U.S. head coach Jill Ellis has named the 23-player roster for the 2017 Tournament of Nations, the second elite, four-nation women’s international tournament that U.S. Soccer will stage in the United States this year. The competition features teams consisting of players very familiar with each other, but the six games will see many NWSL teammates become foes and numerous players will try to raise their stock with their respective coaches as national pride once again outweighs club allegiance. Ellis shares her thoughts on the U.S. roster and the value of the tournament.
On the continuation of building towards 2019 and how the Tournament of Nations plays a role in that process:
“If you look at our overall World Cup cycle in the context of a single season, we’re in preseason right now. Cohesion and chemistry are elements we build on once we assemble the core group that we believe can help us be successful at CONCACAF Qualifying and moving onto the World Cup in France.
“Historically, experience and depth are huge assets in World Cups. We probably had the highest capped team in 2015 at the last World Cup and a deep bench, so it’s critical in this phase that our newer players get valuable minutes against the very top teams. This tournament gives us that opportunity.
“Playing Brazil, Australia and Japan will likely present scenarios and create emotions similar to our recent matches against Norway and Sweden – matches against top teams that will push us in all phases of play. Our trip to Scandinavia was invaluable because we showed resolve and that’s an important component of championship teams. Winning a 5-0 game at home is comfortable, but finding a way to win on the road is challenging and uncomfortable. Everything we are doing right now is to help us gain and learn from experiences we will need to lean on in World Cup qualifying and beyond.”
On choosing the Tournament of Nations Roster:
“As a staff, we’ve watched a lot of league games in the first half of the season and that certainly played a role in our selection for this roster. With three games against such high caliber opponents in eight days, and considering where our players are in their league seasons, we always have to factor in coverage and depth in player selection. I think this roster checks a lot of boxes with respect to where we are in our cycle; we have the capacity to look at new players, gain experience for others, and it gives us versatility within the team to have coverage and competition in positions.”
On what specifically the players are evaluated on when they come into the WNT environment:
“Everything! And by that I mean our training environment is based on all elements of the game, so it is rare that any drill is without opposition. We look at their problem solving, technique under pressure, competitiveness, physical capacity, the whole gamut. We also assess what they do off the field. Are they professional about their recovery? Are they committed to being a good teammate regardless of their role? Every WNT event presents opportunities for the players.
On the expectations when bringing in several players who are newer call-ups to the WNT:
“When we bring in a new player to our environment it is because we’ve seen qualities that we believe can contribute to our environment - to what extent and quality is part of the assessment during their time in with the team. Taylor (Smith), (Margaret) Midge (Purce), and Sofia (Huerta) have some very interesting assets and they are comfortable in wide areas. What we will remind them is to stay loyal to their attributes that got them in the door and just to play with adventure. We are not a finished product as a team, so I am not expecting an individual player in their first camp to be that either. I am sure there is a bit of stress when a player first comes in, but when we hit the training field it is about playing to their strengths and personality.”
On the NWSL presence in the Tournament of Nations:
“With the many NWSL players in this tournament from all four teams, it speaks to the quality of the league and it will be exciting for fans that watch these players compete for their clubs to see them play intense matches for their countries. For the fans, it’s going to be a chance to see World Cup veterans and rising stars on all four teams. Every game of the six should be extremely entertaining.”