The United States women’s national team begins the final stage of its World Cup preparation with a pair of games against the Republic of Ireland over the next week. U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski will be looking to obtain further clarity regarding his squad in these friendly games in this final international window before he selects his World Cup roster.
With three months to go before the World Cup kicks off, now is a good time to go in-depth on the squad—what does Andonovski need, which players are definitely in, which ones might drop out, and who could make a late push for inclusion?
There are a few factors that are universally accepted as important to account for when building a squad for a major international tournament. An obvious one is fitness, given the team will be playing numerous games in quick succession. Leaders are key to relay the manager’s message and organize the team during games. Versatile players can be of huge use, too, considering only 20 outfielders can be picked. Finally, there are set pieces — a quick and easy way to gain an edge. Who can deliver from corners, score from free kicks, or provide aerial threat?
These are the boxes that all 32 teams will be looking to tick when picking their squads for the World Cup. Then there is the stuff specific to Andonovski and the U.S.’ style of play.
What does Vlatko need?
Andonovski usually sets up his team to play out from the back with short passing, using combination play to open up the opponent. He prefers a back four, so requires center backs who are strong in duels and capable on the ball. At fullback, there is a need for players who can support the attack through runs and/or quality service from wide. Andonovski likes to have variety in his fullbacks, too, so there should be a mix of profiles in this position.
Andonovski recently decided on a midfield of two holding and one beneath the striker. The two holders must combine (either individually or as a unit) protecting the back line with technical ability to keep the ball, and passing to move play forward. The attacking midfielder must be effective at finding space or making it for themselves, and capable of feeding the front line.
Up front, Andonovski prefers his striker to be a two-way option — able to run behind and finish, or drop deep and link play (or act as an effective target for more direct play). His wide players are not out-and-out wingers, more wide forwards who must be clever runners, quick and able to finish when through on goal.
It’s also worth noting that Andonovski usually opts for a 4-2-4 defensive system that can become a 4-4-2, asking the wide players to track back and protect the fullbacks. So, defensive application and athleticism is also relevant when selecting for these positions.
Now that we know what Andonovski is looking for, specifically relating to his system and more generally going into a major tournament, we can analyze the current crop of players and assess their chances of selection. This will include not just those involved in the friendlies against Ireland, but those who have been involved in some way over the last six months, and others who have not been selected lately but could make a push for inclusion if their form at club level continues.
The options can be split into five categories.
- Star Players: Talent-wise, these are the best available players
- Potential Starters: They might start, depending on performance in the coming months
- Team Players: They won’t start, but will be reliable, zero-fuss backups, or offer something different off the bench
- Fringe Players: Recently involved, but their place in the squad could be up for grabs
- On the radar: The World Cup will come too soon, but they need to be in the mix soon
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