Following the USA’s early exit from the 2016 Olympics Games in Brazil back in August, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis had a clear message to convey as the U.S. WNT begins a new cycle for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“Two priorities coming out of the Olympics are the quality of the opponents that we play and finding players,” Ellis said. “The message for the players currently with us is that everything moving forward becomes about performance and it’s not about how many caps you have or what you’ve done in the past, but what are you doing in this moment and what are you prepared to do for the future. That’s going to help us. It’s going to make for a healthy competitive environment and force players outside of their comfort levels and these players are at their best when they’re pushed.”
Following matches against Thailand on Sept. 15 and against the Netherlands on Sept. 18 that brought together players from the Olympic roster and saw veteran midfielder Heather O’Reilly retire from international soccer, Ellis is staying true to her philosophy by bringing in 11 uncapped players on the training camp roster for the next two matches against Switzerland on Oct. 19 and Oct. 23.
“Coming out of those games [in September], we are looking at everything from this point forward in relation to 2019,” Ellis said. “Every training session, every match we play, it’s looking at players, evaluating players and gaining experience.”
While there are 13 players on the October roster who were at the Olympics as either rostered players or alternates, nine of the 11 uncapped players are set to participate in their first full WNT camp.
Despite lacking experience with the senior Women’s National Team, all of the newcomers have experience with the U.S. Youth National Teams at the Under-23 level or younger, many of whom also play professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Speed attackers Lynn Williams and Kealia Ohai are coming off terrific NWSL seasons with the Western New York Flash and Houston Dash, respectively, that saw them tie for the league lead in goals with 11. Williams, the Golden Boot winner, along with Flash teammates Abby Dahlkemper and Samantha Mewis, still have one game to play as they face the Washington Spirit for the 2016 NWSL title on Oct. 9 in Houston.
Defenders Arin Gilliland and Casey Short are part of a Chicago Red Stars back line that combined for eight shutouts in the NWSL this season, tied for most in the league with Seattle Reign FC, which featured fellow call-up, Merritt Mathias. Shea Groom, who led her team in goals scored with eight, joins FC Kansas City teammate Becky Sauerbrunn on the roster, while Jane Campbell, Ashley Hatch and Andi Sullivan are the three college players of the bunch.
With a little under three years until the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Ellis knows this is the right time for the USA to find and vet players that can help the U.S. team build towards the future. The goal is to reward those players that have excelled in their respective platforms, whether pro or amateur, and that deserve the opportunity to compete for a spot in the National Team.
“Right now, we are in a phase where we want to try to expand the player pool, look at a number of players and start the long process to qualifying for the next World Cup,” Ellis said. “In order to see if these players can contribute, we need to get them into a National Team training environment and in games.”