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Twila Kilgore explains USWNT identity shift after World Cup

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Trinity Rodman and Lindsey Horan celebrate a goal during the USWNT's win over China PR on Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The U.S. women’s national team is ending the year with a shift in identity after the team’s disappointing finish at the 2023 World Cup.

Much has been made about the USWNT’s history and the importance of leaning into the culture and mentality that have allowed the team to enjoy dominance on the world stage for decades. But as the team attempts to adjust to a new-look international game, they’re also having to embrace the future.

“I think there’s two things happening,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Monday, before the team’s last friendly of 2023 against China PR on Tuesday. “I talked about this with the group before we went out to the game. It’s showing who we are, but also who we’re becoming. And they’re not mutually exclusive.”

Heading into the Paris Olympics next year, the team is at a crossroads. USWNT legends Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz have retired, and other veterans are coming up on the ends of their careers. In the meantime, young talent has begun to emerge.

Jaedyn Shaw, 19, and Mia Fishel, 22, scored their first international goals within their first two international appearances. And on Saturday, Olivia Moultrie, 18, and Jenna Nighswonger, 23, earned their first USWNT caps. Others like M.A. Vignola, 25, and Korbin Albert, 20, have received their first call-ups.

It’s a noticeable shift, especially with Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan and other veterans left off the December roster. New head coach Emma Hayes will also officially take over when the Chelsea club season ends in May 2024.

“We have a very strong history. This is a program that means so much to so many people and has really been an example to the world in some ways about what women’s football or soccer can be,” Kilgore said. “We don’t want to lose any of that. And yet we are layering in new ideas, we are layering in new tactics, we are layering in just a little bit of a shift in mentality.

“I think what we really want is we want everybody locked in, which I think has always been the case, willing and brave to try new things. You see this rotation of new people in, which requires a faster hold on what our culture and identity is within the group — meaning we have to acclimate them quicker and do so maybe with not just a group of veterans, but do so with a group that is new, which is a little bit different.”

Kilgore rotated in many new faces during the USWNT’s 3-0 win over China on Saturday, and she’ll have one more opportunity to do so in 2023 when the U.S. takes the field in Texas on Tuesday night.

“It’s always been that we want to be on the front foot offensively, and defensively we want to be dominant when we can be. We want to get better in possession and we want to show that we believe that we can win under all circumstances.”