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Predicting The USWNT's Strongest XI For World Cup And Olympic Qualifying

After naming a 59-player provisional roster just five days ago, USWNT manager Vlatko Andonovski has gone ahead and confirmed his final 23-woman squad for the upcoming Concacaf W Championship in Mexico, which serves as qualifying for the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympic Games. 

Some of the decisions have been forced with the likes of Catarina Macario, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn and Abby Dahlkemper ruled out, but Andonovski also hinted at the end of the road for veterans Tobin Heath and Christen Press.

The reaction to a squad announcement always focuses on who's missing, but at the end of the day this team should dominate Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti in group play (finishing first or second there secures World Cup participation), and then it's all about beating gold medalist Canada to secure direct qualification for the Olympics.

Here's an XI that could get the job done. 

USWNT Starting Lineup Today  

GK: Alyssa Naeher

Reasoning: The 34-year-old is the USWNT's undisputed No. 1 with 80 caps. After facing questions before the 2019 World Cup, Naeher was brilliant in France and came up huge against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games. Naeher's tried, trusted and world class. 

LB: Emily Fox

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Reasoning: The 23-year-old is one of the NWSL's rising stars in defense after finishing as a finalist for the 2021 Rookie of the Year award while leading the league in interceptions. According to FotMob, Fox is 11th in the league this season in accurate passes per 90 (43.1), showcasing her ability in both attack and defense.

CB: Becky Sauerbrunn

Reasoning: Becky Sauerbrunn isn't getting beat at the Concacaf W Championship. 

CB: Alana Cook

Reasoning: The 25-year-old has led the U.S. in minutes this year with 414 while providing two assists from the back. According to FotMob, she's provided the fifth most accurate long balls per 90 in NWSL (five) this campaign and has one assist. Cook is a ball-playing center back with all the right defensive tools, making her a potential staple of the backline for the next decade.   

RB: Kelley O'Hara

Reasoning: No one in the squad comes close to matching the 33-year-old's defensive experience and quality in the attacking third from fullback. However, she's been troubled by a recent hamstring injury that could open the door for Sofia Huerta, who has one assist in three appearances for the U.S. this year and two for OL Reign.  

CDM: Andi Sullivan

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Reasoning: The 2017 Hermann Trophy winner is second on the team in minutes played this year with 364 — scoring one and creating one — but Sullivan's been bothered by a quad injury in NWSL play that's limited her to four appearances. The Spirit's clearly felt her absence. 

When healthy, she's a box-to-box force capable of scoring, creating and defending.    

CM: Lindsey Horan

Reasoning: A constant in 2021 with 22 appearances, six goals and five assists, Horan was named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. She's only gone and followed that up with a Champions League title while on loan at Lyon from Portland.  

CM: Rose Lavelle

Reasoning: Lavelle's 2021 performances for the USWNT (five goals and five assists in 22 games) were a far cry from her 2019 glory days, but the 27-year-old has two goals and three assists in three appearances this year while also looking dangerous for OL Reign in NWSL play.

If Lavelle doesn't hit the ground running, Ashley Sanchez (two goals, two assists in five caps this year) deserves time as the team's most advanced midfielder.     

LW: Mallory Pugh

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Reasoning: Arguably the most in-form player on the USWNT in 2022. This year, she's played 296 minutes for the U.S. and scored five while creating five. In NWSL play with Chicago, she has five goals in six appearances while creating a league-leading four big chances (one assist). Pugh's also the league's best off the dribble with 3.4 successful take-ons per 90 at a ridiculous 72.7 percent success rate.  

Andonovski said Monday that the left wing belongs to Pugh, and that it would be extremely difficult for someone like Megan Rapinoe to take it back.  

ST: Alex Morgan

Reasoning: Her 2021 numbers for the USWNT — eight goals in 20 caps — weren't up to her own ridiculously high standards, but the 32-year-old is back to her best in the NWSL with a league-leading nine goals in nine games for the San Diego Wave. Morgan's finishing is at a frightening level right now, and all of Concacaf should be terrified. 

RW: Sophia Smith

Reasoning: Like Pugh and Morgan, the 21-year-old Smith is absolutely lighting it up in the NWSL with Portland right now. She has six goals and two assists in eight games, as well as three goals for the USWNT in five appearances this year. Like Pugh, she's also a huge threat off the dribble. 

Three Off The Bench

RW: Trinity Rodman

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Reasoning: The 20-year-old can kill defenses out wide with her ability off the dribble and on the counter, but what really makes Rodman a special talent is how she can find weaknesses in the defense and operate out of those positions with skill and veteran savvy. 

CM: Kristie Mewis

Reasoning: Mewis has been used primarily off the bench this year with the U.S., and she has the ability to dictate the match's tempo with excellent technical quality and an eye for the killer pass. 

LW: Megan Rapinoe

Reasoning: In the final 20 minutes of a match with space opening up everywhere, Rapinoe is exactly who you want in the attacking half with runners flooding into the area.

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