The U.S. women’s national team played its final two friendlies of the year against China, both wins, and both showcasing the future of what the team could look like moving forward.
They weren’t perfect, but they did gain some younger players valuable minutes, while others like Trinity Rodman, who was involved in all three of the team’s points on Dec. 2, were able to finish the year on a high note.
After all, next year the team has the Olympics to think about – and they’ll do so with Emma Hayes set to take over in May after a disappointing year at the World Cup.
“This team has always pushed the bar on and off the field,” forward Lynn Williams told The Athletic ahead of the friendly against China in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Right now, it feels like a moment where we have two options. We either stay the same and continue to get the same results, or we challenge ourselves and push again.”
All signs point to the team challenging themselves. After all, a number of veterans were left off the latest roster in favor of giving younger players a look. Those veterans aren’t out of the discussion, which interim head coach Twila Kilgore has reiterated multiple times. Instead, it was about giving younger players a look.
Under Kilgore, six players have earned their first international appearance, including Korbin Albert, Sam Coffey, Jenna Nighwsonger and Olivia Moultrie.
Recent comments from players have suggested that the team is focused on establishing a new culture in the post-Vlatko Andonovski era.
“It’s exciting, because we’ve wanted this, and we’ve wanted to shift our perspective and change the way we do things because we know we can’t keep doing the same thing and stay on top,” Sophia Smith said. “We knew that change needed to happen, and I feel like it’s definitely starting.”
A culture shift is inevitable with a new manager. And younger players in camp means there’s new faces to both acclimate to and teach.
“Taking the younger players and the new players and teaching them the mentality and what it means to be on this team, what it takes to be at the top,” Rose Lavelle said of her role on the team. “It feels like this summer, we’ve fallen off, but I think we’re hungrier than ever to get back to where we know we can be.”
Lindsey Horan, who co-captained the team at the World Cup, also knows that’s the job that will be expected of her – both now and in the future.
“Moving forward, the U.S. will always have that internal DNA, and that’s part of my job, Rose’s job, the veterans that stay,” captain Lindsey Horan told The Athletic on Wednesday. “You have to be amongst the team for a while to know what the f— that takes, because it’s one of the most competitive national teams to be a part of. We’re not saying it’s all scratched, but can we think about football?
“We need to play better, we need to think more,” Horan continued. “We can get so much better. I don’t think anyone has any idea. Even in these past few games, you can see little glimpses of that, but it’s the final product, continuing to do that throughout the game, getting everyone on the same page — not just four or five players.
“If you can develop that more and more, that it’s inherent in every single player on the team, where you’re looking to play the combinations, all these things? No idea what this team can do.”
The younger players seem to feel it, too, with Coffey noting that they’re “definitely on the brink of something really special.”
“There’s no ceiling on where we can go, we can push it as far as we want to take it,” center back Naomi Girma said. “We have so much talent in this roster — also, not in this roster — that are going to be willing to push it and do everything for this team.”