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NWSL coaches deal with player fatigue coming off international break

Alyssa Thompson played a full 90 minutes for the USWNT in Tuesday's friendly against Ireland. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Alyssa Thompson played a full 90 minutes Tuesday for the U.S. women’s national team. Starting Saturday, she has three games in nine days for Angel City FC.

As NWSL players confront the schedule crunch created by the international break, teams are taking extra care to avoid overworking their stars.

Player fatigue is a real possibility, as many have dealt with increased workloads – and will continue to do so as the NWSL begins Challenge Cup games in the middle of next week. Several teams, including Angel City FC and the Portland Thorns, will play three games in a span of eight or nine days.

“I think we have to be naive not to have player safety in mind. What that looks like for each is slightly different,” Thorns coach Mike Norris said. “For some of them it’ll be five games in 15 days, if you take the two international games in three days, and we’ve also got three games in eight days coming up.

“We’re trying to use today to see how people have come out of the travel, how they’re getting through the season, then we’ll see where they’re at.”

The Thorns feature a trio of USWNT players in Sophia Smith, Crystal Dunn and Becky Sauerbrunn.

Angel City coach Freya Coombe pointed out that her team is “dealing with a lot of fatigue, as other teams I’m sure are.”

“The majority of our players were off in Europe. So obviously the time difference, but we’re looking forward to having them back in. We’ll just make sure that they’re reintegrated slowly and making sure that recovery and regeneration is the top priority,” she said.

Some national team players, such as Sauerbrunn, were on minute restrictions during the team’s last game against Ireland. Others, including Thompson, played the full 90 minutes.

“I was a little surprised to be honest because she hasn’t got that many 90-minute blocks with us,” Coombe said of USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski’s decision to play Thompson for the whole game. “But I guess it’s a good opportunity for Vlatko to look at her throughout the duration of the game. So we’ll just need to be mindful in terms of managing minutes for her as she returns.

“She did play with us in a scrimmage, the day she flew. So we’ve got to be mindful of the accumulation of minutes as well.”