U.S. Women’s World Cup Roster Will Reflect a Team in Transition

Here’s a sentence you see every four years: The United States is a favorite to win the Women’s World Cup.

Why should the public not believe the hype this time?

The United States’ résumé is top of its class: The team will head to this summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand as the No. 1-ranked women’s soccer team in the world and the two-time defending champion. And unlike any other Women’s World Cup team, it has four tiny golden stars sewn above its jersey crest to show the program’s pedigree of four World Cup titles. When the tournament begins next month, the Americans will arrive with a roster dotted by nearly 10 players who have lifted the trophy before.

But knowing what it takes to win and doing it with one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams the United States has ever taken to the World Cup are very different things. It’s likely that more than half of the roster will be World Cup rookies. And the team must find a way to play at its best, even without its respected team captain and its most dangerous striker.

Coach Vlatko Andonovski has spent the past few years trying to rebuild his squad as this tournament loomed, easing out veterans and introducing new talent in an effort to build a team that he thinks can win this summer and succeed into the future.

His federation, his players and their fans hope that he has that all figured out. Because he and the team are now out of time.

Andonovski, who coached the team to a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, will name the squad’s roster on Wednesday, and he is expected to include some surprises. He is already dealing with a few: Just last week, he lost his captain, defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who was ruled out with a lingering foot injury. An injury long ago also cost him the services of Sam Mewis, a midfield fixture of the 2019 World Cup champions, and more recently the presence of two valuable attacking options, Mallory Swanson, who appeared to be peaking at the perfect time, and Catarina Macario.

Who is going? Stars like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe should be on the team, bringing their experience from three previous World Cups and their gravitas as two of the most famous and most outspoken female athletes in the world. Another likely choice would be Rose Lavelle, the midfielder who was the breakout star of the 2019 tournament after making scoring look all too easy, including when she seemed to casually dribble up the middle of the field in the final to score the team’s last goal.

Among the new stars, you’ll likely find Sophia Smith, 22, who was last year’s most valuable player of the National Women’s Soccer League, and Trinity Rodman, the 2022 N.W.S.L. rookie of the year and daughter of Dennis Rodman, the former N.B.A. All-Star.

The Americans’ first game will be July 22 against Vietnam in Auckland, New Zealand — 9 p.m. Eastern time on July 21. That will be followed by the team’s biggest game since the last World Cup: a rematch with the other 2019 finalist, the Netherlands, that will probably leave the winner with a much easier path in the knockout stage.

Andonovski might have surprised himself with some of the names he has penciled in. But as with several other top teams, injuries have forced him to alter his plans in recent months.

Sauerbrunn, 38, announced last week that she would miss the World Cup with a foot injury. She was not only a dogged central defender for years, but also a revered role model for her teammates: the team’s Zen master of confidence and calm, not to mention the anchor of its back line as it won the past two World Cups.

Her announcement came only weeks after Swanson, the fleet-footed forward who had been Andonovski’s most dangerous forward this year, tore the patellar tendon in her left knee. Other players with World Cup experience, including Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, have been out with injuries or are still coming back from surgeries. Macario simply ran out of time to get back up to speed after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee last year while playing in France.

There will be, however, many familiar and experienced players when Andonovski and his team gather for a training camp next week in California. Julie Ertz, 10 months after having a baby, has stepped directly back into the team’s midfield. Crystal Dunn, who gave birth to a son 13 months ago, is likely to be back as well. Kelley O’Hara, who was injured earlier in the year, should be headed for her fourth World Cup appearance, and Emily Sonnett is expected to play in her second. Lavelle and Lindsey Horan could offer a familiar combination of grit and flash in midfield.

Casual fans will have to learn some new names at the same time, though. In her World Cup debut, Naomi Girma, a 23-year-old defender for the San Diego Wave, former Stanford team captain and daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, could be in line to replace Sauerbrunn. And three young forwards — Smith, Rodman and Alyssa Thompson — have what it takes to push Morgan, Rapinoe and Lynn Williams up front.

Thompson, 18, was called up after Swanson’s injury; she should become the youngest U.S. women’s soccer player at a World Cup since at least 2007. The first draft pick in last year’s N.W.S.L. draft, she has the energy, skill and phenomenal speed to be a generational player. But she is also just out of high school.

With all the new players mingled with the old, it remains to be seen if the team that shows up in New Zealand will have the swagger of previous ones. The team’s pre-eminence in the women’s game has been under threat from the growing investments, and the growing power, of rivals in Europe. Last fall, the United States lost three games in a row for the first time since 1993.

That the defeats came against three European opponents — Germany, England and Spain — was an unmistakable message to outsiders: The United States still ranks among the favorites. But its margin may be finer than ever.