What will the USWNT do without Julie Ertz at the World Cup?

The year is now 2023, the World Cup is less than six months away and US

The latest media inquiry came last week, before a pair of US

“With Julie, we had a conversation, and obviously she needs a little more time to prepare before she even starts training with the team. We’re just excited to give her a little more space and time until she’s fully ready to join. “

The question of “when”, which was the phrase that Andonovsky asked, suggests that the question is not “if”. But all available evidence suggests that Andonovski and the US

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Ertz most recently played for the US. it. Nearly 18 months ago, in the team’s bronze medal-winning victory over Australia at the Tokyo Olympics. Eight months after the win, Ertz revealed she was pregnant, and she gave birth to her first child in August.

She hasn’t indicated one way or another whether she plans to return to play, and she hasn’t been under contract with a professional team since late 2021. Even if she were to return to the U.S. it. In February — not something she or Andonowski hinted at — returning to the form that made her so important to the U.S. it. Would probably take some time, more time than the US. it.

So, Andonovski & Co. Planned a way forward, and the replacement they settled on the defensive midfield in 2022 was Andi Sullivan, the Washington Spirit captain. Sullivan’s task was and remains a thankless one: filling an integral role, while maintaining constant comparisons with Earth, who suddenly left a void that America strove to fill. No matter what she does, it is viewed through the lens of what Ertz used to do.

Sullivan is more of a deep-lying, distributing defensive midfielder than she is destroyer, the latter of which is a defining characteristic of Ertz’s game. Ertz’s ability to cover every blade of grass in midfield and put in crushing, precise tackles – first as a centre-back at the 2015 World Cup and then as a defensive midfielder in 2019 – freed up the Americans’ more creative players to do What they happy. Land was the safety valve.

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After the 2021 Olympics, Andonovski moved on from several other veterans who were core players in the previous two World Cup-winning rosters. The US Less challenging opponents also made it difficult to judge how well things were actually working. Then came October and November, when games against England, Spain and Germany brought the U.S. it. Team’s first three-game losing streak in three decades ends in 2022.

Many of the issues against top-10 world opponents are due to the spine of the team, specifically the midfield. The US it. have called for a shift to a double pivot in the midfield, an implicit admission that two players are needed to replace the work that Ertz has done alone.

However, seeing the problems through this lens is counterproductive. Earth is not with the team. What was then may not be now. Andonovski needs to find solutions with the players he has.

Those late 2022 struggles brought a renewed search for alternative options, so Andonovski started 2023 by giving Taylor Kornieck her first start in defensive midfield against New Zealand.

What followed was a poor first half for the US. it. In which Kornieck and fellow midfielder Lindsay Horan pulled wide far too often, leaving the US without central options to build its attack. Sullivan replaced Korniek at halftime, the passes started to connect and four goals followed. However, the US it. Put his form the same way: a three-player midfield with a creative playmaking number 10 (Rose Lavelle), a two-way number 8 (Horan) and a defensive number 6 (Kornieck, then Sullivan) .

The rematch three days later brought changes, but with a twist: Lavelle dropped deep alongside Sullivan to create a double pivot, and Ashley Sanchez took over the number 10 role. This led to a more fluid, cohesive US performance. it. Is encouraging, regardless of the lower quality of opponent. The 13-pass build-up to Ashley Hatch’s opening goal was the type of ball movement the U.S. it. Keep trying to produce. The sequence also included Sullivan, who had a newfound freedom going forward with a defensive midfield partner.

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That Lavelle was lined up alongside Sullivan was a surprise—seemingly even to Lavelle.

“Definitely something new for me, but I had fun falling down and being able to get on the ball a little deeper in the field,” she said after the match. “I think we connected a lot of passes and I think it was a really good game for us.”

Has Andonovsky finally found his solution? Yes and no.

One myth about starting lineups is that a preferred XI never changes. Any good team, however, will tweak something – whether personnel or tactical approach – based on the opponent. Dropping Lavelle deep alongside Sullivan and allowing Sanchez to play a creative role as the No. 10 is a big solution to the USA’s long-standing issues of breaking down teams that play low blocks. That could work against Vietnam or whichever team emerges from the global playoff to join the USA group at the World Cup.

It’s also easy to see how Catarina Macario could step into the playmaking No.10 role in the system once she returns from her torn ACL, which should be soon. Macario can play as the attacking midfielder or striker, and playing her as the number 10 would also keep Alex Morgan – the team’s most proven goalscorer – on the pitch as the striker. Lavelle and Macario, the two dirtiest players in the U.S.

Or perhaps the defensive No. 6 role behind Lavelle and Macario could be occupied by Horan, who missed the second match against New Zealand to return to her club, Lyon. Andonovski tried this twice in 2022, deploying Horan behind Lavelle and Sanchez in a June friendly against Colombia and during the CONCACAF W Championship against Jamaica. Each time, Lavelle and Sanchez played as double number 10s, leaving Horan to clean up behind them.

Such an aggressive lineup could only be used sparingly, and unlikely against a team with a strong, playmaking midfield, as England and a second-choice Spain side showed in friendlies last year.

Defensive midfield is not Horan’s strongest position. She filled in there during Ertz’s absence due to injury ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, but an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Sweden to open the tournament ended the experiment, and a beat-up Ertz returned to play 90 minutes in each of the Remaining games. .

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Still some other options to change the midfield. Andonovski said last week that his list of players in consideration for the 23 World Cup roster spots was down to 32, leaving little room for surprise. Sam Coffey is the other player on the latest rosters who plays defensive midfield for her club, but she did not play a minute against New Zealand.

The most important thing for the current iteration of the US midfield may be the continued absence of Sam Mewis, who, like Ertz, did not play for the US. What was thought to be a minor knee injury at the start of 2022 developed into something more for Mewis.

“Sam will take a little more time and at this point, I don’t want to guess what the time is or if she will be back at all,” Andononovski said last week in New Zealand.

Many assumed Mewis would be back in time to play a role in the World Cup, but now there is doubt. Two years ago, Mewis was arguably the best midfielder in the world at Manchester City. She’s best as a No. 8, but she has a similar playmaking profile to Sullivan and could have helped in the ongoing search for a No. 6.

Increasingly, the World Cup reality for the U.S. it. Women’s National Team looks like the one that has been present for a year now. In 2022, the number of injuries of the team brought a wait-and-see attitude, it is now 2023 and not much has changed – the World Cup begins in less than six months.

The pair’s games last week in New Zealand at least provided some further clarity: Sanchez can handle the No.10 role, Lavelle works in a deeper position and Korniecki is not a No.6.

But, more than ever, it’s clear that the midfield trio of Lavelle, Horan and Sullivan is the one the US needs. Only a handful of friendlies remain to fine-tune this between now and the July 22 opener against Vietnam.

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