Who Should Make a 23 Person USWNT Roster?


Sometimes thought experiments are a good way to go through players pools and figuring out what you like and don’t like about players. As someone who writes about women’s soccer, I do a lot of thought experiments that never see the light of day. But the last one I did was something I thought I’d share.

It started with a simple question: Who could reasonably be included in the USWNT pool? It then turned quickly into who would make the best 23? Not who ARE the best 23 players in the country but which 23 would make the most solid team? I’m sure if you looked at the list of the last few rosters of players called up to the USWNT you could put together a 23 woman list that would be the envy of most countries on earth.

But is that the best the US could do?

I think if there was an event, a fictional mid December tournament, let’s say in France with Germany, the US and Australia all invited. Each team gets 23 players on the roster and the USWNT no longer has players they have to call up due to contracts, who makes the cut?

If I were in charge, and every player were healthy, this is what would my 23 for this tournament look like.

Before you crack your knuckles and start commenting and why this or that player should have made the cut, let me explain how I got down to the pool I did. I listed out all of the players in the NWSL, sorry college players but I don’t know you well enough to judge you yet, who could be called up to the USWNT. 

Goalkeeper Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Abby Smith Abby Dahlkemper Allie Long Alex Morgan
Adrianna Franch Ali Krieger Andi Sullivan Ashley Hatch
Alyssa Naeher Amber Brooks Christina Gibbons Beverly Yanez
Ashlyn Harris Arin Gilliland Christine Nairn Carli Lloyd
Aubrey Bledsoe Becky Sauerbrunn Dani Weatherholt Cheyna Williams
Haley Kopmeyer Caprice Dydasco Danielle Colaprico Chioma Ubogagu
Jane Campbell Cari Roccaro Daphne Corboz Christen Press
Katelyn Rowland Carson Pickett Julie Ertz Crystal Dunn
Michelle Betos Casey Short Kealia Ohai Jasmyne Spencer
  Christen Westphal Kristen Edmonds Jessica McDonald
  Emily Menges Kristie Mewis Lynn Williams
  Emily Sonnett Lindsey Horan Mallory Pugh
  Erica Skroski Lo’eau LaBonta Margaret Purce
  Estelle Johnson McCall Zerboni Merritt Matthias
  Gina Lewandowski Megan Rapinoe Rachel Hill
  Jaelene Hinkle Meggie Dougherty Howard Savannah Jordan
  Katherine Reynolds Morgan Andrews Shea Groom
  Kelley O’Hara Morgan Brian Stephanie McCaffrey
  Kristen McNabb Nikki Stanton Sydney Leroux
  Lauren Barnes Rose Lavelle  
  Mandy Freeman Samantha Mewis  
  Megan Oyster Sarah Killion  
  Meghan Klingenberg Sofia Huerta  
  Sam Witteman Tobin Heath  
  Taylor Smith Tori Huster  
    Vanessa DiBernardo  

To start pairing down the list I removed the players who I gave a “soft pass” to. These are players who either have never been in the USWNT system, have been passed by it, or I don’t think have that special something needed to be on the full national team. 

The players given a “soft pass” are marked in red.

Goalkeeper Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Abby Smith Abby Dahlkemper Allie Long Alex Morgan
Adrianna Franch Amber Brooks Andi Sullivan Ashley Hatch
Alyssa Naeher Becky Sauerbrunn Christina Gibbons Carli Lloyd
Ashlyn Harris Caprice Dydasco Dani Weatherholt Cheyna Williams
Aubrey Bledsoe Cari Roccaro Danielle Colaprico Chioma Ubogagu
Jane Campbell Carson Pickett Daphne Corboz Christen Press
Katelyn Rowland Casey Short Julie Ertz Crystal Dunn
Michelle Betos Christen Westphal Kristen Edmonds Jasmyne Spencer
Haley Kopmeyer Emily Menges Lindsey Horan Lynn Williams
  Emily Sonnett Megan Rapinoe Mallory Pugh
  Erica Skroski Meggie Dougherty Howard Margaret Purce
  Jaelene Hinkle Morgan Andrews Rachel Hill
  Katherine Reynolds Morgan Brian Savannah Jordan
  Kelley O’Hara Rose Lavelle Shea Groom
  Kristen McNabb Samantha Mewis Beverly Yanez
  Mandy Freeman Sarah Killion Jessica McDonald
  Taylor Smith Sofia Huerta Merritt Matthias
  Ali Krieger Tobin Heath Stephanie McCaffrey
  Arin Gilliland Vanessa DiBernardo Sydney Leroux
  Estelle Johnson Christine Nairn  
  Gina Lewandowski Kealia Ohai  
  Lauren Barnes Kristie Mewis  
  Megan Oyster Lo’eau LaBonta  
  Meghan Klingenberg McCall Zerboni  
  Sam Witteman Nikki Stanton  
    Tori Huster  

Then it was time to look at the remaining players and remove those who just aren’t ready yet in my best estimation. Some were rookies, some had been in the league for a few years but were just becoming starters, and still yet some had shifted positions and I wanted a bit more “burn in” before they were called up.

The players given “Give Them Time” are listed in blue.
The players given a “Soft Pass” are marked in red.

Goalkeeper Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Adrianna Franch Abby Dahlkemper Allie Long Alex Morgan
Alyssa Naeher Amber Brooks Andi Sullivan Ashley Hatch
Ashlyn Harris Becky Sauerbrunn Danielle Colaprico Carli Lloyd
Michelle Betos Casey Short Julie Ertz Christen Press
Abby Smith Emily Menges Lindsey Horan Crystal Dunn
Aubrey Bledsoe Emily Sonnett Megan Rapinoe Lynn Williams
Jane Campbell Jaelene Hinkle Morgan Brian Mallory Pugh
Katelyn Rowland Katherine Reynolds Rose Lavelle Shea Groom
Haley Kopmeyer Kelley O’Hara Samantha Mewis Cheyna Williams
  Taylor Smith Sofia Huerta Chioma Ubogagu
  Caprice Dydasco Tobin Heath Jasmyne Spencer
  Cari Roccaro Vanessa DiBernardo Margaret Purce
  Carson Pickett Christina Gibbons Rachel Hill
  Christen Westphal Dani Weatherholt Savannah Jordan
  Erica Skroski Daphne Corboz Beverly Yanez
  Kristen McNabb Kristen Edmonds Jessica McDonald
  Mandy Freeman Meggie Dougherty Howard Merritt Matthias
  Ali Krieger Morgan Andrews Stephanie McCaffrey
  Arin Gilliland Sarah Killion Sydney Leroux
  Estelle Johnson Christine Nairn  
  Gina Lewandowski Kealia Ohai  
  Lauren Barnes Kristie Mewis  
  Megan Oyster Lo’eau LaBonta  
  Meghan Klingenberg McCall Zerboni  
  Sam Witteman Nikki Stanton  
    Tori Huster  

After the first two rounds of cuts I had 33 players left. A mix of older and younger players that was really difficult to break down much more than I had. It was from this group I’d make my 23. 

Goalkeeper Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Alyssa Naeher Becky Sauerbrunn Julie Ertz Alex Morgan
Adrianna Franch Casey Short Lindsey Horan Christen Press
Ashlyn Harris Kelley O’Hara Samantha Mewis Mallory Pugh
Michelle Betos Abby Dahlkemper Tobin Heath Ashley Hatch
  Amber Brooks Allie Long Carli Lloyd
  Emily Menges Andi Sullivan Crystal Dunn
  Emily Sonnett Danielle Colaprico Lynn Williams
  Jaelene Hinkle Megan Rapinoe Shea Groom
  Katherine Reynolds Morgan Brian  
  Taylor Smith Rose Lavelle  
    Sofia Huerta  
    Vanessa DiBernardo  

My person preference when I’m putting together a roster is a balance between defenders, attacking players who are strong defenders and attacking players who bring the heat with the usual 3 goalkeeper set up.

I started to pair down by looking first at the goalkeepers.


Alyssa Naeher, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Michelle Betos were the goalkeepers that survived my first two rounds of cuts.

At 29, 26, 32 and 29 it’s not a young group by any means.

For this roster I wanted Naeher’s experience as the current number one. Adrianna Franch, the best goalkeeper in the NWSL in 2017, was my second choice.

Third choice was down to Ashlyn Harris or Michelle Betos. In the end I went with Betos. I want to see how her time away from the NWSL has done to her game.

I would give each of the three a game to see just what they could do against high level attacks.

Just like that 3 of the 23 slots were decided.


Going from 10 really solid defenders down to six is never easy. I am the type of roster builder that usually tries to sneak an extra defender or two in, but with the 23 I’m building I don’t have room for more than the 6 I went with.

Amber Brooks, Emily Menges, Jaelene Hinkle and Katherine Reynolds were the four that ended up chopped last.

Dahlkemper, Sauerbrunn and Sonnett are three centerbacks that give me the type of tenacity and reliability I’m looking for. Sauerbrunn has been the rock of the USWNT backline over the last 3 years in a way that has saved more goals than her lack of speed has created. In Dahlkemper and Sonnett I’d get a pair of up and coming players who are hungry to prove their worth.

And with O’Hara, Short and Smith you have speed, defense and each has an attacking soul deep down that tends to pop up in key moments.

I’d start O’Hara and Short, use Smith as a sub if needed for Short and shift O’Hara to the left. With the centerbacks I’d like start safe with Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn and bring in Sonnett as needed.

9 players down, 14 to go. 

Attacking Players

This is a bit of a two for one.

Let’s look at the center of the park and then the forward attack.

I tend to forget just how stacked the center midfield is for the US because Ellis doesn’t call a lot of the players in.

No matter who I went with in this pool I was going to get center midfielders who can do work. I ended up keeping Julie Ertz, Samantha Mewis, Andi Sullivan, Danielle Colaprico, Rose Lavelle, and Vanessa DiBernardo.

I want a little bit of what each brings. Is it a lot of options in the center, yes. But with Ertz ability to be the 6, 8 or 10, Colaprico’s skill on the ball, Sullivan’s talent for disruption, Lavelle’s vision, Mewis’s crazy soccer smarts and DiBernardo’s everything, it is a 6 pack worth having.

Yes, I cut Horan from this, mostly because I think with the midfield I’m thinking of, Colaprico or DiBernardo could do the job with a few less yellow cards. 

Any three put out there will have all the keys needed to prevent being run over. And the level of finesse to physicality can be turned up or down depending on the team of the moment.

No team wins without attackers, right? So for my wingers/wide forwards/forwards I went with the idea of “if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it too much”.

Having Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh, Lynn Williams, Ashley Hatch, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, and Sofia Huerta all on the same team feels a little like playing a video game. They are all so good.

I added Ashley Hatch because the forwards need a little more spark at times. Dunn used to have that role but England has hurt Crystal Dunn’s game on the USWNT. I wish it hadn’t but she didn’t look like the same player in her minutes with the team. I hope she can come back to the NWSL and find her mojo. But until then I have to go with another attacker.

And yeah, no Carli Lloyd. They are a better team when she isn’t there to force the line up in her image.

So the full 23 would be:

Goalkeeper Defenders Midfielders Forwards
Alyssa Naeher Becky Sauerbrunn Julie Ertz Alex Morgan
Adrianna Franch Casey Short Samantha Mewis Christen Press
Michelle Betos Kelley O’Hara Tobin Heath Mallory Pugh
  Abby Dahlkemper Andi Sullivan Lynn Williams
  Emily Sonnett Danielle Colaprico Ashley Hatch
  Taylor Smith Megan Rapinoe  
    Rose Lavelle  
    Sofia Huerta  
    Vanessa DiBernardo  

So is my 23 the 23 best players in the NWSL that the US could take? Maybe. I went with some young choices in hopes of growing the players and trying a few new things. I think the 23 I went with would at least be a bit of an entertaining mix.

If you were going to pull together a 23-player roster for a December tournament, if all spots were open, who would you go with

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