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How the USWNT depth chart is adjusting to injuries ahead of the World Cup – Equalizer Soccer




Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Only eight weeks remain until the first match of the 2023 World Cup kicks off, but U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski is still facing some uncertainty regarding his World Cup roster.

On Tuesday, forward Catarina Macario announced that she has removed herself from World Cup selection due to the setbacks she’s faced recovering from the ACL tear she suffered last June. Despite hopes that she would rehab in time for the tournament, she has yet to take the field competitively in almost a year. Tuesday also brought the news that midfielder Rose Lavelle might not get any club minutes ahead of the World Cup, thanks to a setback in her recovery from an unspecified knee injury.

These two injuries are worrying enough, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of injuries the team has faced over the past couple of years. Players are out or of a questionable fitness level across all lines, but with the United States talent pool as deep as it is, there are plenty of choices Andonovski can make to round out the squad.

It’ll be another month or so before the roster is revealed, but here’s a rundown of the biggest challenges the team is facing and what solutions they may find.

Worrying trends

Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life for most professional athletes. What’s been so concerning these past couple of years is the sheer number and severity of the injuries.

In addition to Macario, Mallory Swanson is also out after tearing her patellar tendon this past April. She had been in phenomenal form up until her injury and many people expected her to lead the attack in Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, midfielder Sam Mewis, forward Christen Press and defender Abby Dahlkemper were all key parts of the 2019 World Cup team and all haven’t seen competitive minutes since last year after all facing serious injuries.

Even among players that are shoo-ins, there are questions about fitness. In addition to Lavelle, captain Becky Sauerbrunn has been out with a foot injury for the past few weeks. And although Julie Ertz is back and looking good after more than a year away from the field, we’ve hardly been given a big enough sample size to really gauge her form. And, like Lavelle and Sauerbrunn, she’s also been marked as questionable thanks to what was reported as a thigh injury.

Of course, it’s very possible Lavelle, Sauerbrunn and Ertz are on minutes management specifically to keep them fresh for the World Cup. But the fact three key players need such careful management isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring amidst all the other injuries – especially with so many bubble players also in questionable form. For example, defenders Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger have had a rough time finding their form after returning from injury. Lindsey Horan hasn’t quite been herself either after rehabbing from a lingering knee issue. Taylor Kornieck has just returned from an extended abdominal injury and Midge Purce has missed games with a hip injury. Although not currently injured, Kelley O’Hara and Megan Rapinoe have been increasingly injury-prone in recent years.

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The last time the United States previously faced even close to this many injuries was when Abby Wambach, Leslie Osborne and Cat Whitehill all missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Wambach broke her leg in a friendly against Brazil while Osborne and Whitehill both suffered ACL tears. Despite a less-than-perfect performance in the final against Brazil, the U.S. did in fact go home with Olympic gold that year off a game-winning goal from budding star Amy Rodriguez in her first major tournament.

Likewise, Andonovski is going to have to look for up-and-coming young talents to be the difference-makers during the World Cup as the U.S. looks to defend its title and compete for a third consecutive championship. Luckily for him, there are quite a few to choose from.

Exploring the depth

Although it seemed unlikely at the beginning of this year, it is increasingly likely that Angel City forward and teenage phenom Alyssa Thompson has worked her way onto the World Cup roster. She’s the closest the United States has to a replacement for Swanson which is evidenced by her being immediately called up to finish the second of the pair of friendlies against Ireland after Swanson was injured during the first leg. Whether Thompson gets significant minutes with players like Alex Morgan, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith ahead of her is yet to be seen, but there’s no question she’s a player the team will want to build around in the future.

Although not a young up-and-comer, it is as good as certain that Lynn Williams will be on her way to her first World Cup this July. After returning from her own major injury in 2022, she’s come back in excellent form and has five goals in eight games with Gotham. Although the loss of Swanson and Macario will be felt acutely, an attack featuring Smith, Morgan, Thompson, Rodman and Williams is hardly something to sneeze at. Ashley Hatch and Megan Rapinoe are also good bets to step in and round out the group. Although Hatch has been getting called up to the senior team since 2016, this will be her first major tournament, should she get the call from Andonovski.

In terms of midfield depth, both Sam Coffey and Taylor Kornieck have received senior call-ups, although they’ve missed the most recent camps. Coffey has been on a hot streak with the Portland Thorns and notched two assists last week against the Chicago Red Stars. Kornieck is just coming back from injury, but offers versatility across the line, and at 6’1″ she’s the tallest field player in program history which gives her a unique angle no other player can match.

There’s also been increasing noise around whether versatile midfielder Savannah DeMelo is deserving of a call-up to the national team. The Racing Louisville player has been on fire lately and has scored four goals and notched an assist in her last five appearances. With all the questions surrounding the midfield, could DeMelo have a shot at making the roster? Possibly, but Andonovski has said in the past he wants to bring players with senior team experience, and DeMelo, unfortunately, remains uncapped. Only once in United States history has a player with no caps made a World Cup roster – Shannon Boxx in 2003 – so it seems unlikely, but if Lavelle faces an even more severe setback or another player drops in form significantly, DeMelo may find herself on the plane to Australia and New Zealand.

Injuries everywhere

While it’s certainly far from a positive development, the one thing the United States has going for it in terms of injuries is that they’re far from alone in losing key players. Almost every single top team has lost at least one important player, most often to ACL tears. To name just a few, Canada’s Janine Beckie tore hers in the NWSL preseason, England’s Leah Williamson ruptured hers in April, and Dutch star Vivienne Miedema tore hers in November. And just yesterday, it was announced that France’s Delphine Cascarino ruptured her ACL as well. Of these players, only Miedema has a shot at making the World Cup roster, but even if she does, there’s no guarantee she’ll be in top form.

ACL tears are nothing new in women’s sports but as schedules get denser and play becomes more physical and demanding, they seem to be happening more often. While more needs to be done to prevent these injuries in the future, in the meantime, they’ll almost certainly impact how this World Cup ultimately plays out as coaches rework their rosters to accommodate missing players. That’s the task ahead of Andonovski as he’s tasked with finalizing the 23-player roster for the United States and seeing if he can put together another championship squad despite some key pieces missing.


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Gotham FC celebrates 2023 championship with home-opener record attendance – Equalizer Soccer





Ali Krieger holds the championship trophy at Red Bull Arena

(Photo credit: Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — Although the 2024 season is well underway, NJ/NY Gotham FC paid homage to its 2023 National Women’s Soccer League championship at the team’s home opener Sunday night. 

Even before the match, all eyes were on celebrating Gotham’s historic championship. Fans could take photos not only with the league’s first-ever Tiffany-designed trophy, but with last year’s captain, Ali Krieger. The decorated defender, who retired after last season, greeted fans as they filed in for Gotham’s first home game of the season.

During the match’s opening ceremony, Krieger personally walked the trophy onto the field to raucous applause and cheers from fans who had waited almost six months to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2023 season. 

Addressing the fans, Krieger made sure to let the crowd know just how pivotal their support was to the team’s 2023 success. She led a countdown as the team unveiled a permanent fixture in the rafters at Red Bull Arena memorializing the team’s championship in the stadium they call home.

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Spirit see offseason moves pay off in comeback win over Dash – Equalizer Soccer





Photo Copyright Maria Lysaker for USA TODAY Sports.

The Washington Spirit’s 3-1 comeback win over the Houston Dash on April 12 was a testament to why it’s important to have a productive offseason. It was also a statement about the value of veteran players. 

Though the Spirit got off to an ugly start on Friday night, going down 1-0 within the first minute, the team’s three second-half goals – including two that came within two minutes of each other – were all scored by players acquired in January, in the lead-up to the 2024 season.

Hal Hershfelt, who scored the Spirit’s first goal in the 52nd minute, and Croix Bethune, who scored the Spirit’s third goal in the 84th, are both rookie signings picked up by the Spirit in the 2024 NWSL draft. Brittany Ratcliffe, an NWSL veteran and the scorer of the Spirit’s go-ahead goal in the 82nd, was acquired by Washington in the offseason as a free agent. 

Much of the reason the Spirit’s new signings have been able to seize so many opportunities is the team’s old guard has remained so reliable. “I did not expect to have two goals this early on,” expressed Hershfelt, who scored her first NWSL goal in the team’s March 23 home opener win over Bay FC. “But I give credit to my teammates … they’re going to hold it down if I get a chance to go up.” 

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Marta still bringing the energy at 38 – Equalizer Soccer





Orlando Pride forward Marta celebrates a goal with teammates.

Photo Copyright Rob Gray for USA TODAY Sports

To watch the 2024 version of Marta play soccer, you’d never guess she is 38, much closer to the end of the road than the start. Friday night in Utah, the Orlando Pride lined up sans the Brazilian legend for the first time this season, an understandable development considering she was in with her national team during the recent FIFA break.

In the 62nd minute of a sleepy affair in the Wasatch Valley, Pride coach Seb Hines called on Marta as a sub. The energy on the field changed immediately, and six minutes after arriving in the match, Marta scored its only goal. She started the play, and then finished it with precision. It was her second goal of the season following her brilliant finish against Angel City three weeks earlier that stole a late point for the Pride.

“We were mindful of her energy levels,” Hines said “She played 90 minutes for Brazil on Tuesday and it was a quick turnaround with the travel. To come off the bench and make an impact, there’s no better way than scoring the winning goal.”

“She completely changed the game when she came on the field,” Kylie Strom said. “She scored a goal like that with her right foot? Like come on. You can’t stop her.”

Twenty-five months ago, Marta tore her left ACL in a Challenge Cup match in North Carolina. It felt like it could have been the end of the line for a player who first graced us with her brilliance as a 17-year-old at the 2003 World Cup and who had not only been one of the best players in the world, but one of the most durable. She returned to play in 2023 but looked a step slow. Marta scored four goals last season, all from the spot.

She came back for 2024 full of energy.

“That’s the perfect way to describe it,” Kerry Abello—who assisted on Marta’s goal—said when it was suggested that Marta had the most energy even as the oldest player in the team.  “She’s the most energetic. She brings this childlike joy and passion to the game that is really unmatched.”

At the height of Marta’s powers, she could run circles around the best defenses in the world. She first played in a U.S. league in 2009 with the L.A. Sol in the WPS. Franchise instability led Marta to playing for three teams in three WPS seasons. All of them finished top-of-table and two of them—2010 FC Gold Pride and 2011 Western New York Flash—won championships. She returned in 2017, with the Pride, and teamed with Alex Morgan to lead the club on a whirlwind 8-2-1 finish and the first and only playoff appearance.

As the 30s creep toward their conclusion—only Christine Sinclair and Becky Sauerbrunn are older among National Women’s Soccer League field players—the skills are not quite what they once were. But the passion and energy remain. And the skills still show themselves, more so this year than for a few years.

“She drives the standard,” Strom said. “Honestly, it’s such an honor and a privilege that I get to share the pitch with her every day. She makes all of us so much better.”

The Pride did not make Marta available postgame.

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Around the league

Royals 0, Pride 1

Marta had the goal, as discussed above, and the Royals continued to struggle to create attack. First-round pick Brecken Mozingo made her first career start and held her own, but the Royals are certainly a work in progress four games into their existence.

Dash 1, Spirit 3

The Dash celebrated the 10th anniversary of their inaugural match by doing what they do best—lose at home. Despite tallying in the first minute and keeping the Spirit off balance for the first 20 minutes or so the home side had few answers once Washington got things figured out. It has become increasingly evident the Dash do not have the personnel to pull off Fran Alonso’s possession-based system, but credit to him for pushing forward. The system may have accounted for the first Spirit goal, the other two were defensive shortcomings.

On the game-winner, Brittany Ratcliffe stone beat Courtney Petersen. After that, recovering midfielder Elin Rubensson overshot the play, leaving Ratcliffe the needed space to unfurl her golazo. Less than three minutes later, Croix Bethune was allowed to wander free to the far post where she easily finished Gabrielle Carle’s cross.

The match was the Dash’s 103rd regular-season run at Shell Energy Stadium. They are 31-44-28. They also lost two “home” matches at alternate venues when they were displaced by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

The Spirit, by the way, have won three straight.

Courage  2, Thorns 0

The Courage made the most of some early chances while the Thorns could not take anything from their best moments and slipped to the bottom of the table amidst the worst start the club has ever known. Former Thorn Tyler Lussi was the star of the show. In the sixth minute, she finished an Ashley Sanchez corner kick after it bounced in the box. In the 35th she found Haley Hopkins inside the six and she made it 2-0 by getting inside position on Thorns right back Marie Muller.

The Thorns took 14 shots to the Courage’s 8 but saw their club-record winless streak in all competitions extended to six. The Thorns last won last Oct. 7 against Gotham to move into pole position for the Shield. But they lost 5-1 the next week at Angel City, then a home playoff match to Gotham, and are 0-3-1 this regular season. Coach Mike Norris did not feature Meghan Klingenberg in the match even though her 45 minutes in Louisville before the FIFA break coincided with the Thorns’ best half of the season.

Meanwhile the Courage are quietly 3-1-0 and have two consecutive clean sheets.

Louisville 0, Wave 0

Racing remained undefeated but still wanting after their fourth straight draw to open the season. They did collect a second shutout but were unable to get anything by Wave keeper Kailen Sheridan even as their guests played without two-time reigning Defender of the Year, Naomi Girma. First-round pick Kennedy Wesley made her first professional start in place of Girma, who was held out for precautionary reasons following a stint with the United States national team.

Louisville welcomed Savannah DeMelo back to midfield and were likely the stronger side on the day but in the end were unable to find the back of the net.

Red Stars 0, Angel City 1

In a tale-of-two-halves match in the Windy City, the visitors stole a goal late in the 1st half to take their first win of the season. It looked like one Alyssa Naeher save and a superb Tatumn Milazzo goal-line clearance were going to get the Red Stars through a shaky opening half at 0-0, but a late set piece dropped at the feet of two players and Maximiliane Rall inadvertently redirected it in for an own goal. The Red Stars flipped the script in the second half but were unable to equalize.

The absence of Mallory Swanson, who took a minor hip injury with the national team, was noticeable in the lack of bite in the Red Stars attack. Jenna Bike continued her emergence this season and Ally Schlegel had some bright moments as well. Angel City made a keeper change, inserting DiDi Haracic for the struggling Angelina Anderson. Haracic helped hold a high line in the first half and looked comfortable in possession on her way to a clean sheet.

Gotham 1, Current 1

The Current dropped points for the first time but remained undefeated. They also lost Temwa Chawinga to what looked like a troubling injury late in the match. The Malawian sensation accounted for the Current goal at the end of a first-half counterattack. Chawinga used her blistering speed to outpace both Gotham central defenders and Bia Zaneratto picked the perfect moment to play the ball through.

Gotham started a tepid lineup with several players fresh off international duty. They inserted Crystal Dunn and Jenna Nighswonger at halftime and promptly took control of the match. The equalizer came on a corner kick when Esther was left completely unmarked at the back post on a corner kick and easily headed in Yazmeen Ryan’s ball. A later corner kick yielded the same situation, but it landed near Esther’s feet and she misfired on the awkward shot.

Lynn Williams played the final 32 minutes for Gotham, her first of the season after injury.

Bay 3, Reign 2

Bay FC continued the trend of playing thrillers and eventually sent their fans home with a win for the first time. The winning goal was an own goal when Alana Cook reached her leg out and deflected an innocuous cross past keeper Laurel Ivory.

The teams traded goals all night with the Reign also benefitting from an own goal. Kayla Sharples scored against her team but helped get it back when she finished Emily Menges’ second ball off a corner to make it 1-1 early in the 2nd half. Bay then took the lead through an epic strike off the foot of Alexis Loera. The winning own goal came four minutes after Bethany Balcer joined the 30-goal club to tie it again.

Ivory was in because Reign starter Claudia Dickey had to come off with an injury. She received treatment after the first Bay goal after appearing to twist her knee, but elected to stay in. Following the Loera goal, Dickey went down again and appeared to mouth “I can’t move” before coming off. She did not move much on the Loera shot but also may have been screened. The minutes were Ivory’s first in the regular season. She has started four Challenge Cup matches.

Talking Points

An ESPN report on Sunday said that Dash midfielder Maria Sanchez has requested a trade. The 28-year-old Mexican re-signed with the Dash as a restricted free agent last offseason. The deal was the most lucrative in league history at the time. The report was made by Jeff Kassouf, who is the owner of The Equalizer.

This will mark the first time a prominent player’s trade request has been made public prior to moving off her team. The Dash are off to a rough start in 2024. New coach Fran Alonso has installed a possession-based, three-back system which has yielded 10 goals in four matches. That includes a 0-0 draw in which the Dash were under siege from Racing Louisville for most of the 90 minutes. Last season the Dash, who missed the playoffs, conceded only 18 goals in 22 matches. It was not clear based on the report why Sanchez has quested the trade. Houston-based journalist Theo Lloyd-Hughes confirmed the original report and added the request was made prior to the Dash’s win over Bay FC ahead of the FIFA window.

The Dash released a terse statement to ESPN that reads:  “Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023.”

That is not exactly a warm and fuzzy statement or one that hints the club is willing to either honor the request or make good on whatever reasons Sanchez has for wanting to be elsewhere.

Complicating matters is that the league’s trade window closes Friday and that clubs may not be able to take on Sanchez’s salary under the cap. Of course, salary numbers are not made public so there is little recourse for knowing which teams have the available space or which players may be a salary match as part of a return package.

This figures to be the story of the week around NWSL. Stay tuned.

Free Kicks

  • Sam Staab is now the all-time leader in consecutive regular season games played with 94. The streak dates to her NWSL debut as a rookie in 2019 with the Washington Spirit and covers her entire NWSL career. The streak survived some nagging injuries in 2020 when there was no regular season and a red card in 2021 that was overturned by the league Disciplinary Committee. The record came at the expense of Amber Brooks whose 93 straight appearances spanned 2016-2021.
  • The Red Stars are playing at Wrigley Field, the first significant development highlighting ownership by the Ricketts Family who also owns the Chicago Cubs. The match is June 8 against Bay FC (moved from June 9) and according to the NWSL website, will be shown on ION. Baseball stadiums often offer odd sightlines for soccer (see New York City FC at Yankee Stadium). But the game will bring unprecedented visibility to a club that can use it, and Wrigley is a prime location as opposed to the outpost called SeatGeek Stadium where the club plays regular home games.
  • The VAR checks seemed to have been expedited this week but there were still some games with copious amounts of stoppage time.
  • Hoping the injuries to Temwa Chawinga and Claudia Dickey are not serious, but neither looked good, especially Chawinga. Mallory Swanson and Lysianne Proulx were held out after the international window. The injuries are piling up early this season.
  • Laurel Ivory may have played her first regular season minutes on Sunday, but she does have some prior stats under her belt. On June 24 last year, Ivory was shown a yellow card for dissent from the bench.
  • The Current’s 12 goals through four games are a new NWSL high, breaking the mark of 11 set by the Thorns in 2019 and matched by the Thorns in 2023. Neither of those Thorns teams nor this year’s Current won all four games. Looking ahead, the record through five games is 14 by the 2017 Reign and 2023 Thorns.
  • The own goal against Alana Cool was her fourth. That’s more than any other NWSL player.
  • Red Stars fans were subjected to an 8:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday night, a nod to ION’s promised weekly doubleheader. Odd start times to placate television have been around since Monday Night Football started in 1970. But the genesis of these inconveniences is strong fanbases who will show up no matter the day or time. The Chicago Red Stars are not there.


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