Mapping out the USWNT’s future

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Who you can expect to see come in and out of the team heading into the next World Cup in four years.

The World Cup is over and there won’t be another one for four years, but the United States women’s national team will have to spend that period constantly developing its roster.

There are 12 players 30 or older on the current USWNT, and it had the oldest average age of any team at the World Cup. There’s also some incredible young talent in the youth national team ranks. The squad is likely to experience some significant turnover ahead of the 2023 World Cup, and these are the players you should be keeping an eye on.

But first…

They’re going to run it back for the Olympics

Many of the players on the current USWNT were also on the 2016 side that disappointed in Brazil, and they’re going to want to make amends for that. The Olympics has a smaller roster size — 18 instead of 23 — so there will be some tough omissions. But don’t expect any of the older star players to retire or get cut until after the Olympics in Japan.

Expected to be on their way out

These are players who, due to either age or a recent lack of playing time, will probably not be on every USWNT roster after 2020.

GK Ashlyn Harris — She’s two years older than starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher so Jill Ellis (or whoever replaces her) will likely want to start giving the backup reps to a young player and start grooming Naeher’s future replacement.

DF Ali Krieger — Krieger is 34 and was out of the team for two years until just before the World Cup, so it would be surprising if she continued past the Olympics.

DF Becky Sauerbrunn — Center backs tend to age better than players at other positions, so perhaps we shouldn’t count Sauerbrunn out. But she hasn’t been at quite her previous world-beating form for club or country over the past couple of years, and she’ll be 38 when the next World Cup rolls around.

MF Allie Long — Long spent more team off the USWNT than on it during the past year and likely made her way back into the squad for locker room chemistry reasons, rather than footballing ones. Unless she starts turning in NWSL MVP-quality performances, she’s among the prime candidates to miss out on the Olympics due to the smaller roster size.

FW Carli Lloyd — Don’t tell Lloyd that a 40-year-old is unlikely to make the USWNT’s next World Cup roster… but a 40-year-old is unlikely to make the USWNT’s next World Cup roster.

FW Jessica McDonald — McDonald finally getting her USWNT shot at 31 has been an amazing story. But unfortunately, the other forwards she’s behind are around the same age, and Ellis is going to need to start succession planning for the front line immediately. That means a young player is likely to take McDonald’s place.

FW Megan Rapinoe — Hey, I’m not going to bet against Rapinoe. But she’ll be 38 when 2023 rolls around, and with her increased public profile following this World Cup, she has opportunities to make a lot more money outside of soccer than she ever did playing the game.

Future unclear

These players won’t necessarily be too old to be at their physical peak in 2023, but for various reasons, it’s not obvious how much of a future they have with the USWNT.

GK Adrianna Franch — On NWSL form, Franch should have been the starting keeper already. At 28, she’s probably a bit too old to take over from Naeher in the future. She might stay on the roster as a backup, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ellis opt for two young keepers that she rotates behind Naeher.

DF Kelley O’Hara — O’Hara said herself that she didn’t think she’d be able to make the impact she did at the World Cup after her injury issues over the past couple of years. Her ankles might not let her make it another four years at the top of the pro game.

DF Emily Sonnett — There’s no real knock on Sonnett, and no reason she shouldn’t stay in the team. She’s 25, and will probably be better in four years. She’s played well for Portland Thorns. But Ellis doesn’t seem to rate her as highly as her other defenders, and she’s been left off rosters when healthy before.

MF Morgan Brian — Ellis clearly believes in Brian’s talent. Even when she’s been in poor club form or struggling for fitness, she’s gotten call-ups and substitute appearances. But if Brian can’t stay fit for an entire season, Ellis will have to start considering other options.

FW Alex Morgan — No one would put it past Morgan to stay on top of her game for the next four years and chase down Abby Wambach’s record. Her development as a deep-lying forward that is no longer reliant on her pace means she can continue to be an effective national team player well into her 30s. But she’s going to be 34 when the next World Cup rolls around, which is old for a women’s soccer player, so she’s in this section.

FW Tobin Heath — Same deal as Morgan, basically. Her technical skills mean she’ll be useful even if she has no pace, but she’s even older than Morgan.

FW Christen Press — Unlike Morgan and Heath, Press clearly is not first choice at the moment, so she might have a harder time hanging onto her place as she ages into her mid-30s.

Even better next time?

These players are definitely sticking around for the next four years, and they’ll be expected to become the new stars of the team.

GK Alyssa Naeher — Naeher exceeded expectations in her first World Cup as the USWNT No. 1, and she should get better with experience. Goalkeepers usually don’t decline until well into their late 30s.

DF Abby Dahlkemper — She’s one of the best passing center backs in the world at 26, and she should be an even more intelligent distributor of the ball at 30.

DF/MF Julie Ertz — I’m not sure if Ertz’s future is at defensive midfield or center back, but she’s sensational at both of them, and shouldn’t be any slower in 2023 than she is right now.

DF Tierna Davidson — A prediction: Davidson will become the USWNT’s starting left back shortly, clearing the way for…

DF/FW Crystal Dunn — Dunn to move into a wide forward role. She’s one of the best attackers in NWSL and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her take over Rapinoe’s role shortly.

MF Lindsey Horan — Another prediction: By 2023, Horan will be the consensus best player on the planet.

MF Sam Mewis — Mewis is one of the slickest passers in the world, and at 26, she still has room to grow in that area. Expect her to be a truly world class playmaker in four years.

MF Rose Lavelle — It looks like Lavelle has finally put her recurring injuries behind her, and now the sky’s the limit. She hasn’t had an extended run in a club team with decent teammates and an attacking philosophy yet. We have no idea how good she can be.

FW Mallory Pugh — Same for Pugh, and she’s on the same team with Lavelle. Their combinations were nuts in the couple games they got to play together for the Washington Spirit before heading off to international duty. With every other forward on the squad being 30 or older, 21-year-old Pugh will be counted on to become one of the team’s best players quickly.

Fringe players still battling

These NWSL players didn’t make the USWNT roster this time around, and probably won’t for the Olympics. However, their national team dreams are far from over if they play well in NWSL.

GK Jane Campbell — Previously on the roster, Campbell is the leading candidate to start getting Harris’ minutes. She’s having a very solid season for the Houston Dash.

GK Aubrey Bledsoe — Bledsoe isn’t as young as Campbell, and her distribution leaves quite a bit to be desired, but she’s developed into NWSL’s best shot-stopper. If she can improve her goal kicks and passing, she’ll get a NT shot.

DF Casey Short — Short is one of NWSL’s most consistent defenders, but doesn’t make much of an attacking contribution from fullback, which Ellis values. Still, she’s one of the best fullbacks in the country and should be on the roster.

DF Megan Oyster — While the international players were away, Oyster was arguably the best center back in NWSL and one of the biggest reasons that Reign FC moved up into first place. She’s had two caps, and is clearly on Ellis’ radar.

DF Emily Menges — Ask Thorns fans and some will tell you, in a low whisper so no one hears, that Menges is actually the best central defender on their team. She doesn’t quite have Sonnett’s physical talent, but she’s more composed and makes fewer mistakes.

DF Jaelene Hinkle — You probably think that Hinkle is out of the national team because of her personal views on homosexuality, and most fans seem OK with that decision. If that’s the case, she obviously has no path back to the national team. But U.S. Soccer says she was only cut for soccer reasons and that her personal views have nothing to do with her exclusion. If that’s true, her status as the league’s assist leader while playing good defense on arguably the best team in NWSL is going to lead to her being reconsidered.

MF Danielle Colaprico — An injury led to Colaprico having to decline a call-up just before the World Cup, and that was that for her chances of making the roster. She’s been the most consistent holding midfielder in the league since she arrived, though, and should get another shot.

MF Sofia Huerta — This is a weird case. Huerta was tried out at right back by Ellis, and asked for a trade from Chicago to Houston to get more time at that position, in order to make the World Cup team. Houston correctly identified that Huerta was one of the best attacking midfielders in the league, so they played her there, ruining her chances of making the USWNT. Unfortunately, her 2019 numbers aren’t even close to what she did in 2018, and now she doesn’t look USWNT quality at either position. But there’s no denying that Huerta, at her best, is one of the 23 best American footballers. Don’t count her out yet.

FW Kealia Ohai — I don’t know why it hasn’t quite worked out for Ohai. She’s looked amazing in bursts at Houston, and she’s got a few national team caps. But she hasn’t translated her best performances and blazing speed into consistent production yet. At 27, her time isn’t up yet, but the clock is ticking fast.

FW Midge Purce — Like Huerta, Purce is likely considered a right back prospect by Ellis. Problem for Portland is, she’s been balling in a more advanced position, and right back Ellie Carpenter is back from Australia duty. Purce is talented enough to play for the USWNT, but it’s hard to see her getting a chance under the current circumstances.

FW Lynn Williams — The former NWSL MVP has gotten plenty of national team call-ups, but hasn’t quite meshed with Ellis and her system. There’s a serious dearth of prime-age striker talent in the pool, though, with most of Ellis’ options being in their 30s or teenagers. Being a good 26-year-old is enough to get Williams another look.

Coming soon… we think

These young players have turned pro and had a taste of USWNT action. I expect them to become regulars over the next couple of years.

GK Casey Murphy — The prime candidate to replace Harris’ minutes and become Naeher’s understudy. The 23-year-old has played a pro season in France with Montpellier and is currently playing out of her mind for Reign FC.

UT Hailie Mace — Mace is going to make the national team simply because of her ability to play literally every position on the field. She’s getting most of her minutes for Rosengard in Sweden at striker, but she’s played a lot of winger, fullback, and even a little center back, on the left and right sides. She’s a player Ellis wants on her bench.

MF Andi Sullivan — Ask any coach in NWSL and they’ll tell you that Sullivan is a lock to be a national team fixture for the next decade. The 23-year-old is already captain of the Washington Spirit and can play any midfield position.

MF/FW Savannah McCaskill — McCaskill has gotten her national team minutes under Ellis at central midfield, but it looks like her new team Chicago Red Stars intend on using her as a deep-lying forward, linking superstar striker Sam Kerr and the midfield behind her. As a hard-working midfield-forward tweener, she could replace a lot of Carli Lloyd’s minutes.

Ones for the longer-range future

These players are rookies or college players at the moment, but they’ve turned in impressive youth national team performances, and are firmly on Ellis’ radar.

GK Meagan McClelland — She was the Big Ten freshman of the year at Rutgers and is already getting called into Under-23 camps at 18 years old.

DF Tegan McGrady — Hamstring injuries have kept the Spirit left back from making a big impact in her rookie season, but if she gets healthy, she’s expected to enter the national team rotation.

DF Emily Fox — Fox already has three caps and is probably the best player still plying her trade in college. The UNC star should become a fixture on the roster whenever Sauerbrunn decides to call it quits.

DF Sam Staab — Staab has exceeded expectations in her rookie year for the Spirit and is one of the big contenders for rookie of the year. She’s incredible at hitting long-range passes with her left foot, something Ellis values.

DF Alana Cook — Currently out of the USWNT hype spotlight due to her move to Paris Saint-Germain. Hopefully she can keep getting paid abroad and doesn’t need to move home to get onto Ellis’ radar.

DF/MF Naomi Girma — The Stanford sophomore can play in defense or midfield, which is certainly a plus for her future national team prospects. With Cook and Davidson gone, she’ll be expected to lead the Stanford defense.

MF Jaelin Howell — The 19-year-old has already been to a senior camp and was the midfield anchor for Florida State’s national title-winning team as a frehsman. She’s already a good enough DM to help any team in the world that doesn’t have Julie Ertz.

MF Brianna Pinto — An intelligent and slick passing midfielder, Pinto has already been called into a senior national team camp. With Dorian Bailey graduating, she’ll now be expected to lead UNC’s midfield.

MF Kate Wiesner — Wiesner has yet to make her collegiate debut, but she’s the No. 1 ranked player in her recruiting class. She should become the starting left winger at Penn State immediately and start making a case for national team looks with her excellent left foot service.

FW Ashley Sanchez — Sanchez has actually failed to reach the heights she was predicted to since she first got called into a full national team camp, but no one is writing her off at 20 years old. With Mace departing UCLA, Sanchez will be expected to take over a starring role this season.

FW Catarina Macario — Brazilian-American Macario is widely considered the best player in college soccer, but won’t be eligible for U.S. citizenship for two years. She’s made it clear that she wants to play for the USWNT, though, and regularly participates in Under-23 national team camps even though she can’t play official games under FIFA rules. She should be fast-tracked to the full national team whenever her citizenship comes through.

FW Sophia Smith — The most obvious candidate for USWNT stardom in the future, Smith has 21 goals in 25 Under-20 appearances, and scored seven goals in 13 appearances for Stanford as a freshman.

There are so many great NWSL and college players we couldn’t fit here

Seriously, watch NWSL. If you’re a real nerd and want to get into this stuff hardcore, you can find great info on youth soccer at Top Drawer Soccer, and college soccer games are usually on streaming services you already have like ESPN3 and ESPN+. There are — no joke — 50 other players I thought of that could have conceivably made this list, so huge thanks to my supremely nerdy pals Fitzcamel and Travis Clark for helping me put this together.

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