Next Generation Foreshadows Promising Future for U.S. WNT and NWSL

The 23-player roster for the April friendlies against Mexico features 13 players born in 1993 or later, with the average age for this training camp being 25 years old.

The 23-player roster for the April friendlies against Mexico features 13 players born in 1993 or later. That means that more than half of the group is either 25-years-old, or younger. It also includes two teenagers in 19-year-olds Mallory Pugh and Tierna Davidson and the average age for this training camp is 25 years old.

Those twenty-somethings are Morgan Brian (25), Emily Sonnett, Abby Dahlkemper and Lynn Williams (24), Jane Campbell, Lindsey Horan and Savannah McCaskill (23), Andi Sullivan and Haley Hanson(22), Hailie Mace (21), Tegan McGrady(20), Davidson and Pugh (19).

Several of these players have carved out roles with the WNT over the last few years or have recently been given their chance to show their ability to perform on the international stage. While age means little when it comes to talent and skill, the breakdown offers some perspective into this next generation of players at both the National Team and at the professional level, particularly with 10 out of these 13 competing in this sixth season of the National Women’s Soccer League. Brian plays for Olympique Lyonnais in France while Davidson and McGrady are still in college at Stanford.

Jane Campbell

“It’s really cool that younger players are in this environment more and more,” goalkeeper Jane Campbell said. “My first camp with the senior team was back when I was 17, and it was only for four days. I didn’t get another call up until 2016 when I was 21 so you really appreciate these opportunities. It’s also cool to see how mature the players here are. You learn how to take care of your body and be a professional. Having younger players adds a new layer to both the NWSL and these camps. You have the youth and the veterans and it’s all about meshing and building this chemistry, so that’s great for the future.”

Brian made her senior team debut in 2014 and had strong years in 2015 and 2016, when she was part of the winning team at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and was named to the 2016 Olympic Team, before injuries sidelined her for much of 2017. Horan, who left home after high school to play for Paris Saint-Germain and became the first American female player to forgo college for a professional contract, came back to the NWSL in late 2015. Since then, she earned a spot on the 2016 Olympic Team, and of late, has used her supreme comfort with the ball and ability in the air to establish herself as a key player in the U.S. midfield.

Pugh made her debut on Jan. 23, 2016 and hasn’t looked back since, becoming one of the youngest players in the last decade to excel for the WNT from the get-go. She was the youngest player in the 2016 Olympic Team at just 18-years-old and scored in the group game against Colombia. Sonnett earned her first cap in 2015 and was an alternate in the 2016 Olympic squad, but did not see much playing time with the WNT in 2017. An excellent NWSL season last year brought the Georgia native back into the mix and she played a key role in the SheBelieves Cup finale against England, a 1-0 U.S. victory that clinched the tournament title.

U.S. WNT - Lindsey horan
Lindsey Horan

All the players are part of the new wave of talent that U.S. head coach Jill Ellis brought in over the fall of 2016, throughout 2017 and early in 2018. The year after the Olympics featured a heavy evaluation period with the goal of expanding the player pool. The talented and entertaining players the emerged are part of a contingent that is important to the future of women’s soccer in the United States. Except for Olympians Brian, Horan and Pugh, they all have 20 caps or less and are still starting up the ramp towards reaching their full potential.

The NWSL, the top women’s professional soccer league in the world, recently kicked off its sixth season and has continued to improve since the launch in 2013. The influx of young players has helped not only strengthen the teams, but also expand the fan bases, along with continuing to provide role models to young girls dreaming of playing professional soccer.

“It’s always very cool to have more people come into the league as it continues to grow,” said Pugh, who is playing in her first full NWSL season. “Sometimes there is a big age difference between players, but it keeps things interesting and competitive and as a young player, I want to play against women who are hardened professionals. Last year, there would be games when I faced Christie Pearce, who was 42-years-old, and still incredible, and I also played against players in my draft class. It’s cool for us younger players to see how veterans play in the league so we can try to match that and get better. That will help the league and the game grow.”

Mallory Pugh

More recently, Sullivan and McCaskill were taken as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in the 2018 NWSL College Draft. For Sullivan, who was taken by the Washington Spirit which plays not far from where she grew up in Lorton, Va., her first season as a professional player will surely be memorable.

“I’m excited to play this season,” Sullivan said. “In the league, you have a combination of experience and tons of players that you’ve looked up to, and then you’ve got this kind of wave of young players. It’s great to see this process happen every year. I’m looking forward to helping my generation of players continue to build on what these amazing veterans players created before us.”