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.”

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.

Eighteen-year-old Olivia Moultrie impressed in her debut for the U.S. women’s national team in 3-0 win against China on Dec. 2.

Moultrie came on as a substitute in the 71st minute for Rose Lavelle, becoming the first player born in 2005 to earn a cap. She played the rest of the game in a midfield role behind young forwards Jaedyn Shaw, 19, and Mia Fishel, 22.

“Very, very pleased with Liv,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said after the match. “I know I talked to her after the game, she was ecstatic, as you would imagine that she would be, but I think there’ll be greater moments for her to come.”

Moultrie started training with the Portland Thorns at 13 years old, and she officially signed with the NWSL club in 2021 at 15 years old following a legal battle over her right to play. Two years later, she registered one shot on target in her debut for the senior national team.

Kilgore praised Moultrie’s playmaking ability, going so far as to say that she wishes the squad would’ve gotten the ball to her more.

“I think she went in and occupied spaces really well,” Kilgore said. “I felt like we could have found her more and when we did find her I thought she was very good in combination and looking to play forward, tried some things, we asked her to be brave. She was brave. And I thought she was great at looking to regain the ball right away when other people lost the ball.”

And bravery is key when making an appearance for a national team at 18 years old. But as Kilgore said, Moultrie was brave, and she likely has a successful future ahead of her with the USWNT.

“One of the things I was able to get to her right before she went in, she’s obviously already been briefed tactically what we’re looking for, but just reminding her that I would not play her if she wasn’t ready,” Kilgore said. “She’s earned this and she did an incredible job going in and playing on both sides of the ball.”

Olivia Moultrie and Jenna Nighswonger made their debuts for the U.S. women’s national team in Saturday’s 3-0 win against China.

Moultrie, 18, and Nighswonger, 23, represent a growing youth movement for the USWNT. The roster for the December training camp underlined the changing of the guard, with several veteran stars receiving rest to provide the coaching staff with more chances to evaluate the next generation.

The NWSL Rookie of the Year, Nighswonger entered in the 62nd minute for Emily Fox. She received her first call-up ahead of the December friendlies after helping Gotham FC to the NWSL title.

“I keep repeating this word over and over again, but I’m just so grateful for everything this year, and I just feel so lucky to be surrounded by such great teammates that have helped me get here,” she said after the match.

Moultrie entered in the 71st minute for Rose Lavelle. The Portland Thorns midfielder becomes the second 18-year-old to debut for the USWNT in 2023, which marks the first time since 2005 that two players aged 18 or younger have made their USWNT debuts in the same year.

“I talked to her after the game. She was ecstatic, as you would imagine that she would be, but I think there’ll be no greater moments for her to come,” interim head coach Twila Kilgore said after the win.

The trend toward younger players also came through in the goals scored by the USWNT, with Trinity Rodman, 21, scoring one goal and assisting on two more. Sophia Smith, 23, also scored a goal, and Jaedyn Shaw, 19, assisted on Rodman’s goal.

The U.S. women’s national team will play their final matches of the calendar year in the next week, with the opportunity to place a definitive stamp on a tumultuous 2023. The two friendlies against China PR will be the team’s first games after the hiring of Emma Hayes as head coach, but they also serve as an extension of Twila Kilgore’s interim management, which will continue until May 2024.

The USWNT’s December roster follows something of a tradition in major tournament years, giving many veterans the international break off to rest and recuperate, while refreshing the larger player pool with non-World Cup players. But the possibility of any major changes in tactical approach seem slim, with Hayes yet to assert her full influence on the team’s style of play.

In lieu of a wholesale change in philosophy, here are three bold(ish) ideas for the U.S. during this international period beyond basic player evaluation.

Shake things up in the attack

While their actual goal-scoring output has improved in the months since the World Cup, it’s difficult to watch the USWNT without feeling like something is broken in the attack. The team went scoreless in two of their four World Cup matches, and they closed out their most recent friendly series having failed to score in three out of four halves.

Many of the issues with the USWNT’s once-vaunted attack go beyond any single player, but the young roster in December has a chance to break free of some of the systemic problems plaguing the front line. The games will provide an opportunity to get more tape on center forward Mia Fishel, who should have a fitness advantage over some of her teammates due to her club team, Chelsea, being in-season.

But shaking the USWNT attack out of its slump isn’t just about slotting in new faces at the No. 9 — the way the rest of the team relates to the center forward position also needs a rethink. Over the summer, the option of moving Sophia Smith to a more central position was presented as a zero-sum substitution of Alex Morgan, who started all of the U.S.’s World Cup matches. But with Morgan sitting the December friendlies out, the reason for moving Smith centrally would be less as a like-for-like replacement and more as a way of replacing her on the wings with a traditional winger.

Midge Purce and Lynn Williams are coming off of an excellent NWSL Championship performance. Both Gotham FC players ran the wings with confidence, getting the ball to the endline for low crosses and providing help defense when necessary. Purce found teammates for goals twice in that game, looking dangerous both on the ball and in dead-ball situations.

Having wingers who can cut inside to pull the defense out of shape is a great asset, but the U.S. at times has created a very narrow shape due to individual player tendencies. It could be worthwhile to run the old playbook with new talent in game one, but a total rethink in game two could shake the team out of its old patterns.

Rose Lavelle is one of the most experienced players on the USWNT's December roster. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

Share the armband

With a number of key veterans taking this international break off, the U.S. has an opportunity to share some of the burden of leadership in productive ways. Midfielder Lindsey Horan has been an able captain in 2023, but at times it appeared the team was over-relying on her to galvanize the group, while other experienced players didn’t seem empowered to communicate with clear authority.

Horan will likely feature heavily in both December matches since she plays her club football on the European schedule and is currently match-fit. But a bolder idea would be to give the 29-year-old a break, if simply to upend patterns in the USWNT midfield. Kilgore would do well to eventually leave her younger players operating without a safety net, whether that means entrusting Jaedyn Shaw with the No. 10 role or pairing Olivia Moultrie with the newly healthy Rose Lavelle.

Outside of giving the midfield an overdue refresh, Kilgore also has the opportunity to prioritize leaders who didn’t get a chance to blossom in Andonovski’s final year.

Casey Murphy is the most experienced goalkeeper on the roster and will surely be charged with organizing her backline. Lavelle is coming off a blistering performance in the 2023 NWSL Championship game, showcasing her experience as a player. And Lynn Williams will be the most tenured forward of the group. With communication lagging at times in the past year, a clean slate with new voices in the mix will be key for the team’s mentality going into 2024.

Give the Wave duo the keys to the defense

Abby Dahlkemper’s return to the USWNT is exciting for fans for reasons beyond her play on the pitch. Dahlkemper has recovered from a chronic back injury that greatly hampered the center-back in 2022, resulting in surgery. Making her NWSL return in August 2023, she’s looked as steady as ever, providing confidence in possession and showcasing her abilities off the ball to stunt an opponent’s attack.

She’s also settled in with current USWNT mainstay Naomi Girma in their club environment at the San Diego Wave, providing the foundation for the team’s run to the NWSL Shield in 2023. Girma was arguably the USWNT’s MVP in 2023. She both served as the wedge between opponents and her own goal and was relied upon heavily to spring possession forward when the U.S.’s midfield had trouble moving the ball.

The upcoming games give Dahlkemper and Girma a chance to test out their on-field chemistry at the international level, providing equal levels of experience and complementary skill sets. Dahlkemper used to be known for the same diagonal balls forward that have become Girma’s calling card for the U.S. With the role of Girma’s center-back partner firmly up for grabs after the retirement of Julie Ertz, Dahlkemper has a chance to make a big impression in her return. For a team looking for consistent starters following Andonovski’s frequent experimentation in defense, her comeback might be happening at exactly the right time.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

The U.S. women’s national team will move on from October with their heads held high. A 3-0 victory over Colombia on Sunday gave them more breathing room after a scoreless draw earlier in the week. The match was a tale of two halves, as the U.S. made slight adjustments at halftime to pepper Colombia’s penalty area in a chippy, physical match.

The shots on goal didn’t start landing until the second half, as key substitutes took advantage of a worn-down defense. Mia Fishel and Jaedyn Shaw tallied their first USWNT goals, and Lindsey Horan also scored a breakthrough goal in her attacking midfield role.

What was likely interim manager Twila Kilgore’s final game in charge of a team in a holding pattern didn’t answer every question fans have for the former world champions. But it did serve as a reminder that solutions are necessary, and that the players in the team’s future might actually be the ones who can perform the best in the present.

Here are a few main takeaways from Sunday’s win.

It’s time to start rotating the center forwards

The next USWNT coach could find themselves in a conundrum as they decide what to do about the established center forward role. It’s a spot that Alex Morgan has held in good stead for most of her career, but as the striker concludes another international break without a goal, questions about form continue to follow the 34-year-old.

Morgan brings more to the team than just a goal-scoring presence, as both a key leader and an increasingly effective playmaker. But in both October matches against Colombia, she struggled with her primary objective, missing a penalty kick and other high-quality chances in front of goal. It’s not Morgan’s fault that the USWNT has played slim-margin, counter-attacking soccer in 2023 — that responsibility primarily rests with former manager Vlatko Andonovski. But the last four games have followed a similar blueprint, and form being a fickle thing supports the idea of letting hotter hands get experience in the No. 9 role.

Mia Fishel made an obvious case on Sunday, scoring her first senior international goal on a header off a short corner kick. The USWNT has long been dominant on set pieces, and Fishel’s aerial ability combined with her comfort as a back-to-goal striker opened things up for the U.S. in the second half on Sunday.

Sophia Smith is also re-entering the fold after an MCL sprain and still lining up with the U.S. as a winger. She has had a two-year run of dominance in the NWSL in a more central position, something Andonovski leaned on but never committed to as USWNT coach. Other players who can do damage in front of goal include (but are not limited to) Ashley Hatch, Lynn Williams and Catarina Macario, considering she can return to her old form after recovery from an ACL injury.

It doesn’t do Morgan any favors to keep inserting her into a system that doesn’t play to her strengths, nor does it make sense for a team that has this much attacking talent to become rigid in the face of a shooting slump. The process of building cohesion and chemistry only works if the pieces in the system fit, and the U.S. appears to be a couple of personnel moves away from striking the right balance.

The future is now

Some of the turnover in the USWNT player pool happened so fast this summer that it’s difficult to contextualize a team that’s constantly changing. Trinity Rodman abruptly took on much greater responsibility during the World Cup due to Mallory Swanson’s knee injury and now looks like a confident, seasoned pro on the wings. Savannah DeMelo, after a surprising World Cup debut, was similarly called upon to infuse life into the U.S. attack in both of their October matches in the absence of Rose Lavelle.

The success of players like Rodman and DeMelo, who were pushed into the deep end and swam instead of sinking, should bolster the idea that the next USWNT coach need not be precious about giving minutes to younger, less experienced talent. In fact, Kilgore’s reluctance to move away from the hyper-conservative playing style of the team’s Round of 16 formation arguably wasted precious time when the team has never had less to lose.

Shaw and Fishel played like stars on Sunday, with a fearlessness and tenacity that the USWNT has been missing from its veterans. Shaw can slot into a number of positions with ease, her superpower being an understanding of how she can exploit space wherever it presents itself. With her chip of the goalkeeper to put the U.S. up 3-0, the 19-year-old showed a poise that belied her age. The assist came from the capable 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who is still being eased into playing time with the U.S. senior team after making the World Cup roster.

Given the excitement on Sunday, there’s an argument that the U.S. coaching staff isn’t moving fast enough. Olivia Moultrie could be the type of player to allow Horan to rest at times, but she did not see the field in October. The team’s avoidance of defensive midfielder Sam Coffey, an NWSL MVP finalist this season with the Portland Thorns, also continued this week (though the ascendance of Emily Sonnett in the same role has possibly muddied the waters). Ashley Sanchez received late minutes on Sunday, still finding herself struggling to rise on the midfield depth chart after not playing at all during the World Cup.

One of the blessings and the curses of managing the USWNT is that you have to find ways to balance leadership, mentality, form and positional roles while overseeing an intensely competitive environment where many players have a case for consideration. Former coaches have frequently pushed for changes in increments, with a steadfast faith in the team’s cohesion across player generations.

The 2024 Olympics looming in the background could push the next U.S. manager into inactivity, trusting the process that Andonovski began. But the game tape from Sunday might support a bolder approach, and one that needs to happen quickly lest the USWNT continue to lose ground on the international stage.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Interim head coach Twila Kilgore is preaching patience for the next generation of U.S. women’s national team players, who have seen limited playing time in the last two camps.

The USWNT features a trio of 18-year-olds for its October training camp in Alyssa Thompson, Jaedyn Shaw and Olivia Moultrie. But only Shaw received playing time in the first of two friendlies against Colombia.

The San Diego Wave forward made her first USWNT appearance in her second call-up, coming on as a substitute in the 87th minute of Thursday’s 0-0 draw. She remained on the bench during her first USWNT camp in September.

Thompson is the most seasoned of the three. Yet while she made the World Cup roster and played in two group-stage matches, she has not played yet during the fall training camps. Moultrie just received her first call-up in October, but she did not suit up for Thursday’s match.

The USWNT faces Colombia again at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday. But while any of these players could see the pitch, Kilgore doesn’t want to rush their development.

“[It’s] just a little bit of a slower progression with those players so that when they come in, they are prepared and it’s happening slowly over time,” she said Saturday. “They’re not learning everything at once.”

Sunday’s match could be Kilgore’s last as interim head coach, as U.S. Soccer wants to hire its next head coach in time for the December training camp. The federation is narrowing its options, with three candidates at the top of the shortlist.

“We want to put players in a position where they understand everything that’s going to be asked of them tactically, that they’ve had some sort of opportunity, when possible, to practice that,” she said. “That they know their role and what their individual role is within the context of the team.

“I do believe time is coming for some of those players to get more minutes, which is exciting, but I feel that way because I’m confident that they’re prepared.”

The U.S. women’s national team remained stuck in its its 2023 World Cup rut in Thursday’s scoreless draw with Colombia.

In its final three World Cup matches, the USWNT scored just one goal, and the team finished the tournament on a 238-minute scoring drought. While two September friendlies against South Africa provided a reprieve, the struggles with finishing returned with a vengeance in the first of two October friendlies against Colombia.

While the USWNT and Colombia each finished with two shots on goal, the USWNT had nine total shot attempts to Colombia’s three. Yet the hosting team failed to deliver in a frustrating contest at America First Field in Sandy, Utah.

Just Women’s Sports staff writer Claire Watkins pointed to a need for “new ideas” for the USWNT — which is a problem that starts with U.S. Soccer. While former head coach Vlatko Andonovski has moved on, the national team is right where he left them, repeating the issues that marked his tenure.

Alex Morgan’s penalty kick chance, which the 34-year-old striker banged off the post in the 44th minute, provided the best scoring opportunity for the USWNT. She sent a follow-up chance sailing over the crossbar.

Sophia Smith returned from an MCL sprain for her first international minutes since the 2023 World Cup. The 23-year-old forward entered as a substitute in the 76th minute, and she had a look at the net late in extra time, but Colombia goalkeeper Natalia Giraldo got a foot on the ball.

Becky Sauerbrunn made her first USWNT appearance since April. The 38-year-old defender missed the World Cup with a foot injury, but she entered at halftime for Naomi Girma and played the entire second half.

Jaedyn Shaw earned her first cap, entering in the 87th minute. The 18-year-old is in her second camp with the USWNT, but while she received a call-up in September, she did not appear in either match against South Africa. Her fellow 18-year-old debutante Olivia Moultrie did not suit up for the match, but she could get her chance at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday, when the U.S. will meet Colombia in a rematch at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego.

Olivia Moultrie and Jaedyn Shaw are looking for their first caps, but the U.S. women’s national team is managing expectations for its teenage contingent ahead of the upcoming friendlies against Colombia.

Shaw is participating in her second camp, while Moultrie is experiencing her first call-up to the USWNT. Fellow 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, meanwhile, continues to be a mainstay after playing in her first World Cup over the summer.

While Shaw didn’t see any game action last time around, she impressed interim head coach Twila Kilgore. At the time, Kilgore called the San Diego Wave forward “excellent” and a “top player” in some training activities. Shaw could get her first look at game action this time around.

“It’s fair to think anytime you’re invited into camp that you should be ready to be called upon at any moment,” Kilgore said Wednesday. “I think the best thing about this team is that whether you’re a long-term veteran or a new-time player, that you know that you have to be ready and that there’s nothing guaranteed. It’s about staying ready and being ready to do whatever it takes to help this team win and move forward.”

That element of the USWNT is “definitely something that the young players understand,” Kilgore said. But at the same time, the team isn’t placing high expectations on their shoulders; instead, the focus is on integrating them into the system so they will be ready if and when called upon.

“It’s also important that everyone understands there’s no expectations to do anything, but compete every single day and make sure that they’re ready to participate,” Kilgore said.

The USWNT will face Colombia at 9 p.m. ET Thursday at America First Field in Sandy, Utah, and then again at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego.

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 post-Pinoe era

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.

Alyssa Thompson is the most experienced of the USWNT's youngsters after making the World Cup roster. (Hannah Peters - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Teenage dream

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.

Play the kids

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.