Another January, another USWNT camp. The winter camp has become a time-honored tradition with the team; the largest and longest camp of the year, the group is usually a good indication of who is currently in the pool, and many a USWNT regular got their first look at a January camp. However, this roster is a bit different than those which have come before.
EXPERIMENTATION REALLY IS OVER
Considerable discussion around the USWNT over the last year centered around head coach Jill Ellis’ favorite buzzword: experimentation. Much was made of how many players were called in for first looks or given their first caps and the total number of players capped during the year. Players were converted, new formations were tested, and the results weren’t often pretty, to say the least. Chemistry appeared to be at a premium
That was supposed to end with the Tournament of Nations last summer. If that’s the case, this roster provides great supporting evidence. Out of the 26 players called in, only three haven’t been capped (Adrianna Franch, Tierna Davidson, and Savannah McCaskill). Out of those three, only McCaskill is being named to her first senior roster, and she was one of a handful that were held over from the concurrent U-23 camp last year to train with the senior team. So really, no new faces. This is a bit disappointing given the sizes of previous winter camps. Three regulars (Tobin Heath, Samantha Mewis, and Rose Lavelle) are also missing due to injury, although Lavelle will make an appearance for rehabilitation.
If you’re of the opinion that a rotating cast was the cause of much of the team’s problems in 2017, this is probably good news for you. After all, World Cup Qualifiers are only 10 months away, and the World Cup itself a mere year and a half. Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry.
However, if you’re of the opinion that the issues were more a result of trying to force square pegs into round holes and relentless, often mid-game, tinkering – see: Kelley O’Hara playing three positions in one match – then you’re not as reassured. These players are professionals. While growing pains are expected, they know how to adjust to new roles and new partners. If it takes a year and a half for a team to develop chemistry, it’s never going to happen. Quite frankly, it’s a bit disappointing to see so much of the same and so little new. Even if young, new players aren’t going to make a final roster, they can push the more experienced players out of complacency and inject fresh energy into what was an uninspiring group in 2017.
So if this is it, what happens when a player has a breakout year in the NWSL in 2018? Is Ellis going to say, sorry, you missed the window? Well, not exactly.
CLUB FORM MATTERS – OR DOES IT?
In a rather large group of defenders, Meghan Klingenberg and Emily Sonnett, both of the championship-winning Portland Thorns, return to the USWNT roster. Once Ellis’ go-to left back and the next big thing at centerback, respectively, the pair saw their stock plummet in 2017 even as they both played vital roles in the Thorns’ championship run.
With such solid club seasons under their belts, it’s good to see Klingenberg and Sonnett make a return. While we’ve often heard that club form matters, roster selection has not always reflected that. However, these call ups can be nothing but a reflection of a return to form and a chance to make an impression at the highest level once again.
That said, how can you argue for the continued exclusion of players like Emily Menges or Ashley Hatch, who had club seasons that were just as good if not better than their club teammates who are on the roster? If club play matters, those two deserve looks just as much as Sonnett or Lynn Williams. And the less said about Sofia Huerta the defender over Arin Gilliland, the better.
INJURIES, THE NEVERENDING STORY
We can’t talk about 2017 without talking about the injuries that plagued USWNT players, and apparently we’re going to start 2018 that way too. Out of the three players missing due to injury, only one is a surprise: Mewis. She suffered a knee injury during the second game against Canada, but although everyone saw her go down briefly, the fact that she was injured enough to keep her out of a camp two months later, even if precautionary, is a bit worrisome. The nagging qualities of Heath and Lavelle’s injuries are troublesome as well. Both attempted to make a comeback from injury late last year only to quickly hurt themselves again.
Out of those on the roster, nine of the 26 missed time in 2017 due to injuries. This doesn’t count Alyssa Naeher or Christen Press, who played through injuries for extended periods of time, or Andi Sullivan, who just returned from an ACL tear in 2016.
At what point do we get concerned about this? The breakneck pace of the USWNT over the last few years isn’t likely to take a breather as they ramp up for the World Cup. Couple that with a full professional season (plus Champions League for Crystal Dunn and Morgan Brian), as well as Ellis’ hesitancy to make full use of substitutes during friendlies, and it feels like we have the making of another brutal year where injuries are concerned. With an increasingly small pool and the approach of Qualifiers, this could put the USWNT in a very uncomfortable situation.
Also of note: with three regulars out, Ellis could easily have called up three more players, unless 26 was always her final number. No matter how you look at it, this roster is disappointing.