The U.S. women’s national team’s final friendlies of the calendar year serve as an opportunity for young players to showcase their talents.
Last month, forwards Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel earned their first caps with the U.S. senior team. Midfielder Olivia Moultrie and midfielder/defender Jenna Nighswonger joined them on Saturday, making their debuts in the USWNT’s 3-0 win over China PR, the first of two friendlies this week.
The post-World Cup games have allowed the USWNT coaching staff to evaluate the depth chart in preparation for the Olympics in Paris next summer. The team has been strategic in how they bring on young players, and on Monday interim head coach Twila Kilgore said she’s been impressed with Moultrie and Nighswonger.
“They’ve each done a really good job of stepping it up in the moments that we’ve asked them to,” she said, noting that Moultrie was “great between the lines” and did well defensively.
“That’s really, really important at this level to be able to do both sides,” Kilgore added.
Nighswonger, a midfielder in college at Florida State, spent her rookie year with Gotham FC at the right back position. The 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year was listed on the USWNT roster as a midfielder but subbed into the game Saturday as a defender.
“Jenna obviously, we see as a very versatile player that can play very many positions,” Kilgore said. “She played on the left side, and she picked and chose some really good moments to play forward and she did a good job defensively.”
As Moultrie and Nighswonger continue to get more opportunities with the team, Kilgore expects their confidence to grow.
“I think it’s really just about these first moments for them, and just continuing to layer on responsibilities as they come,” Kilgore said. “The key message to everybody is just that they stay ready. And when they’re asked to play, they are ready to do that and step into their role in a very significant way. So we’ve actually already spent time with both of them, reviewing film concepts, and we feel confident in their ability to continue to take another step.”
The USWNT plays China PR again on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (truTV) in Frisco, Texas.