The long-overdue rebuild of the U.S. women's national team will begin, or at least accelerate, later this month.
The USWNT will gather in South Florida for a week-long training camp, then friendlies against China on Dec. 2 and Dec. 5, and it won't look like the USWNT that fans have come to know (and love, but also bemoan).
Alex Morgan won't be present. Nor will Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn and Andi Sullivan. With Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz retiring, in all, 10 players from the USWNT's 2023 World Cup roster have been omitted from this November-December roster — which "kinda denotes a new chapter," interim coach Twila Kilgore said Monday.
Some, like Morgan and Alyssa Naeher, will still contend for roster spots at the 2024 Olympics. But they hogged playing time at their positions for so long that succession planning became difficult. A camp without them will grant opportunity to youngsters or understudies. It will also allow for something of a clean slate, a blank canvas on which new ideas can be sketched and new partnerships can flourish.
It remains unclear how many of those ideas will come from Emma Hayes, the USWNT's incoming head coach. It remains unclear whether Hayes, still under contract with Chelsea through May, will even be in Florida. It's also unclear how much of the rebuild, between now and May, will actually be hers. U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker said Monday that negotiations with Chelsea are still "ongoing."
But Hayes is already collaborating with Crocker and Kilgore, her soon-to-be assistant. And she had a hand in selecting this roster, which signals the onset of what Crocker called a "process of change."
U.S. Soccer largely wasted its first two camps after the infamous 2023 World Cup. In September and October, it was still searching for a coach, and treading water, at Crocker's directive, calling in all healthy World Cup veterans, with this "process of change" on hold.
"But obviously," Kilgore said Monday, "the dynamic has changed with Emma coming onboard, and knowing what our long-term vision is starting to look like."
The vast majority of those veterans are known quantities. They did not, and do not need their umpteenth friendly appearances. The coaching staff. on the other hand, needs to see Sophia Smith at striker and Jaedyn Shaw anywhere. They need to see Sam Coffey and Olivia Moultrie in midfield. They need to see Jenna Nighswonger, the 2023 NWSL rookie of the year, and Korbin Albert, a 20-year-old who's been starting for PSG in the Champions League and in France.
So, Kilgore (and Hayes) called in Nighswonger and Albert, plus four others who had not been capped prior to the World Cup (Shaw, Moultrie, Mia Fishel and M.A. Vignola).
They did not call in Kristie Mewis and Ashley Sanchez, nor Kelley O'Hara and Sofia Huerta. (Those four, plus Rapinoe, Ertz, Morgan, Dunn, Sullivan and Naeher, are the 10 World Cup players who aren't included.)
Catarina Macario and Mal Swanson, meanwhile, have still not recovered from long-term injuries. But Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper have; Dahlkemper, a 2019 World Cup starter, will return to the national team for the first time since April 2022.
The only puzzling part of the roster is that there isn't more turnover. Any training camp needs veteran presence, of course, but some of the non-World Cup invitees — such as 28-year-old Ashley Hatch — are also known quantities.
The moral of the story, though, is that the USWNT player pool became far too narrow under the previous coach, Vlatko Andonovski. It will have to expand, quickly, to recover from years of mismanagement and return to the mountaintop under Hayes.
The full 26-player roster is below.
USWNT roster for December friendlies vs. China
Defenders (7): Alana Cook (OL Reign), Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars), M.A. Vignola (Angel City)
Midfielders (8): Korbin Albert (Paris Saint-Germain), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns), Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville), Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Olivia Moultrie (Portland Thorns), Jenna Nighswonger (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign)
Forwards (8): Mia Fishel (Chelsea), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Alyssa Thompson (Angel City), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
Emma Hayes' role with USWNT between now and May
Those "ongoing" negotiations between U.S. Soccer and Chelsea mostly concern how the two organizations will share Hayes' time between now and May. Chelsea wants her 100% focused on the job she's currently being paid to do. U.S. Soccer is also wary of overload.
"Obviously Emma has got a ridiculously busy schedule," Crocker said Monday. "Obviously we also need to be respectful of Emma's family time. What we don't want is to bring a coach over in the summer, and before we even know it, they're on burnout. So we need to make sure we respect and give her some time to re-gen when there is moments of opportunity."
He is "very much hopeful," though, that Hayes will travel to the Florida camp, at least to meet staff and players.
"We're just working some final details around her schedule," Crocker said.
He wants to "mak[e] sure that we can maximize a really detailed plan of change." He wants the staff, led by Kilgore on the ground, to "start to implement some of those changes, both on the pitch and off the pitch. ... And it will be an evolving process that starts now. And you can see that from the roster that's been picked."
Kilgore also understands that Hayes' time and energy are in high demand. But, she said Monday: "I have the ability to reach out to her at any time, she'll make time for me at any point, and vice versa. We are very collaborative, we're sharing information, knowledge sharing."
They shared ideas on roster construction, and picked the 26 players "collaboratively," Kilgore said. That's what they'll do moving forward as well. Kilgore also said she planned to travel to London at some point to meet with Hayes in person.
"I'm most excited to talk more football, to continue to listen and learn about how she wants us to play," Kilgore said. "And those are all things that will happen more and more in the future when she's not as tied to Chelsea.
"In the interim, we're working on the overall environment — what it should look like when she comes. We're in alignment already, as humans and football coaches."