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Sofia Huerta, Kristie Mewis start fresh at USWNT camp

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The United States women’s national team’s January camp comes to a close Friday. Twenty-six players participated in Vlatko Andonvski’s first camp of 2022, with the USWNT coach calling in a youth-heavy roster to kick off the new year.

Next up for the national team is February’s SheBelieves Cup, making the training camp in Austin, Texas even more consequential. Here is what we learned from the final days of training camp.

Back in the mix

A handful of players who have competed for USNWT roster spots in prior years received call-ups for the January camp.

Notably, Sofia Huerta made the trip to Austin after earning her eighth and ninth caps in the USWNT’s 2021 year-end friendlies against Australia. The OL Reign star made her debut with the U.S. in 2017 against New Zealand and notched an assist.

After falling off the squad’s radar in 2018, Huerta earned her place back in the USWNT rotation after a stellar club season. In 2021, OL Reign coach Laura Harvey shifted Huerta down the pitch to outside back, a position she has thrived in for club and country.

“When I stopped being called in, it was like just being able to reflect on what I felt like I didn’t do and what caused me to get out of the pool, and I think the biggest thing was probably just mindset and mentality,” Huerta said during a press conference from USWNT camp on Thursday. “Being able to have confidence in myself and work on my weaknesses, but again just more importantly, the mental side and being able to stay afloat and have a positive attitude.”

Midfielder Kristie Mewis has provided a blueprint for players looking to make a return to the USWNT under Andonvski, working her way back into the national team pool during the Tokyo Olympic cycle. After years away from the squad, Mewis has received steady call-ups since 2020, culminating in a roster spot on the Olympic team.

The 30-year-old is not slowing down anytime soon either, eyeing a place on the 2023 World Cup squad and recently signing with NWSL’s Gotham FC through 2024.

“I want to make the biggest impact I possibly can,” Mewis said of her offseason trade to Gotham FC. “I want to be one of the best midfielders in the league. I want the team to rely on me to be really successful in that pocket in the midfield.”

As for the USWNT, Mewis is embracing the spirited nature of January camp.

“It’s been really intense and competitive, and I think that’s exactly what the point of this whole thing was, to just be really competitive, get back into it for this new year,” she said.

Defensive depth

The defensive roster called into January camp looks markedly different from the World Cup-winning and Olympic bronze-medal backline USWNT fans grew used to seeing.

While Tierna Davidson carved out a spot with precious minutes during the Tokyo Olympics, for the most part, Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn and Crystal Dunn have served as the team’s last line of defense. With Dunn out due to pregnancy, and Sauerbrunn not participating in USWNT training because of an egg-freezing procedure, new players are getting a shot to prove themselves on the backline.

Defensive depth has long been a question for the national team, especially at the outside back position. Huerta’s call-up may have come at the perfect time for precisely that reason. She can fill the role of an attacking defensive player who dominates the flanks, a necessity in the USWNT’s current system.

“January is definitely a really competitive camp,” Huerta said. “Everyone is ready to compete and to prove themselves to be called in again.”

Naomi Girma carried on the long tradition of the No. 1 NWSL draft pick receiving an early call-up to the USWNT. The San Diego Wave FC defender joined other No. 1 overall draft picks Emily Fox, Sophia Smith, Davidson, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Emily Sonnett and Morgan Gautrat in Austin.

SheBelieves awaits

The USWNT will play its first matches of 2022 during the SheBelieves Cup, kicking off with the team’s matchup against the Czech Republic on Feb. 17 in Carson, Calif.

One of the loudest criticisms following the Tokyo Olympics was the lack of youth on the roster, with some calling on the squad to begin to cycle in new talent. Now that Andonovski has gotten a chance to see many representatives of the next generation, SheBelieves will offer an early sign of his intentions for the USWNT moving into summer’s Concacaf W Championship.

Will Catarina Macario make the trip from France, or will her Lyon club duties keep her from reuniting with the USWNT in February? Will attacking giants Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe reclaim their spots on the frontline, or will NWSL powerhouses Midge Purce, Ashley Hatch, Mallory Pugh and Trinity Rodman get their shot? Will Sauerbrunn and Julie Ertz return to hold down the defense?

The SheBelieves Cup certainly won’t serve as the definitive roster for the World Cup cycle, but it could provide insight into who is rising to the top of Andonovski’s pool of players.

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.