The Women’s World Cup is a year away and the Paris Olympics don’t start for more than two, but both tournaments are the primary focus of the United States women’s national team over the next two weeks.
The first goal? Qualify for them. The Americans took their first step on that front Monday night by opening play in the new Concacaf women’s championship with a 3-0 victory over Haiti in Monterrey, Mexico.
The revamped eight-team tournament, officially branded the Concacaf W Championship, is serving a dual role — as the qualifying tournament for next summer’s Women’s World Cup and for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Under its new format — a group stage followed by a knockout round — the first task should be a simple one for the Americans: The top two finishers in each four-team group qualify automatically for the Women’s World Cup, where the United States is the two-time defending champion.
The latter job may be a little more tricky. Only the champion in Mexico will claim an automatic place in the 2024 Summer Games, while the runner-up and third-place nations will have to contest a Concacaf Olympic playoff in September 2023. That would be a bit more jeopardy than Coach Vlatko Andonovski and his world-beating and well-paid players might want at this current moment in their evolution.
Andonovski has made no secret that he is managing a team in transition, and that has made these games — every game, really — an important chance for players to impress the coaching staff, and ensure they are in his plans for the next year or more. It is another opportunity for rising players to force their way into the mix, and for veteran players to defend their positions. Not all have succeeded.
The future of the U.S. team, regardless of what happens in Mexico, remains a bit of an incomplete picture. Morgan, who scored twice on Monday, and Megan Rapinoe both received their first call-ups to the team since October for the Concacaf event. But Morgan, 33, is already defending her position from rising stars like Catarino Macario, who is currently out with a knee injury. And young forwards like Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman all play the same position as Rapinoe, who turned 37 on Tuesday.
“It’s not easy being a forward in the United States right now,” Andonovski said when he announced his roster for the Concacaf championship. “Obviously, it’s great, but it’s not easy because the competition is getting bigger and bigger.”
Similar battles are playing out across the field in every position, in every roster decision, as the United States transitions from a roster that led it to two straight World Cup titles to one that might carry it to a third against regional rivals like Canada, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, and European contenders like Sweden, Germany, Spain, the Netherland and England — among others — who are contending the European championship this month.
“It doesn’t mean that all these players that have done well in the past are just going to come back here in the next camp because they’ve done well a year ago or two years ago,” Andonovski said in February, when an earlier roster also omitted several accomplished veterans.
“There’s a reason why we’re not calling Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy in camp, right? So the same goes here: They need to perform.”