Getty Images

The U.S. women's national team has treated the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup as an opportunity for some high-stakes experimentation and were not necessarily wrong to do so. The quick transition from Women's World Cup disappointment under Vlatko Andonovski to bringing a competitive squad to the Olympic Games under Emma Hayes requires a new examination of the player pool, especially with promising talents in the ranks.

There was one noticeable problem with interim head coach Twila Kilgore's lineup for Monday's group stage finale against Mexico, though -- it didn't feel like it was covering new ground.

All but one starter -- midfielder Sam Coffey -- had at least one World Cup under their belts. There was youth on the pitch through Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman, but they were just two of four players in the lineup that were 25 or younger. The same number of players were 30 or older and were members of the defensive unit including goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

It may have been a winning strategy in the past, notably when the USWNT's veterans were in their prime years, but Monday's 2-0 loss to Mexico was perhaps a stark reminder that the old method may no longer be the way to go. It makes Sunday's quarterfinal against Colombia (8:15 p.m. ET on Paramount+) a must-win for a lot of reasons, including the fact that the USWNT are slowly but surely running out of time to answer a very important question -- what is actually the team's best starting lineup?

Testing the untested

The USWNT have played only five matches since announcing Hayes would be the team's next coach, and if the game against Mexico felt like a regurgitation of old ideas, they have only truly experimented during four games. It's a very small sample size to determine what the best version of this team is, but the fact that players with less experience have yet to build a real body of work is an argument in their favor in some ways.

The loss against Mexico almost speeds up the need to give players like Jaedyn Shaw and Olivia Moultire, among others, an increased role but it's not as if they haven't done the work. To Kilgore's credit, she has given several players opportunities to showcase if they can rise up the USWNT's depth chart, and it feels like some of them are ready to do so. It's now up to Kilgore and company to actually do so while there's still time on the clock before the Olympics.

That is not to say that the team should be entirely devoid of veterans. For starters, younger players like Smith and Naomi Girma already have a World Cup under their belts, while Crystal Dunn is arguably still the best fit in her position. A mix of experience and youth is not just the most practical strategy for any team in a rebuild but is perhaps the best way for the USWNT to line up in the immediate future.

Here's a look at what might be the USWNT's best lineup come Sunday in a 4-3-3 formation:


player headshot
Casey Murphy
USA • GK • #18

Casey Murphy is building a solid portfolio as Alyssa Naeher's understudy and with 18 caps, including a 90-minute shift in the USWNT's 4-0 win over Argentina, she has enough introductory experience to be tested in a high-stakes environment, especially after Naeher's shaky showing against Mexico.


player headshot
Emily Fox
USA • D • #23

While the USWNT have experimented with three and four at the back, the current personnel available might mean a four-person backline suits them best for now. That provides an opening for 25-year-old Emily Fox at right back, who was one of the lone positives against Mexico as someone who tried to help build attacking plays.

player headshot
Naomi Girma
USA • D • #4

Girma may have sat out the loss against Mexico, but she's already the undisputed first choice at center back. Expect her to start against Colombia as she continues to be the USWNT's defensive anchor of the present and the future.

player headshot
Tierna Davidson

Tierna Davidson was also on the bench against Mexico, but she has a tactical profile that will complement Girma's skillset. Plus, she already has plenty of experience as a member of the 2019 World Cup-winning side.

player headshot
Crystal Dunn
USA • M • #19

The left flank is still Dunn's to lose, even though the 31-year-old was not at her best against Mexico. She still showcased her trademark versatility and got involved in the attack whenever she could. She is perhaps the veteran best positioned to survive this rebuild.


player headshot
Emily Sonnett
USA • D • #14

The USWNT's midfield remains their most unresolved area of the lineup, but 30-year-old Emily Sonnett feels like the strongest anchor in the player pool right now despite her limited minutes as a defensive midfielder at the international level. She's done well when asked to do so for the USWNT and excelled last season in the NWSL in the role.

player headshot
Lindsey Horan
USA • M • #10

Captain Lindsey Horan was nearly invisible against Mexico with just 53 touches in 90 minutes, but tinkering with the midfield personnel could lead to an improved performance. Considering the incomplete feeling the midfield has had in recent years, though, this is a spot that someone like Korbin Albert could fill if the versatile midfielder makes her case.

player headshot
Rose Lavelle
USA • M • #16

Rose Lavelle had a worse outing than Horan with just 41 touches in 78 minutes, but her credentials as a strong creative midfielder mean she deserves another outing. With Moultrie's bright start to her national team career, though, this is one of those spots on the field that could be a competitive one.


player headshot
Jaedyn Shaw

Alongside Moultrie, Shaw is one of the USWNT's breakouts of the Gold Cup so far. She played well in this role against Argentina and this might be her spot on the field for the foreseeable future, if all goes well.

player headshot
Sophia Smith
USA • F • #11

Though she can impress in a wide role, Smith is the best candidate to play center forward for the time being and can be effective in the role, even if she was not against Mexico.

player headshot
Trinity Rodman
USA • F • #20

The USWNT's player pool is incredibly deep on the wings, but Rodman seems like the top candidate. She bolstered her case against Argentina, where she and Shaw offered up a vision of the USWNT's future -- and perhaps their present -- up top.