Friday, August 19, 2022

USWNT stock watch: Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith stand out during Concacaf W championship run

The United States women’s national team wrapped up their ninth Concacaf title winning this summr’s Concacaf W Championship over Canada. The eight-team competition served as qualifying tournament for the 2023 women’s World Cup, 2024 Olympic Games, and 2024 W Gold Cup. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski and his 23 player squad met all their objectives, qualifying for the 2023 World Cup by wining the group stage, then later the Olympics and Gold Cup. 

The team can now truly look towards the next big objective, winning the 2023 World Cup, and over the next year the coaching staff will likely evaluate team as they seek to put together the strongest squad possible ahead of traveling to Australia and New Zealand. The USWNT Concacaf W Championship roster was largely made up of younger players who had never played in a major qualifying tournament. They were tasked with the responsibility of winning the tournament and qualifying for three separate future tournaments. But really, that’s only the first step.

Injuries and players out on maternity leave also helped shaped the USWNT roster a bit, but it’s hard to say the team was short-handed when nearly all the players in the squad were utilized during the competition, which only further shows how difficult roster decisions coming in the future for the coaching staff may be. With just over a dozen games ahead for the USWNT before the 2023 World Cup, let’s take a look at a few players who bumped their stock during the Concacaf W Championship run.

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Goalkeepers

Casey Murphy (Stock Up) – Murphy entered the tournament as a suitable backup option and now exits as the clear number two behind Alyssa Naeher. After starting off her domestic NWSL season with a lower leg injury, Murphy rehabbed her way back into form, and started in goal for three of the USWNT’s games — including the semifinal against Costa Rica. She earned three clean sheets, facing 26 crosses, while making three saves. 

Alyssa Naeher (Stock Up) – During the tournament, head coach Andonovski specifically cited Naeher’s injury during the Tokyo Olympics last summer as a learning point for the team, and the importance of getting more minutes to backup goalkeepers. It was a contributing factor in Murphy earning more starts, but during big game scenarios, Andonovski still relied on Naeher as the number one – as she made seven saves over her two games, including the final against Canada.

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Aubrey Kingsbury (Flat) – A more than capable goalkeeper with excellent communication and shot stopping ability for the Washington Spirit, Kingsbury was the one keeper Andonovski didn’t use during the tournament. She was called into camp largely due to her strong club form with the Spirit during their championship run in 2021 and there are other keepers in the NWSL with national team ties who are currently having stellar seasons, including Kansas City Current A.D. Franch. Kingsbury will return to the currently last place Spirit with work to do in order to maintain a place in the national team’s goalkeepers union

Defenders

Naomi Girma (Stock Up) – Girma made her return to national team camps earlier this year, and after a breakout rookie season in the NWSL with San Diego Wave FC, earned a place on the Concacaf roster. She played in four of the USWNT’s matches, recording an assist, and was third on the team in duel success percentage (77%). Her ability to connect with the attack from deep on the field was an asset and she completed 100%  of her passes into the final third, and could be a mainstay among a young center back core featuring Tierna Davidson and Alana Cook.

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Sofia Huerta (Stock Up) – The only defender to feature in all five games, including a start in the championship final, Huerta’s return to the USWNT came after a three year absence that included a positional change as she moved to outside back. She turned a difficult first half during the championship final against Canada into a more attacking second half as the team created more offensive chances. During the tournament she led all fullbacks on team with chances created (4), and expected assist (0.51), while recording one assist during the competition. 

Alana Cook (Stock Down) – A calm center back with good vision and passing ability, Cook featured in four games for the team during the competition. Cook’s first qualifying tournament at the senior national team level had mixed results, as she was last among USWNT defenders in dual success percentage (54.5%) and pass completion into the final third (50%). She had a strong presence in the air for the team, was third among defenders in chances created (3), and the experience from this tournament will likely improve her form moving forward. But in a tournament where some other players forcefully staked their claims for more minutes, Cook was steady but not overwhelmingly impressive.

Midfielders

Ashley Sanchez (Stock Up) – Sanchez participated in her first qualifying tournament with the senior women’s national team and scored one goal and recorded an assist in her four appearances during the competition. She was third among midfielders in expected goals (xG 0.85) with at least 200 minutes played. Absolutely nothing to complain about in her performances.

Rose Lavelle (Stock Up) – Integral to the USWNT’s Concacaf W Championship run, Lavelle played in all five matches, while scoring a goal and recording an assist and led the entire team in chances created with nine. Her expected goal total of 0.91 led all midfielders with more than 200 minutes played, and was fifth overall on the team. Lavelle’s ability to generate offense or create her own shot makes her a valuable asset in the middle third. 

Andi Sullivan (Stock Down) – Sullivan was one of several players navigating an injury heading into the tournament and it remained an issue throughout the remainder of the competition. The defensive midfielder made four appearances during the tourney, and was last among the midfield core in duel success (44.8%) and xA (0.20). However, Sullivan’s presence on the pitch can aid the team in controlling the middle of the field defensively, and perhaps if more healthy she could have had more of an impact.

Forwards

Sophia Smith (Stock Up) – The 21-year-old Smith had a solid tournament and was the only player among the forward core to feature in all five games. Smith scored two goals against Jamaica, and led all forwards in xG (2.05) and total shots (14). Her confidence on the ball inside the box during a high stakes tournament was evident, and will likely lead to even more time on the pitch.

Mallory Pugh (Stock Up) – Pugh closed out the tournament with four appearances, and scored one goal. She led all forwards with chances created (6), and total assists (2). Despite missed opportunities in front of goal, Pugh’s chemistry along the front line with Alex Morgan and Smith, will only get stronger as the trio continue the march toward 2023. 

Ashley Hatch (Stock Down) – Hatch’s place as the starting center forward in the tournament was cut short after she was pulled with a back strain. She only featured in one game, against Jamaica, and didn’t truly have standout performances against Colombia in the two friendlies leading up to the competition. Alex Morgan’s return to form and golden ball winning performance during the competition has firmly established her place in the position, and the role for backup center forward is still up in the air after this tournament. 

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