Worthy of USWNT recognition? Ranking NWSL players who deserve a look

Published on: 30 March 2024

Open Extended ReactionsAshley Sanchez joined the U.S. women's national team for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but didn't play a single minute during the doomed campaign. She's also been left off the squad's past couple of rosters. Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images

The 2024 Olympics kicks off in four months, but that doesn't mean it is too late for the U.S. women's national team to bring in new players. First-time call-ups for 16-year-old Lily Yohannes and 21-year-old Eva Gaetino for April's SheBelieves Cup are evidence of that.

Whether or not these new players make it to this summer's Olympics, their presence is a clear reminder that the talent pool being evaluated is wider than any given roster suggests. Midfielder Savannah DeMelo's inclusion on the 2023 World Cup roster before she had even earned her first cap exemplified this to the extreme.

U.S. interim coach Twila Kilgore is working with incoming head coach Emma Hayes on roster selections. Last week, Kilgore said she has been impressed with some younger players in the first two weeks of the NWSL season, as well as players who "have been on our radar for a really long time."

She admitted, though, that it is difficult to balance trying out new players with building the Olympic rosters: "What I would say is nobody makes these national team rosters based on one or two games, and nobody really ever gets removed from a roster because of a game -- it takes time."

With that context in mind, which players left off USWNT rosters should be getting more looks? We've ranked seven NWSL players who are overdue for their debut -- or in some cases, their return -- to the U.S. national team fold.

1. Sarah Gorden, center back, Angel City FC

From the outside, Gorden's lack of recent call-ups is hard to explain.

Gorden is one of the best central defenders in the NWSL. Her read of the game places her in good positions, and she has the speed to recover as a help defender if Angel City's shape breaks down. She is also great at breaking pressure on the dribble, and she is consistent, having put together multiple Iron Woman seasons -- including 2023, after missing all of 2022 with a torn ACL.

Editor's Picks

    USWNT's Smith signs record NWSL contract3dJeff KassoufHow Angel City and San Diego Wave are setting the standard for NWSL fan bases9dKamran NiaAndonovski on USWNT exit, return to NWSL: 'I don't need to prove anything to anyone except myself'17dJeff Kassouf

2 Related

Gorden got a look with former USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski in the 2019 December identification camp, then got recalled in October 2020 as the team reassembled in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gorden has not returned to the U.S. scene since despite her consistent play and the USWNT's ongoing need for depth at center back -- a problem highlighted by Julie Ertz shifting there for emergency duty during the 2023 World Cup.

At 31, Gorden has time working against her -- especially as the U.S. rebuilds and gets younger heading toward the 2027 World Cup -- but her age is irrelevant given her form.

2. Ashley Sanchez, midfielder, North Carolina Courage

The past year was a difficult one for Sanchez.

She never got off the bench at the 2023 World Cup as the previously uncapped DeMelo assumed the No. 10 role in the midfield. Then came an abrupt draft-day trade in January that saw her shipped from the Washington Spirit to the Courage.

Courage head coach Sean Nahas knows Sanchez well and said she is a player who cannot be put "in a box." Her positional freedom is paying off as the team's No. 10 who drifts seamlessly into the forward's space. Sanchez scored on Sunday in North Carolina's 2-1 loss to the Utah Royals.

"As long as I do what I know I'm capable of here and I show all the qualities that I have, then I think it would be a pretty easy decision for the coach to pull me back in," Sanchez said earlier this year.

The 25-year-old has the talent to be back soon, and the U.S. staff already knows that.

3. Morgan Weaver, winger, Portland Thorns FC

Weaver is the definition of tenacious hard work and also productive in front of the goal.

The 26-year-old winger tallied seven goals and four assists in 2023, matching her 2022 scoring output while adding an extra assist. Weaver's 6.1 expected assists per 90 (per FBref) led the NWSL by far in 2023.

Sure, it helps to have Sophia Smith on the other end of service, but Weaver is a reliable secondary scorer for the Thorns, and the existing partnership with Smith is worth testing further on the international level. The news this week that Midge Purce unfortunately tore an ACL means the U.S. could stand to evaluate other options on the wing.

Defending in high areas is something Weaver does well, too, and that lines up with the USWNT's general propensity to apply pressure high up the field. Weaver has two caps with the U.S., both of which came in Australia in 2021. Her game has only improved since then.

4. Croix Bethune, midfielder, Washington Spirit

If playing the kids (or at least, giving them a shot in camp) is the mantra for Hayes and Kilgore, then Bethune is worth evaluating.

Bethune's first professional goal on Sunday -- a late winner for the Washington Spirit against Bay FC -- stole headlines, but her overall play in her first two matches of the NWSL season confirms why the Spirit invested so heavily in her as the team's attacking engine.

At 5-foot-3, the 23-year-old is a small player. Her decision-making could use improvement, which is to be expected from a rookie, but the No. 3 overall draft pick hardly looks out of place. Bethune's technical ability on the ball is a skill still rare in the U.S. player pool -- a point Hayes has made previously.

If the U.S. wants to develop a like-for-like option to the profile of the oft-injured Rose Lavelle, Bethune is a player who could fit the mold. She is already deeply experienced at the youth international level and has been on the senior team's radar for two years.

5. Sam Staab, center back, Chicago Red Stars

It's another head-scratcher at center back. Staab holds the NWSL record of 92 consecutive regular-season starts and counting since she entered the league in 2019. She's a solid defender with great ability in the air and long-range passing a la Abby Dahlkemper's circa 2019.

Look, playing well in the league does not always mean that a player should get called up to the national team -- there are myriad factors. How 27-year-old Staab has never even gotten a look in a senior U.S. camp, however, is hard to explain given the center back situation through the years.

Perhaps the underlying data points that the U.S. staff values say something that we don't see from the outside.

6. Savy King, fullback, Bay FC

King's welcome to the NWSL was one-on-one matchups with Angel City winger Claire Emslie and Washington's Trinity Rodman. Those are tough assignments for veteran defenders, and while there were moments in which King needed to be better (including Bethune's winner), she did well to help Bay FC absorb pressure. The team's franchise-opening win on the road over Angel City was a gritty defensive performance.

Hayes loves to utilize athletic fullbacks in various ways, including as a third center back in a three-back setup. That is already happening with Jenna Nighswonger's rapid rise at the international level. King could fit that profile as well. She just turned 19 in February, so she has plenty of time.

7. Vanessa DiBernardo, midfielder, Kansas City Current

Like Gorden, DiBernardo is a 31-year-old who was quietly one of the pioneers of the NWSL. DiBernardo was a key player for the Chicago Red Stars' midfield for eight years before signing with the Current in the historic first round of free agency in the NWSL.

She missed significant time last season due to injury, but she has started this season in exceptional form. It is fitting that DiBernardo scored the historic first goal at CPKC Stadium, and her two-way play from a more advanced midfield position is a significant reason for Kansas City's 2-0-0 start.

The U.S. midfield is already crowded, plus the USWNT's current rebuild toward the 2027 World Cup. There are factors working against DiBernardo, but it doesn't mean her performances should go unnoticed.

Source: espn.co.uk

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.
Learn more