defenses, as these three teams are very organized when they don’t have possession of the ball. If successful, USA will be in line to claim their third straight SheBelieves Cup title.
USWNT vs. Czech Republic
Thursday, 11 p.m. ET
USWNT v New Zealand
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
ABC, Take TV
USWNT vs. Iceland
Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET
ESPN, Take TV
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.