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2019 Women's World Cup

USWNT XI: A look at Jill Ellis’ depth chart, position by position, as the World Cup nears

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

The United States women’s national team is widely lauded as the deepest team in the world. Coach Jill Ellis can only take 23 players to the 2019 World Cup, and that means there will be plenty of talented Americans watching from home.

Sometimes, picking the 23 is as much about need and depth as it is talent. A player perceived to be more talented might be left off the World Cup roster for that 23rd player who is brought to fulfill a very specific role — often one which never sees match competition.

So, instead of ranking the best American players in linear format, we decided to create a depth chart for each position, to portray how Ellis views her team — and her needs — right now. Below, you’ll find a depth chart for each position in the U.S.’ 4-3-3 setup. The versatility of players means there is plenty of overlap. Julie Ertz, for example, is the starting No. 6 (defensive midfielder), and also one of the first replacements at center back. Those secondary positions are indicated by yellow boxes.

If, for example, Megan Rapinoe were unavailable, Tobin Heath would slot in on the left and Mallory Pugh would assume the starting role on the right. The charts are based on a mixture of our collective knowledge of Ellis’ preferences, along with educated guesses as to how she might be thinking about the lower limits of her World Cup roster. Her starting XI is pretty obvious right now. The guessing largely begins after that.

Click on a player’s name to expand the box for further detail and related story links.

Left Winger

Megan Rapinoe

The 33-year-old has been in the form of her life over the last year-plus and could be the U.S.’ most important player in France.

Tobin Heath
If Rapinoe isn’t an option, for any reason, then Heath slides left and Pugh assumes her spot on the right.
Crystal Dunn
Dunn has settled in as a fullback — for the most part. Her versatility makes her a forward option late in matches.

Center Forward

Alex Morgan

Easily the team’s best No. 9 and go-to goal-scorer, the big question is: What happens if she gets hurt?

Carli Lloyd

Now almost exclusively a No. 9, Lloyd plays a much different role from that of Morgan, As of now, the 2015 World Cup hero Lloyd is a late spark off the bench.

Jess McDonald

The true wild card for making the final 23, McDonald offers hold-up play unlike anyone else on the roster. And the No. 9 position lacks depth, which could make her a necessary part of the World Cup roster. She turns 31 in February, so it’s now or never to make a World Cup roster.

Amy Rodriguez

A-Rod’s role in that 2015 quarterfinal turnaround is often overlooked, fitting for an underappreciated career. She appears a longshot, at best, for the 2019 roster.

Right Winger

Tobin Heath

The U.S. best player in 2016 and marred by injury in 2017, Heath has returned to her all-world level and remains the team’s most creative 1-v-1 player.

Mallory Pugh

Pugh was the starter, but injury was followed by a noticeable dip in form. She’s a heck of a bench option, if that’s her role for 2019.

Christen Press

Morgan locking down the No. 9 role continues to shift Press to the wing — and limit her minutes. It’s a suitable but not ideal role for her.

No. 8

Lindsey Horan

She’s developing into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world — a Lauren-Holiday-esque progression from her days as a target forward.

Sam Mewis

Can Mewis stay healthy and in form? When she’s on, she can pick apart defenses with inch-perfect passes from deep-lying positions.

Morgan Brian

Once the incumbent, Brian’s dip in form has shuffled the landscape of the midfield trio. She was dropped from the U.S.’ final two matches of 2018. Can she return to form in time for the World Cup?

McCall Zerboni
Known best as a No. 6, Ellis has tried Zerboni in the No. 8 role and been impressed with the results.

No. 10

Rose Lavelle

Form remains a question mark, but Lavelle is clearly Jill Ellis’ preferred option here when healthy. Can she stay healthy? And will relative inexperience be a factor?

Lindsey Horan
Horan is versatile enough to play in any of the three midfield positions, depending on Ellis’ preferred trio.
Carli Lloyd
Lloyd made her name in the midfield, and is still an option in the No. 10 role if needed.

No. 6

Julie Ertz

My, what a difference four years makes. Those who only know Ertz as the 2015 bruiser at center back will learn that she has evolved into a two-way player, and the answer at defensive midfield.

McCall Zerboni

The ultimate success story of the NWSL being a pathway to the USWNT, regardless of age, Zerboni emerged this summer as a near lock for France before a freak injury sidelined her in September. She’s a viable option if Ertz is needed elsewhere.

Allie Long

Long erased a lost 2017 campaign in Portland with a strong showing in Seattle in 2018. She’s in contention for one of the final roster spots, depending on where Ellis feels she needs depth.

Andi Sullivan

Once the USWNT’s ‘next big thing,’ Sullivan struggled mightily in 2018 and risks missing out on the World Cup roster entirely. Her window to change that is shrinking, with competition increasing at the position.

Danielle Colaprico

Colaprico’s path to the World Cup is a longshot, as we previously detailed, but her recent return to the team suggests Ellis is still looking for answers. Can she jump both Sullivan and Long in the chart?

Left Back

Crystal Dunn

Crystal Dunn was one of the best attacking midfielders in the NWSL in 2018 while simultaneously taking hold of a starting fullback role for the U.S. She’s there to stay for 2019.

Kelley O'Hara
O’Hara is the starting right back when healthy, but she’s also the best fullback, period. If Dunn isn’t in the left back role — for whatever reason — than O’Hara shifts there and Sonnett fills in on the right.
Casey Short
Casey Short and Lynn Williams smile after Williams had to help with a zipper issue on Short's coat on the bench. (MEG LINEHAN/Equalizer Soccer)

Casey Short appears to be fighting for time as a depth fullback, but she can also play centrally. Why she hasn’t seen more time in 2018 is a bit of a mystery.

Tierna Davidson
She’s a center back first, but she’s left-footed and gives the U.S. versatility when shifting to a three-back to chase a game.

Center Back

Becky Sauerbrunn

Sauerbrunn is easily the team’s best defender and most consistent player. She was otherworldly during the 2015 World Cup title run, and she’ll need to be again with an entirely different back line and goalkeeper.

Tierna Davidson

Tierna Davidson was the choice No. 2 starting center back alongside Sauerbrunn — until she got hurt this fall. It’s a tight race between Davidson and Dahlkemper for the second starting CB role. Ellis is particularly fond of Davidson’s left foot and her potential. Slight edge to Davidson, but this could change.

Abby Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper battled some consistency issues in 2017, but improved throughout 2018. She showed consistency in leading the North Carolina Courage to the NWSL title, and her maturity is beginning to show at the international level. She’s the third-choice CB — when everyone is healthy — by the narrowest of margins, but the battle for the starting role is still very much open.

Julie Ertz
The breakout U.S. defender of the 2015 World Cup can (and sometimes does) still play center back, though she is more important to the team now as a defensive midfielder.
Emily Sonnett
Center back is Sonnett’s more natural position, but a penchant for the occasionally unpredictable decision — and a need for answers at fullback — is why she finds herself closer to starting in a wide role for the U.S., rather than centrally.

Right Back

Kelley O'Hara

The image of O’Hara as 2015 World Cup winger/super-sub still dominates most people’s memories, but she is the best fullback in the pool right now. Don’t forget she won an Olympic gold medal playing the position, too…six years ago.

Emily Sonnett
Emily Sonnett stands during the national anthem during the SheBelieves Cup at Red Bull Arena. (MEG LINEHAN/Equalizer Soccer)

Once thought to be the heir apparent to Sauerbrunn at center back, Sonnett has been in and out of favor with the U.S. over the past two years. She doesn’t fit the attacking profile of the fullback Ellis wants, but she gives the coach options for a potentially more conservative approach on the right side (which allows Dunn to push higher on the left).

Merritt Mathias

The fullback position remains unsettled enough that Mathias still has an outside shot at a roster spot in France — but it will be difficult. She remains in the mix in training camps but played just 13 minutes of game action for the U.S. in 2018.

Sofia Huerta

Huerta famously made the switch from Mexico to the U.S., and moved from Chicago to Houston to get more playing time at fullback…only to not play fullback. She hasn’t been with the U.S. since that June trade, but she recently detailed to The Equalizer how she plans to get back on the radar. It’s a longshot for 2019, but given the fluidity of that position, it isn’t totally out of the question.


Alyssa Naeher

Naeher is the clear No. 1 for the U.S. now, having started 15 of 20 games in 2018. She’ll be the U.S. starter in France, barring injury, but there is some question around her relative lack of big-game experience. Fair or not, the answer to that will come soon.

Ashlyn Harris

Harris is very narrowly hanging on to the No. 2 goalkeeper spot. She started four of the five matches that Naeher did not in 2018, but she hasn’t been able to push Naeher for the starting role in two years of competition.

Adrianna Franch

Franch is widely considered to have been the most in-form American goalkeeper in the NWSL over the past two seasons, but still hasn’t been capped by the U.S. She is the clear No. 3 to go France, and she’s overdue for her first cap. If she can get that opportunity in a friendly, she might become the No. 2 by June.

Jane Campbell

Long ago tabbed to be the next great U.S. goalkeeper, Campbell has had some trials by fire in her first two seasons as a professional. She was poor in her only U.S. minutes of 2018, conceding twice to Mexico in the opening 24 minutes. Campbell is still only 23 and could factor in future cycles.


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