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USWNT’s Andonovsky Justifies Gorden and Watt Inclusions With High Praise

During a Friday call with reporters, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovsky discussed his decision to include Chicago Red Stars Sarah Gorden and Kealia Watt following their strong 2020 NWSL performances

SOCCER: SEP 12 NWSL - Chicago Red Stars at Washington Spirit Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In recent years, the Chicago Red Stars certainly have not lacked representation on the United States Women’s National Team. The club will continue that trend over the next two weeks, as they lead all NWSL clubs with six inclusions on head coach Vlatko Andonovsky’s roster, announced Thursday, for an upcoming training camp that will take place in Commerce City, Colorado.

While the roster includes established USWNT contributors Tierna Davidson (26 caps), Morgan Gautrat (87), Alyssa Naeher (63) and Casey Short (32), most of the Chicago fanfare was reserved for Sarah Gorden and Kealia Watt. Gorden has been called into a national team camp once before but never made an official appearance, while Watt makes her return to the squad for the first time since 2016 and first time as a Red Star.

On a Friday phone call with media, Andonovsky had high praise for their play thus far in 2020.

“I think it was obvious that she was the biggest threat to the opposition for [the] Red Stars,” he said of Watt.

Andonovsky noted that while Watt took some time to settle in and develop chemistry with her new Red Stars teammates, he was impressed by how quickly she adjusted. He pointed to her performance thus far in the Fall Series (2 goals and 2 assists) as evidence of her comfort within the team. He also noted her positional flexibility as an asset, having played on both wings and as a central striker for the Red Stars this year.

“All of that altogether with the good performances makes her attractive for the national team staff, that’s why she got the call-up,” said Andonovsky.

While Watt’s NWSL performances earned her a return to the national team, her original path there was fairly traditional for the program. She played for the US at several youth levels, including scoring the winning goal at the 2012 U-20 World Cup on a team that included Morgan Gautrat. Sarah Gorden, on the other hand, is the only member of the October roster that never played for any US youth national team.

Andonovsky praised players who have used the NWSL as a path to the national team this year, calling their inclusion a “reward for their performances.” He had particular praise for Gorden, who’s inclusion he said was not simply a reward for recent success.

“One thing about Sarah is it’s not just that she did well in 5, 6, 7 games,” he said. “I felt she did well in the previous season and was doing better and better as the season was going by.”

As for what specifically Andonovsky believes Gorden can bring to the national team should she make her debut, he detailed her value not only as a defender but as an offensive asset as well.

“Her ability to defend 1-v-1 is something that is exceptional when out of possession,” he said. “Then in possession, she has incredible ability to advance forward with the ball and unbalance defenses and start the attack for her own team.”

For both Gorden and Watt, this opportunity is well earned. Gorden has done it her way in the NWSL, working to become one of the league’s top defenders and making herself impossible to ignore, while Watt has overcome injury struggles to return to her best as a clear national team-level attacker. Both players turned in strong final applications across this year’s Challenge Cup and Fall Series. Much was made of larger TV audiences for these games, but the only spectator Gorden, Watt and their fellow NWSL roster inclusions needed to impress was Andonovsky. It’s safe to say they did, and then some.

“We were able to see all the Challenge Cup games live and the majority of the Fall Series games live as well,” Andonovsky said of he and his staff’s scouting efforts this year. “[We] were able to evaluate all the players, and these are the players that stood out in most of the games and that’s why they’re rewarded for their performance.”