While the search for a permanent head coach remains ongoing, the U.S. women’s national team announced its roster on Wednesday for two October friendlies against Colombia. The group consists of both longtime veterans and exciting young talents, including the first senior team call-up for 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie.
If the 2023 World Cup squad looked like a team in transition, the USWNT we’ve seen this fall only leans deeper into the winds of change. Legends have said their goodbyes, and young players are getting their chance to prove their value on the international stage. In between, the U.S. has many holdovers to help maintain the team’s longtime standard before a new coach comes in to make their stamp on the team.
The USWNT’s October friendlies will be the first international break since the retirements of Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe, which are already being felt on the depth chart. Ertz’s absence should make way for more consistent opportunities for Portland Thorns defensive midfielder Sam Coffey, who is likely competing with Emily Sonnett for time despite Sonnett being listed on the roster as a defender.
The U.S. is also left searching for center-back depth after Ertz took over a starting role during the 2023 World Cup. Tierna Davidson misses out on this roster after suffering a face injury in the NWSL, and Abby Dahlkemper has yet to be called back into U.S. camp since returning from back surgery in August. Becky Sauerbrunn makes her welcome return to the roster after missing the World Cup with a foot injury, providing a vital infusion of veteran leadership. But looking beyond 2024, the central defense will need more players with experience to join the depth chart with Alana Cook and Naomi Girma.
Sauerbrunn’s return speaks to the larger cycle refresh now that Rapinoe has hung up her boots. Lindsey Horan, named a captain by Vlatko Andonovski for the 2023 World Cup, suddenly has the third-most caps on the team behind Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan. Morgan has shown how she can galvanize a team around her in San Diego this NWSL season. As the spirit of the team reshapes around younger stars, Morgan will be tasked with connecting with the next generation.
The October roster features three teenagers: 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw and 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie. Thompson is already a mainstay with the team after making the roster for the 2023 World Cup, and fans will be eager to see how Shaw and Moultrie adapt to the international level after impressive seasons with their respective NWSL clubs.
Shaw has the ability to slot in as a winger, a position where the U.S. doesn’t lack for talent, but she can also drift further back into the midfield to facilitate playmaking in the absence of Rose Lavelle. In September, interim manager Twila Kilgore opted for a defensive midfield shape with Andi Sullivan, Sonnett, and Lindsey Horan. If the USWNT feels comfortable with a more attacking style in October, Shaw will be a huge asset.
Moultrie’s addition is particularly notable based on the position she plays. The Thorns player is a sharp passer and a connecting midfielder who can break lines and set up the attack. In recent years, the USWNT coaching staff has been more comfortable integrating young players into attacking roles and letting midfielders develop through league play. If Moultrie gets time against Colombia, she’ll have significant responsibility as the team’s engine, and the earlier she can get comfortable with the speed of play, the better.
There’s also something to be said about rewarding teenagers who made the leap to professional clubs with serious USWNT consideration. After their World Cup disappointment, USWNT players and U.S. Soccer officials alike have said they want to build a cohesive style of play that prioritizes holding the ball and begins at the youth levels. For Thompson, Shaw and Moultrie, there’s no time like the present, with the hope that more players feel encouraged to follow in their footsteps.
Kilgore was somewhat cautious with the young players she brought in last month, letting Shaw get acclimated to the U.S. camp environment and waiting to play Chelsea striker Mia Fishel until the second game of their series against South Africa. As the U.S. gets further away from the World Cup, Kilgore may feel more emboldened to let players test their mettle against Colombia, a major tournament quarterfinalist.
In September, the USWNT was balancing heavy emotions as they said goodbye to close friends and icons and looked to rebound from a confidence-shaking summer. But preparation for the 2024 Olympics needs to begin sooner rather than later, and reverting to a conservative midfield of experienced players and only late substitute minutes for incoming attackers would be a disappointment in October.
Kilgore could pair Sam Coffey with Andi Sullivan or let the young No. 6 stand alone in a more attacking structure. She could also start Fishel to give Morgan rest in one of the two matches, work Moultrie into the midfield alongside Horan or as her replacement, and have Shaw make slashing runs in tandem with Sophia Smith or relieve her as she builds minutes from a knee injury.
There is a healthy amount of connective tissue for every player new to the U.S. environment this month. But one of the team’s tasks going forward is to worry less about the safety net, and more about the future.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.