With Sam Mewis out and Julie Ertz ‘running out of time’, USWNT enters World Cup year with big question marks

United States & # 39;  Julie Ertz, right, and the United States & # 39;  Samantha Mewis prepares before the women's international friendly soccer match between the Netherlands and the United States at the Rat Verleigh stadium in Breda, South Holland, Friday, November 27, 2020 (Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP)

Samantha Moyes, left, and Julie Ertz, right, were one half of a powerful midfield squad for the 2019 World Cup champion USWNT team. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP)

The engine that propelled the 2019 USA Women’s National Team to a World Cup title for the second time in a row He was a four-pronged, collectively balanced midfield going into his debut. Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Sam Mewes, all 27 or younger, were all well-positioned to run the sport for the foreseeable future.

But four years later, another entered world Cup In the year, as the USWNT prepared to embark on another title defense, the team’s longtime strength became the biggest question mark.

Neither Ertz nor Mewis have played soccer since 2021, and coach Vlatko Andonovski indicated on Wednesday, more specifically than ever, that he doesn’t expect either of them to be available this summer.

Mewis has a knee injury which required a second surgery last month. she revealed earlier this week There is no timeline for her return, and Andonovsky confirmed that Moyes “will not be able to play in the World Cup due to injury”.

Meanwhile, Aerts, who gave birth to son Matthew in August, is without a club as the pre-seasons of the National Women’s Soccer League begin. Andonovsky said “time is running out” for the 30-year-old Ertz. “She is someone we probably won’t be able to count on at the World Cup,” he said.

And here we are, five and a half months into the tournament, with more fears than answers.

“These are two big names that may or may not be at the World Cup,” Andonovsky admitted. “And that’s something we planned for, that’s why we tried different names, different players in these positions.” His problem is that, so far, none of these solutions have proven viable.

He spent most of 2022 pairing Horan and Lavelle with Andy Sullivan, a serviceable defensive midfielder but certainly no replacement for Aarts. The midfield three lacked bite and suffered three straight losses in the fall.

In January, Andonovsky led Taylor Kornic in a defensive midfield role, and in a scoreless first half against an outclassed New Zealanders, the USWNT’s lack of rhythm and structure was troubling.

So what now?

“We’re going to keep trying in this camp until we build players that we think will give us the best chance of success,” Andonovsky said.

One potential solution that seemed worth trying out was Sam Coffey, who, as a 23-year-old NWSL rookie, became a key cog for Portland Thorns Championship Winner. In four appearances in the USWNT last year, she has appeared on the Upside. She sounded like the purest “No. 6” in the United States.

Then you didn’t play in January. On Wednesday, she was left off the entire February SheBelieves Cup roster.

“There was something else we wanted to see in this camp, in these games,” Andonofsky said when asked about Kofi’s sudden omission.

Fortunately, there is still time to sort out “something else”. There are three matches this month – against Canada (February 16), Japan (February 19) and Brazil (February 22) – and then more in April and beyond.

But there was no longer hope that reinforcements would appear ready when needed. For months, perhaps over a year, any conflicts with the USWNT were mitigated by the assumption that Ertz and Mewis would eventually return, but that assumption gradually gave way to the realization that they would not.

Both have been mainstays in the American midfield for half a decade. Ertz was a dependable destroyer, and a defensive midfielder without a peer in the USWNT player pool. Moise had climbed to the top. She was the American Football Player of the Year 2020. She has developed into one of the best players in the world, racing from box to box at will.

They left huge shoes to fill, proverbial shoes that, in all likelihood, no single player would be able to step into.

The solution should be partially schematic. Their absence will change the way the USWNT plays and what it is capable of. These changes certainly do not disqualify the USWNT as World Cup contenders. Still time to evolve, still time to emerge as a reformed powerhouse. And there are still other injured players who should return – Catarina Macario, the team’s brightest star, is expected back in April.

But they become Andonovski’s biggest challenge heading into mid-July as the World Cup gets under way.

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