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2023 Women's World Cup

Kassouf: For USWNT, World Cup roster will be a gamble of theory vs. reality

• Mallory Swanson is the latest player in a long list of USWNT injuries
• Julie Ertz has returned, but what kind of shape and form will she be in by summer?
• Other players yet to return from injury means Vlatko Andonovski might have to gamble

Dustin Safranek-USA TODAY Sports

Julie Ertz will probably play for the United States women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup.

Up until a month ago, that would have been a dangerous bet to make. Ertz had not played a competitive match in over 18 months, and U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski had recently said that he would not be able to rely on Ertz at the World Cup. The implicit question was not whether she would be back in time for the World Cup, but whether she planned to come back at all.

Then came the announcement of her return, and on Saturday, there she was back on the field for the U.S., as if nothing had changed.

At her best, Ertz is among the best players in the world. Andonovski reiterated this point moments after the public announcement. What version of the player will the U.S. be getting this summer? That is a question has become ubiquitous for a U.S. team that contended with a mountain of major injuries over the past year, the latest being a torn patella tendon for Mallory Swanson, the team’s most in-form player right now.

How Andonovski chooses to answer that question for each player represents the collective gamble. Bet on the player he knows to be better but who might not actually be her best self, or stick with a healthy player who has been integral to the rebuilding process over the past year? These are not new questions for coaches heading into major tournaments; the uncertainty around U.S. player health is just more pronounced and voluminous than ever.

“There’s so many dynamics, and when we’re making these decisions, everything will be taken into consideration,” Andonovski said recently. “What is someone’s best and what is someone’s 80% or 90%? If somebody’s 80 or 90% is still better than somebody else’s best, then too bad. Anyone that will help us win the World Cup will be taken to the World Cup.”

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