The engine that propelled the 2019 U.S. ladies’s nationwide crew to a second consecutive World Cup title was a four-pronged, well-balanced midfield collectively getting into its prime. It was Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Sam Mewis, all 27 years previous or youthful, all positioned to run the game for the foreseeable future.
However 4 years later, getting into one other World Cup 12 months, with the USWNT set to embark on one other title protection, the crew’s longtime power has turn into its greatest query mark.
Neither Ertz nor Mewis has performed soccer since 2021, and head coach Vlatko Andonovski indicated Wednesday, extra definitively than ever earlier than, that he does not anticipate both to be obtainable this summer season.
Mewis has been battling a maddening knee harm that required a second surgical procedure final month. She revealed earlier this week that there isn’t any timetable for her return, and Andonovski confirmed that Mewis is “not gonna have the ability to play within the World Cup due to the harm.”
Ertz, in the meantime, gave start to her son Matthew in August, and is with out a membership as Nationwide Girls’s Soccer League preseasons get underway. Andonovski stated that “time is working out” for the 30-year-old Ertz. “She’s somebody that we’re most likely not gonna have the ability to depend on within the World Cup,” he stated.
And so right here we’re, five-and-a-half months out from the event, with extra worries than solutions.
“These are two large names that could be or will likely be absent from the World Cup,” Andonovski acknowledged. “And that is one thing that we now have deliberate for, and that is why we have tried totally different names, totally different gamers in these positions.” His drawback is that, to date, none of these options have confirmed viable.
He spent most of 2022 pairing Horan and Lavelle with Andi Sullivan, a serviceable defensive midfielder however definitely not an Ertz alternative. That midfield three lacked chew and was uncovered in three straight autumn losses.
In January, Andonovski piloted Taylor Kornieck within the defensive midfield function, and in a scoreless first half in opposition to overmatched New Zealand, the USWNT’s lack of rhythm and construction was alarming.
So, what now?
“We will proceed making an attempt on this camp till we solidify the gamers that we consider will give us one of the best probability to achieve success,” Andonovski stated.
One potential resolution that appeared value piloting was Sam Coffey, who, as a 23-year-old NWSL rookie, turned a key cog for the championship-winning Portland Thorns. In 4 USWNT appearances final 12 months, she flashed upside. She gave the impression to be probably the most well-rounded, pure “No. 6” that the U.S. had.
Then she did not play in January. On Wednesday, she was left off the roster for February’s SheBelieves Cup completely.
“There was one thing else that we wished to see on this camp, in these video games,” Andonovski stated when requested about Coffey’s shocking omission.
There’s, luckily, nonetheless time to kind by that “one thing else.” There are three video games this month — in opposition to Canada (Feb. 16), Japan (Feb. 19) and Brazil (Feb. 22) — then extra in April and past.
However there isn’t any longer hope that ready-made reinforcements will seem when required. For months, maybe for over a 12 months, any USWNT struggles had been tempered by the idea that Ertz and Mewis would ultimately return, however that assumption progressively gave strategy to the conclusion that they will not.
Each had been mainstays within the U.S. midfield for half a decade. Ertz was a reliable destroyer, a defensive midfielder with out parallel within the USWNT participant pool. And Mewis had ascended to the highest of it. She was U.S. Soccer’s feminine participant of the 12 months in 2020. She had developed into one of many world’s absolute best gamers, galloping box-to-box at will.
They’ve left large sneakers to fill, proverbial sneakers that, in all probability, no single participant is able to getting into.
The answer must be partially schematic. Their absences will change the best way the USWNT performs and what it’s able to. These modifications definitely do not disqualify the USWNT as World Cup contenders. There’s nonetheless time to evolve, nonetheless time to emerge as a reformed pressure. And there are nonetheless different injured gamers who ought to return — Catarina Macario, the crew’s brightest star, is predicted again in April.
However they’ve turn into Andonovski’s greatest problem as mid-July and World Cup kickoff close to.