Added Emphasis Placed on U-23s as WNT Player Pool Expands
At a time during the start of the cycle when one of the primary focuses of U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis is to “evaluate players and deepen the player pool,” the U.S. Youth National Teams, particularly the U-23 WNT, have taken on a more prominent role.
The U-23 WNT began its 2017 programming with a seven-day camp from Jan. 6-13 at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California.
This U-23 camp was composed of diverse group of players ranging from 16-year-olds to 23-year olds. The U-23 WNT is in several ways the closest level to the senior team, not necessarily in terms of the age of the players, but in terms of players being ready, or close to ready, to get their chance to compete at the highest and most elite international level for a soccer player.
Briana Pinto helped lead the USA to the 2016 U-17 CONCACAF Women's Championship and qualification for the World Cup.
The pool of U-23 players across the USA is wide and 11 players in camp were taken during the 2017 NWSL College Draft held on Jan. 12 in Los Angeles, California.
“The U-23 camp gives us the opportunity to bring together the best college players and the best players that have done well in the youth teams to give us a chance to take a hard look,” Ellis said.
As the final day of training for the U-23s coincides with the first day of training for the senior squad, Ellis may hold over several players for a few days of training with the full squad. She will continue to evaluate the U-23 WNT, and all the USA’s youth teams, as the year progresses to see if there are any other players that have earned a possible call up to a senior camp in the near future.
“[This camp] is perfect because it’s right before the senior camp so we get to evaluate them up close and personal,” said Ellis. “It fits our theme right now which is to expand our pool and evaluate players.”
Unlike previous years when the U-23 WNT schedule would only consist of about four events, 2017 may see an increase in U-23 programing. The goal for this age group is to have them compete in NWSL pre-season tournaments, against college teams and in Europe.
“We’re always looking for players,” Ellis said. “And one of the things you say to yourself when you’re evaluating is, ‘are they immediately ready? Perhaps not’, but where could they be in two years with the investment? That’s part of our evaluation process.”