U.S. national team head coach Tom Sermanni is already on his way to Portugal for the Algarve Cup. The roster of 24 players he selected was announced today, and the team will travel for the annual tournament tomorrow. Sermanni discussed some of his choices during a layover before his flight to Lisbon.
The U.S. is scheduled to face Japan, Sweden and Denmark, a significant step up in talent from the rather hapless Russia of the last two friendlies. Real game-time experience against top-ranked teams is a premium commodity for a squad with plenty of rookies battling it out in advance of the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
For Sermanni, this all translates to his general approach he took to building the roster of “one eye on the present and one eye on the future.”
One of those present players who hasn’t seen minutes for the U.S. in almost eight months is Tobin Heath. Her return is currently scheduled for March 2 as she will arrive in from her club duties with Paris Saint-Germain. Her last match for the national team was at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., June 15, 2013. She suited up at Red Bull Arena the night Abby Wambach broke the scoring record, but was the only substitution not used. Of course, she had a notable NWSL final, scoring off a free kick despite the nagging injury that has kept her out of U.S. line-ups until now.
While Heath wasn’t 100 percent in time to be named to Sermanni’s roster for the match against Canada in Frisco, Texas, he thinks she’ll be ready to step onto the field in Portugal.
“I don’t think there will be much of an issue for her to transition back from France. She’ll arrive and we’ll need to assess her match fitness, her general fitness, how she looks.”
There is one small hiccup for Heath’s return. According to Sermanni, Heath broke her nose last week in France. This new injury could certainly affect the number of minutes she plays, but there is no way to be sure of the impact until she is evaluated by the U.S. Soccer staff.
There were also some omissions of players that had started to become regulars on the call-up list, including Erika Tymrak and Nicole Barnhart. Tymrak was just named to the U-23 squad for the upcoming series of matches against Japan, Sweden, and Norway in La Manga, Spain.
As for the selection of Jill Loyden, Alyssa Naeher (still yet to receive her first cap), and Hope Solo, Sermanni explains there was no slight to Barnhart.
“She’s obviously had some ongoing issues with her health, with a cold, and some injuries, and ailments, etc. Part of it is definitely to make sure she’s fit and healthy.”
The other part? Getting Loyden and Naeher some minutes against top-flight teams. One eye on the present, one eye on the future.
“It’s the Algarve. You know, if one of our goalkeepers goes down, at some stage you have to give people international experience. Also, you have to be careful with how you use players. I’ve been very cautious at times with Christie Rampone and Abby Wambach, they’re in that category that has to be managed a little differently. Barnhart’s in that category as well.”
While Naeher is still seeking her first cap for the national team, there will be one entirely brand new face in camp. Sarah Killion just won a NCAA National Championship with UCLA, and has been in the U.S. youth national team system as part of the U-18s, U-20s (including the team that won the 2012 Under-20s Women’s World Cup), and U-23s.
Sermanni said that he had watched plenty of footage of her on the pitch, and this was a good time to assess how she could fit in. “She came highly recommended. She’s calm, composed, and technically good. She’s a bit like Morgan [Brian], where she’s composed under pressure.”
Killion will be one of seven midfielders in Portugal, in addition to Heath, Brian, Samantha Mewis, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Heather O’Reilly. Perhaps this is the field-position where Sermanni’s focus of present and future comes into greatest focus, with two of the seven never having a senior team cap, and Morgan Brian with merely five under her belt.
At the other end of the appearance spectrum is O’Reilly, who could potentially reach her 200th cap if she plays in every match at the Algarve. O’Reilly earned the most minutes for the U.S. in 2013, and has started off 2014 strong with her performance in the two friendlies against Russia, including picking up Woman of the Match honors in Georgia in the 8-0 win.
When asked if he had a different approach to O’Reilly’s game and skill-set than Pia Sunhage, he said, “I think I’ve given her a little more freedom to play and that’s helped her. Every game, every training session, she’s in there one-hundred percent. And she’s got good soccer skills as well.
“She might have the most minutes because Tobin has been injured,” Sermanni admitted. “I suppose Tobin and HAO have been vying for that position, but we have a lot of talent out on the wings. But HAO can back it up, game in and game out. She’s had some real quality games this year so far.”
The primary challenge for O’Reilly, Sermanni, and crew is to adjust from a 15-0 aggregate scoreline against Russia to the likes of the Nadeshiko, who they will face first on March 5 at 7:45 a.m. ET against Japan in Parchal.
One final note, while 24 players will travel, Sermanni will only be able to name 23 to the tournament roster.
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