23 tickets to France: Projecting the USWNT's World Cup roster

With the 2019 Women’s World Cup less than a year away, Goal offers its projection for the 23-player squad Jill Ellis will bring to France

The World Cup is finally in sight for the U.S. women’s national team, and manager Jill Ellis is seeing her 23-player roster start to take shape.

After qualifying for next summer’s showpiece in France with ease last month, Ellis can now turn her attention toward fine-tuning her roster and determining the final players who will make the cut.

Ellis has used the two years after the 2016 Olympics to experiment, calling in 29 players for the first time in that period, but her roster for next summer now appears mostly set – barring injuries of course.

That is mostly because Ellis has found a winning formula with her current group: After stumbling through the first half of 2017 the U.S. has now gone 26 consecutive games without a loss, a run that includes 23 wins.

Here is Goal’s projection of the 23 players Ellis will bring to France as the U.S. looks to defend its World Cup title:

MAKE THE CUT: Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris, Adrianna Franch 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Jane Campbell, Abby Smith, Casey Murphy

Naeher has continued to establish herself as Ellis’ clear top choice in goal, starting 14 of the USWNT’s 18 matches so far in 2018. She has been more steady than lights-out but has earned her manager’s trust and barring injury, she’ll be in goal when the U.S. kicks off in France next summer.

Naeher and Harris were once in an open competition to replace Hope Solo as the USA’s top-choice keeper but as Naeher emerged as the starter, Harris had to settle for the backup position. The veteran has made four appearances in 2018 and looks set to be on her second straight World Cup roster – albeit not in the role she may have hoped for.

Franch’s performances with the Portland Thorns have seen her emerge as the USA’s third-string option in goal – and have led to many calling for her to be given more of a chance to compete with Naeher and Harris. That may not happen this cycle, but Franch does appear to be holding off competition from Campbell for the final goalkeeping spot on the team’s World Cup roster.

MAKE THE CUT: Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O’Hara, Casey Short, Emily Sonnett, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Hailie Mace

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Merritt Mathias, Jaelene Hinkle, Sofia Huerta, Taylor Smith

Sauerbrunn is almost certain to anchor the USWNT back line for the second straight World Cup, while Dahlkemper and Davidson will continue a heated battle to start alongside the veteran stopper. O’Hara and Dunn are entrenched as outside back starters for now, with Ellis preferring the attacking thrust both players can provide from the flanks.

Short and Sonnett have impressed with the U.S. in 2018, and both players provide the versatility to play at outside back and at center back. Julie Ertz, who will be on the roster as a defensive midfielder, can also fill in at center back having played the position at the 2015 World Cup and also during the 2018 season with the Chicago Red Stars. Mace was a surprise addition to the Concacaf Women’s Championship roster and can factor in both as a forward and a defender, which could give her an edge when deciding the final roster spots. 

Hinkle, arguably the best outside back in NWSL this season, may be higher up the depth chart were it not for some issues unrelated to soccer. Mathias, Huerta and Smith all have a shot after receiving multiple call-ups in 2018.

MAKE THE CUT: Julie Ertz, Samantha Mewis, Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, McCall Zerboni

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Andi Sullivan, Allie Long, Danielle Colaprico

With the U.S. now playing in a 4-3-3 formation the team’s midfield roster spots will likely favor more defensive players, with much of the attacking onus on the front three. Nevertheless, there will certainly be a place for the attack-minded Rose Lavelle, who is currently a part of the first-choice lineup alongside the do-everything Lindsey Horan and the more defensive-minded Ertz.

Brian and Mewis are very likely to be on the team, while Zerboni needs to come back strong from an elbow injury that derailed her rapid ascent in 2018. The 31-year-old became the oldest player to make her national team debut for the U.S. last year, and gradually earned more trust from Ellis as 2018 went on.

Sullivan has a shot to make the team should she impress in the November friendlies and carry on her form into 2019. The same goes for Colaprico, who is more of a long shot after earning her first call-up in two years. Long was a mainstay in 2017 but has fallen out of the picture slightly this year. Like Sullivan and Colaprico, she’ll have a chance to impress against Portugal and Scotland this month.

MAKE THE CUT: Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh, Christen Press

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Lynn Williams, Sydney Leroux, Kealia Ohai, Amy Rodriguez, Savannah McCaskill, Jessica McDonald

Morgan, Rapinoe and Heath make up the starting attacking trio right now, with Press and Pugh looking solidly entrenched as backups on the flank. Lloyd, who spent most of her career as a midfielder, has transitioned well into a role as a target forward option off the bench.

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McDonald and Williams each had impressive 2018 campaigns in the NWSL and with Morgan lacking a true like-for-like backup at the No. 9 position, both players could have a claim to one of the USA’s final roster slots.

Rodriguez and Leroux are veterans of the team’s 2015 World Cup squad, but both are likely on the outside looking in. Ohai and McCaskill are younger options with the 22-year-old McCaskill looking the better bet to break through after earning six caps in 2018.