On January 12 in Los Angeles, the National Women’s Soccer League held its fifth NWSL College Draft, kick-starting the professional career of 40 players, all with big dreams that most likely include playing with the U.S. Women’s National Team.
As the USA begins its long road towards qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, head coach Jill Ellis continues to emphasize the importance of watching players and deepening the player pool. While the platforms her and her staff are using to scout this array of new talent ranges from Youth National Teams, to college to players overseas, the importance of the NWSL has taken center-stage.
A Chance to Be Seen
For many reasons, having a domestic professional women’s league in the United States is a tremendous asset for both coaches and players. It allows the U.S. WNT coaches to observe a large pool of players in a competitive environment on a consistent basis. It gives the players focus, the ability to continuously train and the opportunity to play full 90-minute matches while facing some of the best players in the world.
U.S. WNT newcomer Lynn Williams and co-captain & two-time FIFA Women's Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd
“We’ve always communicated with NWSL coaches about players and we watch as many games as we can,” Ellis said. “As we don’t have a world event in the middle of this NWSL season, it will allow us to be even more connected to the league and at this time in the cycle, getting to watch these games and these players is extremely important.”
For the more established players in the WNT, the NWSL is a valuable place to sharpen their skills and show Ellis they’re putting in the effort and producing the performances to keep earning spots on one of the most competitive teams in international soccer. For the newcomers and those just breaking into the league, the NWSL is a chance to be seen, to spark the interest of Ellis and her staff and show that they’re deserving of an invite to a WNT camp.
As Ellis has made deepening the WNT player pool a high priority, several NWSL players have recently been given a chance to test their mettle within the National Team environment. Last October, Ellis called 11 uncapped players to camp which included eight from the NWSL in Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (NC Courage), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Shea Groom (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign) and Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage). In that group was also two 2016 NWSL draftees in Jane Campbell (Houston Dash) and Ashley Hatch (NC Courage).
Houston Dash's Morgan Brian and Kealia Ohai; Chicago Red Stars' Arin Gilliland & Casey Short
As the league has continued to grow, it’s become even more of a platform. The lesson? Someone is always watching so every game is an audition. Prime examples are Williams and Short who would both tell you that if it wasn’t for the league, they probably wouldn’t be wearing the U.S. Soccer crest today. Both have now earned four caps and are part of this year’s January Camp.
As Ellis resumes the process of evaluating players during January Camp, a handful of new NWSL names have now begun to earn multiple call-ups. Among them are goalkeeper Adrianna Franch of the Portland Thorns, NC Courage defender Jaelene Hinkle, Short, Williams, Ohai, Dahlkemper and NC courage attacker Jessica McDonald and Orlando Pride’s Kristen Edmonds. The latter two earned their first call-ups last November. All these players, except for the injured Dahlkemper, are currently in California at the WNT’s January Camp, hoping to show once again why they belong and should remain on Ellis’ radar. Additionally, Ellis also added first-time call ups Sarah Killion of Sky Blue FC and NC Courage’s Taylor Smith for evaluation during the January training camp.
First time WNT call-up and NC Courage forward, Taylor Smith
This infusion of newer players has brought a different perspective and fresh energy. The new players have had to learn how to adapt and fit into a highly competitive environment while the veteran players have had to elevate their games in the battle for roster spots. It has also brought enthusiasm and healthy competition as everyone understands that nothing is guaranteed. For Ellis, making a roster – for a training camp or a game – won’t come down to a number of caps or World Cup experience, but to performance; to the players who have earned the right to take the field through consistently productive performances.
For these new players that cut their professional teeth in the NWSL, it’s quite literally, game on.
Accompanied by her good friend and fellow teammate Casey Short, Williams squeezed in her live chat following the USA’s final fitness testing session in sunny California and before the WNT’s afternoon training session – it is January Camp with two-a-days after all!
Williams was joined by Casey Short (pictured), who just like her, made her debut for the WNT this past October.
After being called into senior camp for the first time back in October 2016, Williams and Short have both earned four caps for the WNT, playing in the final four matches of the year. In her debut on Oct. 19 against Switzerland, Williams scored 49 seconds after entering the match as a second-half substitute, becoming the 20th WNT player all-time to find the back of the net in her first cap.
For her part, Short also made her debut on Oct. 19, and has started all four matches the WNT has played since, recording all 90 minutes in three of those games.
The North Carolina Courage forward answered a variety of question ranging from her favorite TV shows (Quantico!), to how she is sure her teammate Tobin Heath will probably nutmeg her soon enough.
Williams also revealed that she has a fear of the water (Jaws scarred her for life), while Short is allergic to seafood.
Most importantly, as a pair of players trying to break into the competitive U.S. WNT, they talked about the nerves that you feel during your first camp and the excitement that follows when you realize you are playing with the best in the world.
“Everyone is so friendly and supportive. It’s a tough environment to come into but everyone has been so welcoming. [We were] definitely nervous to come into camp, but once you start touching the ball and making the first run, you realize – I know how to play soccer, I can do this.”
Watch the full live chat below and stay tuned to the U.S. Soccer Facebook page for more Live events during the WNT’s January Camp.
CHICAGO (January 13, 2017) – U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis has held over five players from the U.S. Under-23 Women’s National Team camp that ended this morning to train for several days with the full U.S. Women’s National Team, which begins its camp today at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California.
“These players showed very well during the U-23 training camp, and this is a great opportunity to see how they perform in the highly competitive environment of January Camp,” Ellis said. “Having a few more players in camp helps us in our 11v11 competition, and as I’ve said on many occasions, the majority of this year is about looking at new players so we can continue to expand our pool.”
The five players include one who was taken yesterday in the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft, three current college players and 16-year-old Brianna Pinto. Goalkeeper Casey Murphy, a rising senior at Rutgers, played every minute of all six games for the USA at the recent 2016 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea. At 6-foot-1, the 20-year-old is the tallest goalkeeper ever called into the full U.S. Women’s National Team.
Ellis also held over defender Mandy Freeman, who played a key role in helping the University of Southern California win the 2016 NCAA Championship. The 21-year-old Freeman was a starting center back on the U.S. team that competed in the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Azerbaijan. She was taken as 10th and last pick of the opening round by Sky Blue FC.
Midfielder Tierna Davidson, who is 18 years old, started all 21 games for Stanford as a freshman last season, scoring two goals with two assists. The 5-foot-10 Davidson has spent extensive time with the USA’s Youth National Teams and has six caps and one goal at the U-20 international level. Forward Savannah McCaskill is a rising senior at South Carolina, which had a fantastic 2016 season, going 21-2-1 and spending eight weeks ranked in the top-five in the nation. The 20-year-old McCaskill led the Gamecocks in scoring with 17 goals and 11 assists and was named a First-Team All-American and SEC Player of the Year.
Ellis also kept Pinto, who becomes one of the youngest call-ups of the modern era of the U.S. Women’s National Team. She turns 17 on May 24. Pinto was a starter in the center midfield for the USA at the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan. She finished her U-17 international career with 20 caps and one goal.
The January training camp is a key evaluation period for Ellis and her staff to choose a squad for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup, which – as did the inaugural tournament last year – features four of the world’s top five ranked teams in the USA (No. 1), Germany (No. 2), France (No. 3) and England (No. 5), competing in three doubleheaders from March 1-7.Read more