The USWNT players fighting to make Women’s World Cup roster

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It’s January of a World Cup year, and the U.S. women’s national team is about to kick off the first of a series of friendly games that will take the Americans to the start of the quadrennial tournament.

Ahead of the 2019 and 2015 Women’s World Cups, it was trips to France for the U.S., both resulting with losses to Les Bleues, whereas in 2011 it was a flight to China, where that year started with a loss to Sweden. This time, however, the Americans are heading to the Southern Hemisphere for a doubleheader against New Zealand that will see them play in the two group-stage venues they’ll compete in at the World Cup this summer.

Indeed, the USWNT tends to break out of its normal routine of playing games domestically and go abroad to kick off a World Cup year — but there is one big difference for the U.S. now compared to previous cycles: possibly more than ever before, there are endless question marks around the U.S. team. The pair of games in New Zealand on Tuesday and Friday will offer two chances to find answers.

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While there is always some degree of fan anxiety around the USWNT when a new tournament year rolls around, the pedigree of the squad remains tangibly high, as does the tacit understanding that the team will always be one of the strongest at the tournament. Despite the many questions during the era of previous coach Jill Ellis, the team still usually managed to deliver at the key moments and won back-to-back World Cups. However, during current coach Vlatko Andonovski’s tenure, such assurances have been absent.

When Ellis assembled the players to take to pre-World Cup friendlies in Europe in 2015 and 2019, it was with the view to test them, highlight the shortcomings of the team and fix them ahead of the long summers — but there was already a somewhat clear picture of who had done enough to earn their spot at the World Cup. This time, however, that…

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