Three things to know about USWNT at Concacaf World Cup Qualifying

On Monday, the USA women’s national team will begin their mission to qualify for the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

The Concacaf qualifier will be held in Monterrey, Mexico from July 4th to 18th. The top four teams qualify for the World Cup, and the champion automatically advances to the 2024 Olympics as well.

In the group stage, the USWNT faces Haiti (July 4), Jamaica (July 7) and Mexico (July 11), while the other group has Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica and Haiti, ranked 51st and 60th in the world rankings by FIFA, will provide stiff competition for USA, but No. 26 Mexico is expected to be the USWNT’s most challenging opponent in the group stage.

All USWNT games are available to stream on Paramount+ where you can get free access through July 19th using the offer code “GLORY”.

Last week, the USA played a two-game friendly series against Colombia in preparation for Concacaf, winning 3-0 on Saturday and 2-0 on Tuesday.

Here are three things to know as you head into the tournament based on recent USWNT game action.

Starting Lineup Predictions

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after Tuesday’s second game against Colombia that the players already know what their starting XI will look like in Mexico.

And for everyone else, “It’s not hard to predict who it’s going to be,” he said.

Chances are the lineup throughout the group stage will be very similar to last Saturday’s lineup: Casey Murphy (GK), Emily Fox (FB), Alana Cook (CB), Becky Sauerbrunn (CB), Kelley O’Hara (FB), Andi Sullivan (M), Lindsey Horan (M), Rose Lavelle (M), Mallory Pugh (F), Ashley Hatch (F) and Sophia Smith (F).

With the NWSL form factors factoring into these decisions, the biggest surprise will be to see Alex Morgan on the bench. She leads the league with 11 goals, three ahead of runner-up Sophia Smith and already surpasses last year’s Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch.

Pugh and Smith will almost certainly be two of the three starting forwards. Dynamic, fast and good at dribbling, the young attackers have firmly established themselves over the past few months.

According to Andonovski’s postgame comments on Saturday, Hatch looks confident about starting ninth.

“Ashley is here at camp and even starting the first game for a reason,” Andonovski told reporters. “She has goalscoring qualities, she has a very good feeling for a goal, finds herself in good moments to score a goal. We believe that she will play a lot and help us in the games to come.”

In midfield, Andonovski alluded to Horan and Lavelle as starters. Although they both missed penalties on Tuesday, Andonovski said they will continue to be the designated penalty takers based on their starting positions.

Defender Carson Pickett started Tuesday and played every 90 minutes, but she was only part of the 26-man squad in June and will not travel to Mexico. Other left full-back Emily Fox started the game on Saturday but only played limited minutes in the series.

“The situation with Emily is very clear that she’s a starter at the left-back position and she’s proven to be proven in every camp she comes to,” Andonovski said.

Kelley O’Hara’s leadership was important to Andonovski, as was Becky Sauerbrunn, who served as captain on Saturday. Their previous experience with the national team will help set the bar on the pitch. Backstage, too, Alana Cook and Casey Murphy have been consistently strong since becoming regulars at camp over six months ago. You will probably get the start too.

The six situation

The biggest question mark in the USWNT Concacaf roster is the No. 6 position. Andi Sullivan is the only defensive midfielder making the trip to Mexico, and she’s struggling with a hamstring injury. If she is healthy, she will be a starter in the tournament, but she did not dress on Tuesday.

Jaelin Howell and Sam Coffey play for their clubs at the six but did not see the field on Tuesday when Sullivan was out. Instead, Kristie Mewis and Lindsey Horan split responsibilities in front of the backline. As midfielders who typically play higher up, both likely have a slight learning curve on the position. There’s no doubt they can adapt, but it’s worth noting that Andonovski decided to join them because of Howell, who has been attending camps for months and adjusting to the international environment.

ability to score

The USWNT clearly ironed out tactics and chemistry in the two friendlies, which weren’t the best results, but the players have the talent Finding ways to win even when things don’t go to plan. Both goals in the second game came from the defenders. Sofia Huerta forced an own goal to put USA on the line and then Kelley O’Hara fired in one from the top of the box towards the end of the game.

Andonovski wasn’t concerned that the forwards weren’t the ones to get the job done. It was difficult to open them with five Colombian players around them, but the games served as a good test of the Concacaf competition.

“The most important thing is that we have a very good team,” he said. “We found a way to score goals in different ways. Even though I wouldn’t say it was our best performance today, we still scored goals.”

Jessa Braun is a writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

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