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Alyssa Thompson: USWNT vets show me ‘what it takes to get there’

(Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Balancing being a teenager and the next up-and-coming star for the U.S. women’s national team can be difficult. Luckily, Alyssa Thompson has some help.

The USWNT has called up the 18-year-old a handful of times in the past year, including as an injury reserve in April when Mallory Swanson went down with a patella tendon tear. With a spot on the U.S. World Cup team this summer a strong possibility, Thompson has focused on adjusting to the international environment.

Playing with Angel City in the NWSL, the 2023 No. 1 draft pick has a number of national team stars to help her along, including Christen Press, Sydney Leroux and Julie Ertz, who signed with the team in April. New Zealand defender and ACFC captain Ali Riley is also a great resource.

“All the players on my team have been super helpful with just trying to help me know what to expect with international play,” Thompson said. “They really helped me just know what my goal is and tell me what it takes to get there and all the extra details that it takes.”

Angel City has also prioritized setting Thompson up for success in her rookie season. That means making sure she isn’t falling behind in school or missing out on being an 18-year-old.

“For us, it’s about putting her in the best position for success,” head coach Freya Coombe said. “I think it’s about how we use her in games to keep her fresh and to keep her enjoying the moment, enjoying the sport.

“I think it’s also about working collectively with her support network and managing her school schedule versus training when we’re putting meetings in the week, when we’re asking her to do extra, limiting the amount of additional activities that are non-essential for the club. I think that so far, we’re doing a good job of being able to manage that as a collective group.”

So far, Thompson has thrived in the pro environment. She leads Angel City with three goals in six games, having started five of them.

“She’s been playing really well. I think that we are seeing some variations of her game in terms of the spaces that she’s attacking and where she’s looking threatening,” Coombe said.

“I think that we are seeing her develop in a defensive capacity and seeing her both sides of the ball and her defending increasing and being better as the weeks go on.”

Being in consideration for the USWNT’s World Cup roster meant Thompson skipping the U-20 Concacaf championship, where her younger sister Gisele will represent the U.S. beginning May 24 in the Dominican Republic.

“There is obviously conversation. But right now, while she’s playing as many minutes as she is for us, we’d like to think that she’s still being considered for the senior team,” Coombe said. “I think the decision was made for all of us that she stays in the club environment.”

Thompson isn’t the only teenager to miss the tournament. The San Diego Wave also held back 18-year-old forward Jaedyn Shaw after a “very open conversation” with head coach Casey Stoney. Shaw has started all six of the Wave’s regular season games and is second on the team with three goals.

“It’s my choice not to release her,” Stoney said. “She’s wanted by the national team. Unfortunately, they don’t run through FIFA windows. And even if they did, the FIFA windows here aren’t even respected. We’ve got six key players out with injuries. It’s my job to look after the club.

“We just can’t release her right now. She’s a starter for us, she’s a main feature. She’s been a key player for us this season and we can’t afford to miss her during this period.”