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USWNT roster: NWSL champion Jenna Nighswonger receives first call-up

Gotham's Jenna Nighswonger challenges OL Reign's Rose Lavelle in the 2023 NWSL Championship match. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

An NWSL Rookie of the Year campaign has led to the first U.S. women’s national team call-up for Jenna Nighswonger.

On Monday, the Gotham FC rookie was named to the December training camp roster ahead of a pair of December friendlies against China. The 22-year-old is no stranger to the U.S. system, having previously played for her country at the U-19, U-20 and U-23 levels.

In an interesting twist, Nighswonger has been called into camp as a midfielder, which is what she played in college at Florida State. For Gotham, though, she transitioned from her typical role as an attacking midfielder or forward to fullback.

Still, Nighswonger played the role in a way that highlighted her attacking abilities. She accounted for seven goal contributions in 2023, tied for the most among rookies, and she scored three goals. She also led Gotham in tackles with 35, which accounted for a 71.7% success rate, and had a 70.8% completion rate on her passes.

“I think I just like to play my position more attacking,” she said in November. “I think I do see myself more as an attacking mid player but I am now a left back. I think just taking what I used to do in the attack and use my vision just to play a new position.

“We talk a lot about how it’s just a role on the field and we try to do a lot of different rotations and things so I don’t really feel like I’m just a left back, which I like. Sometimes I can play the 10, the 11. I think that’s definitely been helpful.”

She’s been open about the position switch, as well as how USWNT veterans like Ali Krieger helped her make the transition. While she was admittedly “quite nervous” to join a team with big names such as Krieger, Lynn Williams and Kelley O’Hara, she took the opportunity to learn from her teammates.

“I think the hardest part in that area is just understanding, defensively, the tactics and everything, so I think to the point I made about Ali Krieger and Michelle Betos, they’ve been so helpful in giving me confidence in that area,” she told CBS in early November. “But I think that’s something that can definitely continue to grow.”

The decision to include Nighswonger on the roster, interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Monday, was in part due to her versatility.

“She has a strong history as a midfielder, both as a 10, eight, and six really,” Kilgore said. “She played the six for me when she was with me with the U-23s. And she’s done a good job as a left back this year.

“I think part of her strength is that versatility. And when we look forward to an Olympic roster, knowing that there’s fewer spots, versatility is actually going to be something that will be taken into account and heavily weighed. So we will address those things with her directly in camp and get her on a plan where she understands what to expect for these next couple of games.”