Who's got next for USWNT? 10 players who could break onto the roster
When Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone and the U.S. women's national team embarked on a victory tour four years ago, Rose Lavelle was moving in for her junior year at the University of Wisconsin.
Crystal Dunn was building an MVP portfolio for the National Women's Soccer League's Washington Spirit, and Abby Dahlkemper and Samantha Mewis were navigating their rookie seasons in the league.
Tierna Davidson was barely old enough for a driver's license.
A lot can change in four years. So even as the U.S. women began another celebratory tour this past weekend, it's never too soon to start thinking about the 2023 World Cup. We know Jill Ellis won't be there, the U.S. coach announcing last week that she'll step down this fall. A few players from what was the oldest team in the World Cup might choose to follow her. Others will be told by a new coach their services are no longer required.
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Who might be the next Lavelle or Mewis? Who might step in when others step away? Here are 10 candidates for 2023 -- or maybe even the 2020 Olympics -- from the college and professional ranks.
Alana Cook, defender, Paris Saint-Germain
Cook didn't enter the most recent NWSL draft and instead signed with PSG in France. So the same weekend NWSL rookies debuted, she started in a loss against juggernaut Lyon. That is its own kind of learning curve. Cook often looked poised beyond her years at Stanford and comes across as a natural leader (she captained the U.S. U-23 team this spring). But she also played for a back line rarely under siege in college, so the Champions League and occasional meetings with Lyon will only sharpen those skills. She has the physical tools and the temperament.
Imani Dorsey, forward, Sky Blue FC
There haven't been many positive headlines out of Sky Blue the past two seasons, but the organization got it right with the No. 4 pick in last year's draft. The reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year isn't piling up goals in her second season (she has just two so far), but the past week reminded how influential she remains. In Portland, pressed into service at left back, she scored the lone goal to earn rare road points in a 1-1 draw. Days later, even with the game out of reach at Utah, she chased all the way back in the 87th minute to block a Christen Press shot off the line. Even amid challenging circumstances, she finds a way to stand out.
Emily Fox, defender, North Carolina
Ellis ultimately turned to the experience Ali Krieger brought to the table for depth at outside back, but Fox came as close as anyone -- and it was a long list -- to passing the audition for that position between the 2016 Olympics and this summer's World Cup. That's not bad work for someone who still has two seasons of eligibility for the Tar Heels. It's all the more impressive considering she suffered a torn ACL just about a year before getting called in by the national team. Now she gets the chance to play an uninterrupted college season.
Jaelin Howell, midfielder, Florida State
Howell is the kind of player who would already be playing first-team soccer for a pro team if she grew up somewhere like France. She's a polished, poised midfield presence as her sophomore season begins, her style of play somewhere on the spectrum between Julie Ertz and Sweden's Elin Rubensson. She had a stint with the senior national team when Ellis called her into a camp in 2017 to let her get a taste of what her future almost assuredly holds.
Catarina Macario, forward, Stanford
Meet Megan Rapinoe's successor. As long as she's eligible to play for the United States, that is. The espnW national player of the year in each of her first two seasons at Stanford, Macario is a wonderful blend of a player. She is a playmaker with a goal scorer's instincts, a finisher who nevertheless sets up others from set pieces and then runs the play. She has already starred for the U.S. U-23 team in friendlies. But after moving to the United States from Brazil as a teenager with her father and brother, she still needs to live here until she turns 23 (unless she gets a FIFA waiver) and attain citizenship in order to play for the U.S. women in formal competition.
Hailie Mace, forward/defender, FC Rosengard
The No. 2 pick in last year's NWSL draft, Mace elected to sign in Sweden rather than play amidst the organizational uncertainty that is Sky Blue (the team's other first-round pick, Julia Ashley, did the same). Though Mace has played an attacking role in Sweden and also for the U-23s this spring, her international future with the United States might be as a super-athletic presence on the back line -- maybe Kelley O'Hara 2.0, although Ellis talked about her most as a center back. She's too talented and too versatile not to help the U.S. women somewhere by 2023.
Ashley Sanchez, forward, UCLA
Only two active NCAA Division I players begin this season with more assists than Sanchez, which is impressive considering her 27 assists came in just two seasons. The No. 1 high school recruit the year after Mallory Pugh, she arrived at UCLA with a lot of expectations and has lived up to them. Sanchez has the pace and precision to get down the flank and deliver crosses, but she's a modern winger who is just as comfortable dribbling her way through defenders. As Tobin Heath approaches what might be her last cycle in 2023-24, Sanchez is a ready-made understudy.
Sophia Smith, forward, Stanford
Colorado has been very good to the U.S. national team, serving up Lindsey Horan and Pugh. The Bay Area has been very good to the U.S. forward line, Cal and Stanford supplying Alex Morgan and Christen Press, respectively. Smith should add to both legacies. Though her freshman season at Stanford was squeezed by the U-20 World Cup at the start and a foot injury that sidelined her late, seven goals in 13 appearances left little doubt as to her ability. At the youth international level, only Sydney Leroux scored more U-20 goals for the United States.
Andi Sullivan, midfielder, Washington Spirit
Ellis was rarely as effusive about a newcomer as she was about Sullivan when the midfielder debuted for the U.S. women after the 2016 Olympics. The coach sounded like someone who had found her on-field conductor for years to come. But then Sullivan tore her ACL playing for Stanford, Julie Ertz made herself indispensable after shifting to a midfield role the next summer and the rest is history. Sullivan missed out on the World Cup roster, but a good second season in the NWSL marks her as still a top prospect at 23. Even in a U.S. midfield crowded with youth, her passing, poise, leadership and instincts will catch the eye of the next U.S. coach.
Lynn Williams, forward, North Carolina Courage
She's the oldest player on the list, and the only one who will be 30 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, but there is no reason to think someone who got a late start on serious soccer has already peaked. Williams had enough of a run with the United States after the Olympics that it looked for a time like she would be there in 2019. But she eventually fell victim to the numbers game at a crowded position and at least the perception that Ellis didn't trust her finishing touch. Williams has blazing speed and continues to create goals in the NWSL. The combination of a new U.S. coach and the age of the current forward line could kick-start her international career.