Was it a mistake to leave Sam Coffey off the SheBelieves Cup roster?

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 06: Sam Coffey #14 of the United States (C) dribbles between Uchenna Kanu #6 (L) and Ifeoma Onumonu #9 of Nigeria at Audi Field on September 06, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Was it the right choice to leave Sam Coffey off the roster ahead of a vital tournament to prepare for what is to come this summer? 

This past week, ahead of one of the most significant tests for the USWNT with the World Cup just a few months away, Vlatko Andonovski named his roster for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup. With the addition of Megan Rapione, following her absence on the team’s trip to New Zealand in January, Andonovski left out a player in the midfield he could regret down the line.

Portland Thorns midfielder Sam Coffey has yet to make an appearance for the national team since the match against Germany in November. Having missed out on both matches down under for some reason, Andonovski chose to leave the 2022 NWSL Best XI selection out of a roster in a tournament that features three sides in the top-11 of the current FIFA rankings.

Coffey may be just 24 years old, but she seems like a player that has the potential to lock down the No. 6 position in the midfield for years to come. Against Nigeria in September, Coffey played 90 minutes alongside Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle, helping the national team to a 2-1 triumph.

After the announcement, the former Reign FC manager expressed that Coffey was still in the World Cup picture. If she is absent from a tournament that could have provided her with some much-needed experience against some of the best in the world, how likely is it that it will change a few months down the line?

In the press conference this past week, Andonovski explained his reasoning for leaving the former Penn State midfielder out of the roster in February:

“It doesn’t mean that she’s out by any means. There was something else that we wanted to see in this camp [and] these games. Sam is very much in the pool — she’s someone that we’re still evaluating and analyzing and is someone that we consider as a player that can have a spot in the World Cup roster.”

Coffey led the NWSL champions in progressive passes during the NWSL regular season by a considerable margin. Only one player in the NWSL last season had more final third entries than Coffey. She was the only player in the top-flight of American women’s soccer in 2022 during the regular season with over 100 entries into the final third, and more than 60 combined tackles and interceptions in less than 17.5 full 90 minutes played.

Andonovski has sent a message that he believes in Andi Sullivan and Taylor Kornieck more than Coffey in that defensive midfield role. She may be one of the least experienced players on the team, but her attitude and willingness to learn make her a player that could fit right into a regular rotational role with the national team.

Sam Coffey has shown what she can bring on the field in the NWSL

Training is one place to learn, and after a successful trip to New Zealand where the 24-year-old had a first-hand experience with some of her talented teammates, competing between the lines was the next step. Coffey’s attention to detail while on the bench is something that cannot be understated. She reads the game from the sidelines as if she was on the pitch getting into those pockets of space that will help to bring the ball forward.

Each time she keeps a close eye on the movement in the midfield, capturing the kind of tendencies the opposition’s attack possesses. She views each game as if she is going to get on the pitch, and for many players her age that may not always be the case. She may not always be satisfied with the decision to leave her on the bench, but her competitiveness drives her to be the best version of herself at each training session and matchday. Coffey just had her first call-up in June 2022, but with the way she is acting on the national team already, it does not feel like it.

Coffey took a lot from the trip to New Zealand despite not getting on the pitch, and it looked like with some of the absentees, Coffey would get another chance on the roster the following month. Everyone knows what Megan Rapinoe is going to bring to the USWNT. It could be the fact that she needs three more caps to reach 200 for the main reason for her introduction back onto the team following an injury to her right knee. Her leadership and intelligence on the pitch cannot go unnoticed, but why not give the spot to Coffey if the coaching staff is still experimenting with players in the position she flourished the most in during the last NWSL campaign?

During her time in New Zealand, Coffey expressed her unselfishness and team-first mentality:

“None of this is about me and none of it is about whether I play or not, it’s about this team preparing for and winning a World Cup. So whatever I can do as a player to make that happen, I’m going to do it to the absolute best of my ability.”

With Andonovski giving shots to several players at the holding midfielder position, why not give a shot to the player that was as stable as they come from that spot with the amount of potential she possesses considering her age? If someone like Naomi Girma can thrive at such a young age with the national team, why can’t Coffey? If Andonovski truly believed in the younger generation, he could unlock one of the calmest and most energetic duos the world has to offer. Girma playing behind Coffey would be pair of individuals that are not rattled by any sort of pressure whatsoever.

With the potential of her going up against technically brilliant players from Japan, a dynamic Brazilian attack, and the defending gold medal winners, this was the time when the USWNT coaching staff could see if Coffey had the talent to hold up. Instead, she has her eyes turned to the NWSL season ahead as her club seeks to defend the league title following a turbulent offseason.

Only time will tell if Andonovski made a mistake, but with the depth that he has at his disposal in the midfield, there may be too many cooks in the kitchen for Coffey to make a legitimate impact this year.  Despite that, her potential following her first season as a professional is through the roof, and when she does get her consistent chance one day, there is no doubt she will the ready given the way she prepares for a bench role.

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