For the past two years, the U.S. Women’s National Team has kicked off the new year with a clear goal in mind. In 2015, it was the FIFA Women’s World Cup. In 2016, the Olympic Games came calling. But in 2017, there is no world championship and qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup won’t take place until late in 2018.
After hitting the highest of highs in 2015 and becoming world champions, 2016 did not unfold as anticipated. Despite winning the Olympic Qualifying tournament and the inaugural SheBelieves Cup, the USA’s early exit in the Olympic quarterfinal was heartbreaking for a team that always expects to be at the top of the podium.
So what’s the next goal? What are the objectives for this team over 2017 and 2018?
After the U.S. returned from Brazil, the team took the field for six final matches in 2016 - all wins -- and then quickly closed the door on the year and started looking ahead. At the 2017 January Camp, Ellis immediately imprinted on every player one of the key themes for the team from this point forward: evaluating players and deepening the pool.
“Post-Olympics, our main goal is to play as many top-10 teams as possible,” Ellis said. “We want the most competitive schedule, and this year, it will be the strongest teams we’ve ever played in the year following a world event. This is a big difference for us. It’s never happened before.”
Ellis has consistently talked about calling up new players and challenging everyone to earn their spot. She will use these two years to create a versatile and deep squad that will once again compete for a World Cup title in 2019, hardened by a schedule of matches against elite teams over the course of the cycle.
“At the end of last year we continued pushing the expectations on the field and challenging players with different formations and playing based on principles,” Ellis said. “I think that sets an expectation of how we want to play. We want to increase our defensive pressure and attack in multiple ways.
“We are emphasizing beating lines and quicker ball movement to shift the defense. We don’t want to be a team that just relies on one phase of our game, we want to be a complete team. For example, not solely relying on our attacking transition, but relying on all components of play. Our team development is our No. 1 priority this year. Getting results is important, but getting better is crucial.”Read more
There are many perks to being a professional athlete. Celebrity, travel and the simple fact that one gets paid to play a game are the most obvious.
While the list of positives is a long one, a lengthy season also provides limited time to squeeze in major life events, and even less when you get called to U.S. Men’s National Team January Camp.
Such was the case for Taylor Kemp, Dax McCarty, Wil Trapp and Walker Zimmerman, all of whom had to fit in another important moment before heading to camp – saying ‘I do.’
“The offseason is wedding season for M.L.S. guys,” Kemp, who got married on Dec. 17 (below), told ussoccer.com. “Everyone is fighting for the same weekend, so we had to get ours in early and get the word out so none of my friends would schedule on the same day.”
To illustrate the wedding date pile-up, miles away from Kemp’s ceremony in Arlington, Va., fellow MNT teammate Wil Trapp was also tying the knot with his wife Beth in Gahanna, Ohio.
“It’s funny, you talk to the guys here and they ask what day you got married,” the Columbus Crew SC midfielder (pictured below) said. “A lot of us here probably share the same days because there’s only about a month-long window where you can conceivably have a sure bet that there won’t be anything else going on that weekend.”
With M.L.S. players reporting to their preseason camps during the third week of January and the M.L.S. Cup Final coming in the second week of December, the wedding window is incredibly small.
Thankfully for the players, it seems soccer brides-to-be are starting to plan things out years in advance. At least that was the case for Zimmerman’s new wife Sally (pictured below).
“I didn’t know this at the time, but when we started dating, her and her sister were looking at the calendar and saw three or four years down the road that New Year’s Eve was on a Saturday,” he said. “They picked out a date a year into our relationship. We dated for five years, so that’s pretty crazy.”
Try as they might to fit all the regular festivities in, things don’t always go according to plan. For the Kemps, Taylor’s first call to MNT camp meant he and his wife Brittany had to cut short their honeymoon in Hawaii.
“I was super excited about the call-up and then realized it would conflict some with our plans,” he said.
Understanding the opportunity, the new Mrs. Kemp was supportive of the change.
“We shuffled some things around, changed some flights, cancelled some hotels and managed some tears, but it all worked out for the best. We still had our wedding, honeymoon and got to camp on time.”
Having not played in a match for the MNT since January 2011, McCarty and his then fiancé Jen (pictured below) settled on their Jan. 14 wedding date a year ago. Thinking he’d go straight from his nuptials into preseason, instead McCarty earned his first camp call-up since January 2014. He reached out to new U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, who allowed him to join the group following his wedding last Saturday.
And again, Mrs. McCarty was understanding.
“She’s my biggest fan and has been nothing but fantastic throughout the whole process,” he said. “I couldn’t have married a better one, I know that.”
While Dax received special dispensation, the date meant that fellow January Camp participants and McCarty wedding invitees Sacha Kljestan, Luis Robles, Juan Agudelo and Chris Pontius were all unable to attend.
“Obviously I told them that duty calls.” McCarty said. “I wanted them to be here and for them to be able to impress Bruce and his staff from the beginning.”
Whether having to cut short a honeymoon or not have one at all, each of the four players know that being away again so quickly after getting married means they’ll have to make things up to their new brides. And they’re okay with that.
“Once January Camp and preseason with D.C. United is over, I’ll probably owe her a couple things,” Kemp joked.Read more