Carson, California. It's 70 degrees and sunny and 11 out of 15 preseason days in the books. U.S. women's national team coach Jill Ellis has called 26 players into the first training camp of the year. Two players are resting from injuries and 22 will be chosen for the gameday roster against Denmark in a friendly on Sunday, January 21. And no doubt many, many sore muscles from intense fitness evaluations and double, possibly triple, session days.
For any player - high school, college, semi-pro - one remembers preseason as time filled with great hope for the infinite possibilities to come, with team love and bonding, and with butterflies for fitness and evaluation tests in which you need to prove to the coaches and the team all of the hard work you’ve put in over the offseason.
Now imagine your preseason is the first concrete step towards qualifying for the World Cup. 2018 is a year that will include qualifying for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France. The United States is the defending champion of the sport's premier event. Talk about joy and butterflies.
Becky Sauerbrunn, co-captain for the USWNT and stalwart center back, speaks to this intense atmosphere: “The vibe right now is that everything we do, every decision we’re making on and off the field, is towards 2019. Before that of course, is CONCACAF qualifying in the fall of 2018, but everything is gearing and leading us to be the best at qualification so that’s a little different from last year when it was an evaluation phase. Now, it’s finding the right personnel and philosophy so that we’re at all cylinders come October.” [USSoccer]
With the January 21 friendly against Denmark, and the upcoming SheBelieves Cup against France, England, and Germany, fans will get a first glance at the potential of the USWNT, a team that will need to carry the legacy of the 2015 World Cup team while also creating their own. And with this, comes the 3 biggest questions facing the USWNT as the January camp nears its end:
1. Who will take Hope Solo’s spot?
Thought of by many as the best goalkeeper in women’s soccer history, Hope Solo is leaving a larger hole than just 8 yards between the posts. She accrued 202 caps (195 starts) since her debut in 2000 while compiling a record of 153-11-27 and set almost every goalkeeper record in U.S. history, most notably 102 shutouts in her 202 games. So as Solo pursues her candidacy for U.S. Soccer President, we are curious who will take her spot.
Alyssa Naeher, keeper for the Chicago Red Stars, seems the likely choice with the next highest number of games played (23). Veteran Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride) who has 14 caps also could play a role. Keeper Jane Campbell with two caps is an unlikely starter. An interesting wild card could be Adrianna France who, although uncapped with the USWNT, won 2017 NWSL Goalkeeper of the year with Portland Thorns and CONCACAF Goalkeeper of the Year.
2. Who will anchor the back line with Becky Sauerbrunn?
In the 2015 World Cup, fans were treated to the dynamic duo of Becky Sauerbrunn cleaning up everything in the back and Julie Ertz (then Johnston) freeing herself to go forward - as well as Ali Krieger, Kelly O’Hara, and Megan Klingenburg flanking the side.
Yet recently, Ellis has moved Julie Ertz into the midfield, Klingenberg has only just returned to the roster after having been absent since June 2017, and Krieger isn’t even at camp.
So along with Kelly O’hara, here are the other candidates for the back line:
Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), and Taylor Smith (NC Courage) have all seen time in recent USWNT friendlies. Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage) was awarded NWSL defender of the year. Emily Sonnet with 12 caps has been playing with Sydney FC in Australia’s W-League during the NWSL off-season. And Tierna Davidson is uncapped with the USWNT but did help lead Stanford to the NCAA Championship.
3. How will the influx of new players change up the culture of the USWNT?
Over the years, the USWNT has received criticism for playing favorites to experienced players over new players. In 2015, veteran players like Shannon Boxx, Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, and Lori Chalupney were on the cusp of not being fit for the roster yet they were still chosen.
In retrospect, we can only have respect for all these decisions that led to a World Cup championship. But for the next World Cup, these decisions will be - and have already been - different as Jill Ellis has clearly chosen a different route for this January camp. 14 players on the roster have 33 caps or fewer, six players are uncapped, and Tierna Davidson and Savannah McCaskill are just coming off their college seasons.
This change is most likely due to what happened in the Rio Olympics, namely that the USWNT had a horrendous showing as they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Sweden.
New players, such as Sam Mewis and Mal Pugh, have already played large roles in the new look for the USWNT - and a new look they will need if they are to continue their legacy as World Cup Champions.
Right now, many questions remain. Tune in to ESPN this Sunday, January 21st at 7.30PM ET for the first 2018 USWNT match-up against Denmark and hopefully we’ll get an insight into some of Ellis’s answers.
Below is the full 26 January camp roster:
- GOALKEEPERS: Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns FC), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
- DEFENDERS: Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Stanford), Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Taylor Smith (NC Courage), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
- MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Olympique Lyon), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Andi Sullivan (Stanford)
- FORWARDS: Crystal Dunn (Chelsea FC), Savannah McCaskill (South Carolina), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)
Author: Megan Morrison