Four Washington Spirit players have been selected to represent the United States in the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury, midfielders Andi Sullivan and Ashley Sanchez and forward Trinity Rodman join 19 other players as part of the U.S. delegation that will begin Group E play against Vietnam on July 21. Their group features the Netherlands (who faced the Americans in the 2019 World Cup final) and Portugal.
Before the Spirit’s away match against Portland, all four players and head coach Mark Parsons spoke Thursday about their inclusion to the U.S. roster and their expectations for the summer tournament.
Relishing the moment
While visiting her best friend’s home on an off day, Sullivan received a call from U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski telling her that she made the final roster. She said she kept it short, thanking him, but then “lost myself after.”
For Sullivan, being selected was redemption. Throughout her career, the midfielder, raised in Lorton, Virginia, was in and out of the U.S. roster, and she ultimately missed out on the 2019 World Cup. Since then, she captained the Spirit to a National Women’s Soccer League Championship and earned multiple opportunities to play with the U.S. to validate her place in midfield.
“For a long time, I was questioning whether or not I had it,” Sullivan said. “When I’ve looked through my career, I think I’ve — not to sound cocky — learned to be proud and accepting of myself. That I find a way. I keep going, and I find a way.”
For Kingsbury, her inclusion is “a dream come true.” Despite years of experience and accolades, she has only played once for the U.S.
Her league play this year had a role in the final decision as Kingsbury secured three clean sheets, despite Washington starting three new players in the back line. The defensive performances have helped keep Washington in the hunt for the top spot in NWSL standings.
“I was hopeful, but you just never know,” said Kingsbury. “It feels very gratifying to have all my hard work pay off.”
While Washington’s new captain is expected to back up starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Parsons said it is just the beginning for the two-time NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year because “Aubrey is knocking at the door.”
“She’s undoubtedly been the best-performing goalkeeper consistently now for 12-14 games this year,” Parsons said. “It’s not close, the gap just got bigger, and it’s taken a lot of work from her and her goalkeeper union [at the Spirit] to be performing at that level.”
Spirit youth prepare for the unexpected
The United States hopes to become the first nation to win three straight World Cup tournaments, continuing their dominance with 14 players making their tournament debuts.
Two of those players are Washington’s offensive pair, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez. The duo, known for their chemistry on and off the field, have been the focal point of the Spirit offense for the last three seasons. While the pair expressed delight over making their first World Cup, both admitted that the moment still has not sunk in.
Rodman, 21, said it has been “business” as usual since learning about her inclusion and is just focusing on finishing up media obligations and photo shoots before the tournament. The daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman said she has not been told what her role will be in the tournament, but is trying to be “open-minded” on what comes her way.
Sanchez, 24, said she is thrilled to make her first World Cup team and to be alongside two other Latinas (Sofia Huerta and Alyssa Thompson) is “really cool.” While Sanchez is currently having a career season in the NWSL with five goals and an assist in all competitions, she says she is unsure what to expect from the World Cup.
“It’s going to be super intense and unlike any other game tournament that we’ve ever been in,” she said. “So I think we’re just trying to keep ourselves composed and together.”
According to Rodman, the veteran stars in the U.S. have been welcoming to the younger players for the last two years, which has made it easier to adjust and may help once games begin. Also helpful is having three of her Spirit teammates along for the journey, which will bring “a sense of home” to the tournament.
Hatch missing out
One notable absence off of the final roster was Washington forward Ashley Hatch, even after making 19 appearances for the U.S. over the last two years and scoring five goals.
Following the roster’s unveiling, Andonovski said the flexibility of playing the team’s forwards as center striker — Hatch’s preferred role — and in other positions influenced his decision. As of Sunday, Hatch is third in the NWSL in goals (7) this season.
When asked about the 28-year-old’s reaction, Parsons called it “devastating news to receive.” Yet, on the surface, he said she continues to focus more on how she can support the U.S. team from afar.
“In the moment of needing to probably think about yourself, she’s still living to the true value she is, which is thinking about other people,” Parsons said.
Hatch has yet to address the decision publicly. Parsons said it is her business to discuss what happened, but that the Spirit’s staff are trying to provide the best environment to help “keep her in an OK place and get her to a better place.”
Other local notables going to the World Cup
Sullivan is not the only American selected with ties to the D.C. region. Defender and Ashburn, Virginia, native Emily Fox was also a part of the 23-player roster following a stellar rookie campaign for Racing Louisville last season.
In 2022, Fox became an NWSL Rookie of the Year finalist after leading the entire league in interceptions and logging more minutes than any other rookie. She was traded to North Carolina during the offseason.
According to news partner InsideNova.com, Fox, 24, attended Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, but played only one season for the Bulldogs before focusing on her club and national team obligations.
Two other Spirit midfielders, Riley Tanner and Marissa Sheva, have been selected to represent their respective countries, totaling six players from the D.C. franchise heading to the World Cup.
Tanner, whose mother was born in Panama, was chosen to join the Panamanian national team. She scored once for ‘Las Canaleras’ during its successful campaign in the inter-confederation playoffs to earn a spot in their first-ever World Cup. Panama opens Group F play on July 24 against Brazil.
Sheva made the final 23-player roster for the Ireland national team. She earned her first call-up in Irish in February and faced the U.S. twice in friendlies in April. Ireland beings Group B play on July 20 vs. host Australia.