The moment has already curdled into a dark memory–the numbed, yawning vacuum, devoid of rational thought, that was last week’s news of Becky Sauerbrunn’s absence from the 2023 Women’s World Cup due to a foot injury. The 38-year-old defender has been the cornerstone of the U.S. Women’s National Team defense for more than a decade, the only piece that has survived multiple coaches, multiple keepers, multiple center back partnerships, and all manner of behind-the-scenes drama in that time. Her performances at major tournaments in the last eight years are key reasons why the USWNT has two recent World Cup titles and an Olympics bronze medal in its trophy case. Beyond her on-field gifts, Sauerbrunn is recognized as a positional genius, a player who can see plays before they happen, who can marshal a back line, communicate instructions effectively, and be a calm leader under pressure. It’s hard to imagine how the U.S. could hope to win this year’s tournament without her.
Is it that hard, though? Sauerbrunn is approaching 40, has lost a fair bit of pace, and has not performed up to her usual standards on the ball. There are others who could not only replace that lost value, but likely add to it. The void of her leadership seems less bottomless when you consider the veterans who will be on the plane down under, ready to take charge of the team in Sauerbrunn’s honor.
Given that U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski has crossed the Becky Sauerbrunn rubicon, it’s worth examining what the team has lost, and what it might be able to gain once the tournament begins.
Naomi Girma was always the favorite to start alongside Sauerbrunn, and now her place is assured. Moving up from the bench will be Alana Cook, who played 397 minutes with Girma in several U.S. friendlies last autumn and earlier this year. How do they both compare with Sauerbrunn this season in the NWSL?
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