Becky Sauerbrunn Nonappearance at World Cup Harms More

June 15, 2023

The Women’s World Cup continues to be a action of attrition, even if it only starts in another month. All the great powers are going to Australia and New Zealand next month, apparently tied with one hand on their backs, either due to issue or disputes within their programs (Canada and Spain). The United States had apparently dodged the big wounds until recently. But then Mallory Swanson was lost. Then Catarina Macario announced that she would not heal in time. And now Becky Sauerbrunn has also announced that she will not be doing the tournament. And all this while Rose Lavelle is still struggling with an issue-related absence and Julie Ertz is looking for form after not found two seasons.

 

Sauerbrunn would have deserved a better farewell
Sauerbrunn’s absence is also a kick in the feelings, perhaps even more than what his absence on the pitch will mean. She is the captain of the team, the oldest player to have succeeded and, obviously, at the age of 38, this was her last World Cup. A player who has served for the national team as often and as skillfully as Sauerbrunn deserves a farewell on the field whenever it happens for the United States, rather than essentially ending her international career by press release. This does not suit such a decorated and acclaimed player.

But like most Spots for the USWNT, this is a void that you can fill, it erodes the depth a little. At this point, Alana Cook — who is most likely to enter the 11th start if she had not already done so—is a better player than Sauerbrunn. The latter had looked particularly good against high-level opponents lately, in particular last fall against Spain’s B team, which came to a 2-0 victory over the United States. Sauerbrunn just doesn’t defend well in space anymore, and since the United States is expected to play a lot at the top of the World Cup, this is a problem.

Cook has been one of the best center halves in the NWSL this season, and according to the American Football Analysis (regardless of your mileage on Soccer Analytics), no center defender has been a better passer than Cook. Given the problems that the United States has in midfield, both in terms of personnel and how to use the ball to build movements through the midfield, two central defenders in Cook and Naomi Girma who can simply ping accurate balls through the midfield to the players

But just like Swanson’s issue up front, Sauerbrunns is eroding the depth at the back. Behind Cook and Girma is now essentially Emily Sonnett from the last teams. Casey Krueger was dynamite for a Chicago Red Stars team that year that didn’t have many highlights. Her teammate Tierna Davidson has come back from her own knee issue this Season, but the last time we saw her with the national team she was quite doubtful when she came under pressure at the Olympics. There is not much proven behind it, and the solution that we often saw four years ago to keep Julie Ertz there is quite tricky when she has missed so much time and is also very necessary in midfield.

This is not a question that none of the other tournament favorites obviously deals with, which somehow makes it ridiculous that the women’s tournament is limited to 23 players while the men’s tournament had 26 strong teams in winter. But this is another matter of shouting at the wall that FIFA and women’s football are.

Sauerbrunn’s experience will surely be missed, as the United States will probably navigate the tournament with a central defensive duo that has never done it before. They should be flanked by experiences with Crystal Dunn and a few picks at the other back post who have been there and done it before, and Alyssa Naeher behind them too. That’s about as ferocious as you can get when you first wade into World Cup waters (especially if Ertz can establish himself as a hammer up front again, but again, that’s a big question). Vlatko Andonovsky was probably hoping for more rotation opportunities, because once a team reaches the knockouts, things can get difficult.

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