New United States Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski has named his first squad, and it includes seven players who were not on the World Cup roster. Some of them are familiar faces, but four — Aubrey Bledsoe, Alana Cook, Imani Dorsey and Margaret Purce — have never been capped.
There’s space available for Andonovski to try out some new players due to injuries to Kelley O’Hara, Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson and Megan Rapinoe. Alex Morgan is also unavailable due to pregnancy.
CB Alana Cook
Cook might have slipped off the radar of NWSL fans because she skipped the draft to sign for Paris Saint-Germain. The 22-year-old Stanford grad is also eligible to play for England, and participated in a camp with the Three Lionesses last month, though she did not play in a match. Cook previously played for the USWNT at the youth level.
While Cook has impressed at PSG, she’s also had a couple of high-profile errors in Champions League play, which you’d expect from a rookie. She has all the tools to be an elite center back, though. She’s an extremely physical player with solid pace and technical ability, and she has a degree that proves she is much smarter than you.
Cook often looks like a player who is using each of her elite skills one at a time, rather than all together in a fluid performance. If Andonovski can help her connect the pieces, she’ll become a USWNT staple.
FB Casey Short
Jill Ellis was dogmatic about requiring a significant attacking contribution from her fullbacks. She was so committed to this that she ended up leaving Short, NWSL’s best wing defender, out of her World Cup squad. Andonovski has utilized both attack-minded and traditional fullbacks at club level, so it’s not surprising that he found a place for Short in his team.
The question will be if Short factors in Andonovski’s long-term plans. She’s at the top of her game right now, but she will be 33 years old when the next World Cup rolls around. Short might have a tiny window to prove that she’s an irreplaceable part of the back line, rather than a placeholder for an up-and-coming youngster.
FB (???) Imani Dorsey
Ellis’ fullback conversion projects were unpopular with fans, but it appears that Andonovski will be undertaking one of his own. Dorsey has spent the last two seasons playing on the wing with Sky Blue FC, and she was a forward in college, but she’s listed as a defender for her first USWNT call-up.
We know that Dorsey is athletic, hard-working and a good dribbler, but that’s all we have when we try to project whether a move to fullback will stick. Some players pick up new positions well and some flop. Sky Blue is currently searching for a new head coach, so we can’t even guess whether her club team will be on board with the switch.
But Dorsey, talented as she is at running with the ball, has never had great shooting numbers at Duke or Sky Blue. The USWNT would have a fullback shortage even if O’Hara and Dunn were available, but the former might never regain top form because of injuries, and the latter is best used in an attacking role. Andonovski needs to find fullbacks somewhere. Dorsey likely won’t be the last surprising player to get a shot in that role.
FW Margaret Purce
Purce was one of Ellis’ former fullback conversion projects, and she has had minutes in that role for the Portland Thorns, too. But she became a good enough finisher to justify a spot up top this year, scoring eight goals from 37 shots.
Striker is another area of concern for Andonovski. Morgan is out until at least May, if not considerably longer, and Carli Lloyd and Jessica McDonald are 36 and 31, respectively. He’ll need to test out a few new options up top, and Purce was the most obvious first choice for this camp.
Purce might only have one chance to impress Andonovski before he gets a look at younger, shinier prospects, however. College stars like Ashley Sanchez, Sophia Smith and Catarina Macario are already looking pro ready, and could get called into December’s I.D. camp.
MF Andi Sullivan
Sullivan was arguably the last woman out of the World Cup squad, and most assumed that the 23-year-old would be back with the national team immediately after the tournament ended. She played during Ellis’ sendoff matches, and should be a fixture in the team from now on.
After a shaky rookie season under Jim Gabarra in 2018, Sullivan’s career was turned around by the arrival of Richie Burke, who immediately made her the Washington Spirit’s captain and built the team around her. She had a superb season and was arguably the biggest factor in the Spirit’s evolution from basement dweller to playoff contender.
The biggest question about Sullivan is how Andonovski intends to use her. She has played as a defensive midfielder, a box-to-box midfielder and an advanced playmaker. She could fill in at multiple spots because of her versatility, but Andonovski might have a specific role in mind.
For whatever reason, Williams and Ellis didn’t really mesh. Her North Carolina Courage teammates were able to navigate the difference in coaching styles between Paul Riley (specific and intense) and Ellis (freedom granting and calm), but Williams could not. So despite dominant performances in NWSL, she found herself out of the USWNT.
Williams was a virtual lock to return to the team under Andonovski. However, the half-winger, half-forward role she plays for the Courage probably won’t exist in his system. We’ll likely find out during this camp if Andonovski thinks she’s a better fit at right wing or center forward.
GK Aubrey Bledsoe
Bledsoe has been excellent for the past three seasons, but it doesn’t make sense to rotate goalkeepers. She has earned a call-up with some sensational performances for the Washington Spirit, but it’s also difficult to see her winning a starting spot in the short term. Alyssa Naeher has done nothing to lose her place, while Adrianna Franch is better than Bledsoe at rushing out if Andonovski wants to play a system with a very high defensive line.
If Bledsoe starts, she probably had a truly exceptional camp.