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Key decisions facing Emma Hayes' USWNT before the Olympics: Defensive starters, Alyssa Naeher & more

Hayes may have picked the roster, but she still has some big calls to make.

9 min read

We’re just about there: the first major tournament for the United States women’s national team under new head coach Emma Hayes is fast approaching.

After several months of shared power between Hayes and interim-turned-assistant coach Twila Kilgore and two friendlies with Hayes in charge to help determine the final roster, the team is ready to put the final preparations in place for their 17-day whirlwind in France for the Olympics. The biggest decisions have been made, now that the 18-player roster and four-player alternate slate has been announced. 

But Hayes still has some big calls in front of her with just two more friendlies – one against Mexico on July 13th and one against Costa Rica on July 16th – standing between her squad and the Olympics.

Several positions do not have a guaranteed starter attached to them. Some positions’ starters seem to be written in ink, when they probably shouldn’t be. Finally, substitution plans relative to the opponent and the scoreline are very much an open question.  

Let’s look ahead to a trio of key issues that will help define the USWNT’s summer.

Fullback rotation

Hayes named three dedicated fullbacks to the U.S. roster: Emily Fox, Jenna Nighswonger, and Casey Krueger. (Crystal Dunn and Emily Sonnett can also fill in should a rash of injuries and/or suspensions befall any of the primary options.) Each offers something a little different, and none have been in-ink starters in any of the last few friendlies for the United States.

The opponents may dictate a lot of Hayes’s personnel choices here. The U.S.’s group stage opponents, Zambia, Germany, and Australia, all present challenges that each fullback will be capable of addressing. 

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