In what might be the greatest paradox in women’s soccer, being a forward for the U.S. women’s national team is both a blessing and a burden.
No doubt every player who dons the red, white and blue, takes pride in doing so, but head coach Tom Sermanni’s options continue to increase in a position where he only has two – maybe three – options at a time on the field. Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Christen Press and Abby Wambach are all world-class, and of the four, only Wambach isn’t still in the early stages of her career; Leroux, Morgan and Press will be around for a long time.
So that can make life slightly discouraging for the likes of Sarah Hagen or Lindsey Horan, two youngsters trying to fight their way into the senior U.S. team picture for what at this point realistically looks like the 2019 World Cup. Olympic rosters are small – only 18 players – making it even less likely that there will be any surprises at RIo 2016.
Enter Kealia Ohai, who is hoping to get a shot of her own on the senior team after playing hero for the U.S. U-20 women in the 2012 World Cup final. With Katie Stengel’s call-up for next week’s camp, Ohai has now watched seven of her 2012 U-20 World Cup winning teammates earn senior team call-ups.
The No. 2 overall draft pick for the Houston Dash is still waiting for her shot.
“They keep telling me they have a lot of young forwards, and they do,” Ohai told the Deseret News. “They told me to play my first season in the pros, and I’ll get my chance. It’s frustrating. I’m just waiting.”
Her best shot at the senior team could be as a winger, where there’s also plenty of competition from Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, but there’s likely a better opportunity to crack into the squad.
Either way, what Ohai needs is a strong showing with the Dash in her rookie season, just like so many others already getting looks from Sermanni. Hagen is on her way home in June to play for FC Kansas City, a move that will help her better be seen by U.S. coaches in a trend that’s been the hottest topic this NWSL offeseason (see here and here and here….oh, and here).
“I didn’t really want to go overseas,” Ohai said. “If you’re trying to make the national team and you’re overseas, the national team coaches never see you. You don’t get exposure. All the girls on the national team who play overseas have been asked to come back and play in the NWSL.”
Whoever is in charge of the U.S. women in 2019 is shaping up to have one very tough job as Leroux, Morgan and Press will still be in their prime along with this crop of 2012 U-20 champions — Ohai, Stengel, Morgan Brian Crystal Dunn, Julie Johnston, Kassey Kallman and Vanessa DiBernardo (the list goes on).
It often takes five-plus years to truly understand the impact a U-17 or U-20 World Cup can have on a national team program, but it looks like the U.S. U-20 team that won the 2012 title could fill out a large chunk of the 2019 World Cup roster. How everyone fits – Ohai included – remains to be seen.
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