Unbalanced USWNT midfield is cause for concern at SheBelieves Cup

After playing the 2021 tournament in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 competition with a weakened field, the SheBelieves Cup returns in a big way this February with the USWNT playing matches against Canada, Japan and Brazil ahead of this summer's main event, the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

The U.S. has won the last three editions of the SheBelieves Cup, but England won the last pre-World Cup tournament back in 2019. Despite crushing New Zealand by a total score of 9-0 over the course of two January friendlies, questions remain over this U.S. side after it suffered three straight defeats between October and November of last year.

In those fixtures England, Germany and Spain's B team all managed to dominate possession and complete passes at a higher percentage than the U.S. The European champion Lionesses looked particularly menacing with a midfield trio of Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh and Fran Kirby taking nearly 70% possession and connecting on 86% of passes compared to just 70% for the Americans.

In the midfield that day was Vlatko Andonovski's clearly preferred three at this point: Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle. It's also clear that the USWNT will be without Sam Mewis and Julie Ertz at the World Cup while Catarina Macario remains a question mark.  

On Wednesday, Andonovski named his 23-player roster for the SheBelieves Cup, and the midfield engine room has been trimmed to just six names. It doesn't seem like there's going to be any experimenting with a formation other than the 4-3-3. 

Here's what it's looking like. 

USWNT midfield depth chart     

The No. 6s (Defensive midfielders) 

#1. Andi Sullivan

#2. Taylor Kornieck

The No. 8s (Central midfielders, box-to-box) 

#1. Lindsey Horan

#2. Kristie Mewis 

The No. 10s (Central midfielders, attacking) 

#1. Rose Lavelle

#2. Ashley Sanchez 

The biggest names missing out in midfield are then Sam Coffey, Jaelin Howell and Morgan Gautrat. 

The U.S. will be able to open the World Cup against Vietnam with seven players in attack, but where this SheBelieves Cup will prove useful is in the second match against the Netherlands and their exceptional midfield.  

It's going to be a trial by fire against these groups. 

Canada (Feb. 16 | Orlando, FL) 

Desiree Scott (Kansas City Current) 

Quinn (OL Reign)

Jessie Fleming (Chelsea) 

Japan (Feb. 19 | Nashville, TN) 

Yui Hasegawa (Manchester City)

Jun Endo (Angel City)

Honoka Hayashi (West Ham) 

Hina Sugita (Portland Thorns)

Brazil (Feb. 22 | Frisco, TX)

Adriana (Orlando Pride) 

Ary Borges (Racing Louisville) 

Kerolin (North Carolina Courage) 

The Canadian midfield is extremely experienced and captured Olympic gold together. Japan loves swamping the middle of the park and dictating play with sublime technical ability. Brazil again won the Copa América and is set to play England in the first Women's Finalissima on April 6 at Wembley. 

If everything goes great then it's all locked in until July 22. If shit hits the fan then the U.S. has an April 3-11 window to play two friendlies and one directly before the World Cup from July 10-18 to try and strike a balance. 

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