It’s been a year. Or really three months. The FIFA Women’s World Cup champion team plummeted out of the 2016 Rio Olympics in dramatic fashion to former coach Pia Sundhage’s Sweden squad. The team seemed tired, disjointed and just not themselves starting with the Colombia match in the group stage. They did make it through to the group stage to face a familiar face in Sweden. We all know what happened from there in a game full of disputed goals.
Fast forward a few weeks, I was thinking – it should be a quiet few years leading to the the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Welp, I was wrong. Let’s start on the field.
USWNT great Heather O’Reilly retired. The USWNT played a fluffy match against Thailand and a more even match against a rising European squad from the Netherlands. The squad stayed the same other than the dropping of Hope Solo (we’ll get to that later). They have two matches scheduled for Oct. 19 and Oct. 23, both against Switzerland, and Jill Ellis has brought in 11 uncapped players, nine of whom will be in USWNT camp for the first time. Ellis at the recent press conference explains her thought process.
“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…”
Ellis is bringing NWSL standouts Kealia Ohai, Lynn Williams, Abby Dahlkemper, Arin Gilliland among others. Plus, three college players are getting a shot as well. Notable names left off the roster include Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, Megan Klingenberg and Mallory Pugh, who is unavailable due to commitments with the U-20 team. See the full roster.
This move has caused some ripples throughout the Twitterverse and USWNT fanbase, but I for one, am excited. With the way the USWNT’s schedule cycles, there isn’t a lot of time to bring in new or recognized talent to see how they will can fit into the national team. Several of these players had incredibly successful years in year four of the NWSL and previous seasons. So many of our favorite players really got looks because of what they did in previous women’s professional leagues.
In case you missed it, the USWNT made news in September for Megan Rapinoe’s decision to kneel during the national anthem prior to a game with her NWSL team, Seattle Reign. She posted an open letter to explain why. I love this opening line, “I’m kneeling because I have to do something. Anything. We all do.” There are a lot of people very split on this issue but I think the fact that a USWNT player is such a role model to women (and men) in the country is admirable.
The media has made it much more about the issue of kneeling instead of the context behind it and I was honestly happy to not watch the game in Columbus on tv (I was there, much better) to avoid hearing about it. We often forget that athletes can stand for something beyond what they do on the field, and have a platform to intelligently (hopefully) discuss these issues that are impacting our country. Rapinoe also wrote that kneeling is just the beginning. She’s currently working with community leaders, corporate partners and leaders within the Black Lives Matter movement.
The saga continues.
Hope Solo hasn’t been a crystal clean version of a USWNT player since day one, but it all escalated in September when the goalkeeper was suspended for six months on the heels of comments she made after they crashed out of the Olympics. Subsequently her contract was terminated due to it being up for renewal during those six months. It’s been confirmed since then that her contract termination was an accumulation of behavior and actions over the years.
Conveniently enough, U.S. Soccer chose to actually take action after the Olympics, and an uncharacteristically shaky performance by Solo in them. Now they have four years to prime a new keeper. Is this the end of Solo’s national team career? I have no clue. She could have played in one more World Cup and was the best in the world, and possibly could still be when she’s on her game. I’m excited to see the 2nd and 3rd in line get a chance to take the reigns and to see what they can do. Will the team miss the drama, admittedly no, but it was just a poor showing by U.S. Soccer to do this after years of letting things slide (until it was convenient for them). With her departure, the USWNT also lose a predominant and eloquent voice in their wage and equality discussions.
The three years between the Olympics and the World Cup are long. But not that long. Ellis will figure out quickly who fits her strategy and playing style and then refine it. In the meantime, I’ll be watching for the fifth year of the NWSL to further development, the youth teams, especially the U-20s in the World Cup this year, and the updates on the battle the USWNT are in for equal pay. A reminder the NWSL final is this Sunday at 5 p.m.! What are you looking forward to in the next few months for the USWNT?