Lindsey Horan wants to see better coaches and better youth development for the U.S. women’s national team.

A four-episode Netflix docuseries released Tuesday, titled “Under Pressure,” chronicles the USWNT’s journey at the 2023 World Cup, which ended in disappointment.

In the fourth episode, co-captain Horan offered up some criticism after the team’s exit in the Round of 16, which was its earliest ever at a World Cup. Horan, who plays for French club Olympique Lyonnais, attributes the disappointing result in part to the rest of the world catching up – and in part to the evolving style of play.

“The international game, it’s such a nice style of football,” Horan said. “You’re playing these little tiny passes here and there. They’re so confident on the ball. They’re so technical. We need to progress in this possession style of play. We need better coaches. We need better youth development. We need more investment there.”

Some of the issues with the USWNT also can be traced back to former head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who resigned following the World Cup.

“I don’t think we were set up well to go on and have the success to win it,” Lynn Williams said in the series. “When you only win three out of the ten games, there’s no way you’re gonna have that coach carry on. … When we’re held to this standard, the coaching staff also has to be.”

Alex Morgan, Horan’s co-captain, noted that both she and Horan had “really honest” conversations with Andonovski. But she also knows that not every player felt as comfortable or could be as vulnerable with their coach.

And Horan also acknowledged that some of the responsibility for the team’s failure fell on the players.

“Obviously Vlatko gives us the game plan every single game, but we’re the players on the field,” she said.

New head coach Emma Hayes has brought some life back to the squad, with players excited about the new direction. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore will lead the team until Hayes joins in May following the conclusion of Chelsea’s season. But the Paris Olympics start in July, leading some to question whether or not the team can succeed in the short term. And for some, succeeding in the short term is imperative.

“How we silence the critics going forward now, in this moment,” former USWNT forward Tobin Heath said near the end of the series, “is we go to an Olympics, and we win an Olympics.”

Twenty-year-old Korbin Albert was welcomed to the pitch for the first time as a member of the U.S. women’s national team with a swift, high cleat to the face.

Albert debuted for the USWNT in the team’s 2-1 win over China PR on Tuesday night in the final friendly of the year. She subbed on in the 69th minute for USWNT veteran Lindsey Horan, and less than 10 minutes later, Albert was kicked in the face just outside the 18-yard box. China’s Huo Yuexin received a yellow card for the infraction.

Albert remained in the game after the collision, and her nose became increasingly purple as time wore on. Postgame, she had a good attitude about the kick.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought, but then once I took that step onto the field? I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening,’” Albert told reporters, according to The Athletic’s Meg Linehan. “I was like, calm down, calm my senses. And then when I got hit, it kind of rocked my head back into place.”

Even after being kicked, Albert made some quality contributions to her team. The foul earned the U.S. a free kick that led to the equalizing goal from Sam Coffey, and the midfielder delivered some corner kicks that created chances.

“I thought Korbin [Albert] showed a lot of maturity and poise coming in. She’s trained in multiple positions all week, which is not something we generally ask somebody who is yet to be capped,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said. “She’s got a great mind for the game, she’s eager to play and combine with other people and that was very, very encouraging to see.”

Overall, Albert’s debut was a positive look into her future with the USWNT — and her bruised nose is already growing on her.

“I think it’s good,” Albert said after the game. “It’s gonna be a souvenir, it’s gonna be black, but it’s okay. It was worth it and I’m happy I got it to be honest.”

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.”

When the U.S. women’s national team took down China PR 3-0 on Saturday, the team looked like a new confident and loose version of itself. With several veterans taking the final international break of the calendar year off, interim manager Twila Kilgore made a few changes to the team’s approach that seemed to both clarify roles and empower players to be themselves.

While the conversation around the national team is often dominated by player personnel, one of the tactics former coach Vlatko Andonovski struggled with late in his tenure was how exactly to use players. On Saturday, with Emma Hayes’ outside perspective likely an asset, the U.S. packed the midfield without being overly conservative and allowed the defense to cover defensive transition and aid in the attack.

So rather than focusing on individual performances during the club offseason for many players, let’s focus on three standout players as dictated by their roles, and why their ability to shine is good news for the USWNT long term.

Sophia Smith

Sophia Smith didn’t have a perfect match on Saturday, still shaking off a bit of rust after the second half of her 2023 season was interrupted by injury. After scoring the game’s opening goal, Smith missed a number of clear chances as she continues to regain her finishing touch.

But the fact that Smith could have had a hat trick with a few more clinical strikes is a happy sight for USWNT fans, who watched the forward have trouble imposing herself on games in the World Cup from the winger position. The idea of Smith being more effective in a more central position is not a new one, but her ability to combine with Trinity Rodman and Rose Lavelle against China showed that, even if the final shot isn’t there, chance creation can go a long way for the U.S.

With the team favoring a 4-4-2 out of possession and a 3-5-2 in possession, Smith had support both behind and to either side of her, wherein the team could prioritize passing sequences over excessive dribbling down the wings that can silo possession and lead to searching crosses in the air. Her movements broke down the defensive lines of China’s low block and opened up opportunities for teammates. Smith worked especially well with Rodman, who had a breakout game with two assists and a goal.

Smith has the ability to run in behind a defense at top speed and to react to teammates’ movements, sitting in a classic poaching position in games where her team has the majority of possession. That her tendencies as a player complement a formation that allows the U.S. to have a sturdier spine up the middle of the pitch only deepens her case for a central role going forward.

Jaedyn Shaw

When Jaedyn Shaw received her first extended minutes for the USWNT in the team’s final friendly in October, she slotted into a well-worn role for up-and-coming U.S. talent. She came on for Smith, who had been playing out wide and provided attacking options from a winger position, ultimately notching her first goal for the USWNT in her second appearance.

Shaw has experience as a winger (known in position numbers as a No. 7 or No. 11), getting her start there when she joined the San Diego Wave in 2022. But in 2023, Wave manager Casey Stoney tapped into her skills as a playmaker, using her both out wide and as a deep-seated forward tucked in behind No. 9 Alex Morgan.

On Saturday, Morgan watched the USWNT game from home, but Kilgore had a new set of plans for Shaw. She subbed on in place of attacking midfielder Savannah DeMelo, getting a chance to help dictate the flow of attack alongside Lavelle. Her on-field chemistry with substitute center forward Mia Fishel was obvious, as Fishel’s back-to-goal, possessive abilities coincided with Shaw’s field vision to keep the U.S. creative in the attack.

Her greatest moment of the match was a simple flick. Shaw collected Midge Purce’s low cross and sent the ball across the face of goal for Rodman to smash it into the back of the net. Shaw is a special player who should feature for the U.S. for years to come, and Kilgore giving her the freedom to make plays is a great sign for how the team plans to use her.

Casey Krueger

Casey Krueger could possibly go down in history as the best USWNT player to never feature on a World Cup roster, and she showcased both old and new skills on Saturday. Setting up at right back, Krueger was asked at times to provide 1v1 defensive coverage out of possession, but with the U.S. seeing a lion’s share of the possession, she showed exactly how the position can be used in the team’s attack.

The outside-back position has been fraught for the U.S. for years, with an inconsistent talent pipeline leading numerous coaches to compensate by converting forwards and midfielders (first-time USWNT player Jenna Nighswonger is the most recent example). That process has long been criticized, including when Andonovski struggled to empower his fullbacks to play to the best of their ball-progressing abilities.

Andonovski moved Emily Fox to right back to make room for Crystal Dunn at left back at the 2023 World Cup, but neither player had the room to run the flanks and create enough width for the team’s attack. Defensive off-the-ball structure was clearly at the forefront of their instruction, and at times both Dunn and Fox got caught in between their instincts to aid the attack and a lack of confidence in their ability to regain ground in defensive transition.

Not every opponent will take the low-block approach that China sat in on Saturday, but early involvement of Fox (back on the left) and Krueger was very promising. Both players were clearly given the green light to operate more like wingbacks in possession, with a comfortable three-back behind them when the U.S. had control of the ball. This allowed Krueger to move into dangerous spaces on the right wing and overlap with Lavelle, who herself never felt she had to give up her own drifting tendencies in space to push to the endline.

Later in the match, Purce took up the same space Krueger had inhabited and created the team’s third goal by operating in her preferred area as a wingback. Purce is another forward finding her way onto the field by any means necessary. But if the USWNT is still in the position of using their immense winger depth to create points of attack, the 3-5-2 formation in possession gives them more cover behind to be their best selves.

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

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.”

The new-look U.S. women’s national team debuted with a 3-0 win against China on Dec. 2. The December camp roster put together by interim head coach Twila Kilgore and incoming head coach Emma Hayes features younger faces and fewer established American soccer icons.

And the youth of the USWNT are already flashing their chemistry, including connecting on goals.

Mia Fishel and Jaedyn Shaw were subbed into the game at halftime, and their connection was apparent. Shaw assisted on Trinity Rodman’s tap-in goal in the 77th minute, and Fishel was in front of the net with them, keeping pace and itching to add to the play.

“I think they’ve been coached at the youth level from coaches that instill similar concepts just watching from [outside] and it’s been really neat to see their progression,” Kilgore said of the duo, who both debuted for the national team this fall.

Kilgore described perfectly the understanding that Fishel, 22, and Shaw, 19, have together on the attacking line.

“One thing that helps is that Jaedyn is always looking to play forward and Mia is looking to provide a forward option. And Jaedyn is very good at moving off of that.” Kilgore said. “That’s got to be part of it. And I think they’re both hungry for the goals. . . I actually think they’ve done a really good job of finding each other in moments when the other has been open.”

In addition to both players wanting to contribute on the scoresheet, they’ve become fast friends off the pitch. And Kilgore believes that to be another reason Fishel and Shaw click so well together. 

“I actually just had this conversation with them and they’ve both voiced that it has a lot to do with their personal relationship that they’ve started to develop here in camp, which is an interesting thing,” Kilgore said.

Serena Williams met with U.S. women’s national team stars after watching their 3-0 win Saturday against China.

The retired tennis great cheered on the USWNT at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, alongside husband Alexis Ohanian and daughter Olympia. The family are investors in NWSL club Angel City FC.

After the match, the 23-time Grand Slam champion took the time to meet with USWNT players, including Trinity Rodman, who contributed a goal and two assists, as well as Midge Purce, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma, Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson.

“She was very sweet, very humble, which is refreshing and amazing,” Rodman said. “And obviously we all look up to her, one of the greatest female athletes in the world. So to meet her in person and see how she was incredible.”

When Rodman met with reporters after the game, she explained her delay by noting that Williams wanted to meet with her. And Williams asked for her jersey from the match — but the 21-year-old forward already had gifted it to a fan. Rodman, though, found another jersey to give to the tennis legend.

“I gave one of my jerseys away to a fan, and then I walked across the field, and somebody said, ‘Serena wants to meet you,’” Rodman said. “I was like, ‘Serena who?’ They were like, ‘Serena Williams.’ I walked over there, and she’s like, ‘Can I have your jersey?’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I dug in the dirty bag from the beginning of the half to find mine and gave it to her.”

The USWNT will close out the year with another friendly against China at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Serena Williams speaks with Naomi Girma and Sophia Smith after the USWNT's 3-0 win against China. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena Williams shakes hands with Midge Purce, who helped set up the final goal of the match. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena William and daughter Olympia take a photo with USWNT forwards Lynn Williams and Alyssa Thompson. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)
Serena Williams poses for a photo with USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore after the 3-0 win. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. women’s national team forward Trinity Rodman milly rocked in front of China’s net in the first friendly of two friendlies between the squads. And her celebratory dance was well deserved.

In the 77th minute, Rodman found herself wide open in front of China’s net, where she tapped in a cross from Jaedyn Shaw for the USWNT’s third goal of the match. Her “dancey dance,” as she called it, served as the cherry on top of a standout performance for the 21-year-old in Saturday’s 3-0 win at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Along with her goal, Rodman contributed two assists, becoming the second-youngest player in fifteen years to log three goal contributions in a single game — Mallory Swanson clocked the same achievement in 2018 in a match against Denmark.

Rodman is one of the faces of the youth movement on the USWNT roster. The team entered its final matches of 2023 in a state of flux, with a new head coach in Emma Hayes incoming and the next generation of stars taking the reins.

“This camp is, we’ve been saying ‘starting fresh,’ just with the World Cup and everything, and Emma, being able to meet her, and obviously having new faces and being able to pay off younger faces,” Rodman said to TNT after the match.

There is still some veteran presence on the current USWNT roster, and the youth and the vets are already working together — Rodman assisted on goals from Lindsey Horan, 29, and Sophia Smith, 23, both staples of the starting lineup. And after a woman of the match-worthy performance, Rodman may become one too.

“In Trin’s words, she’s got a different level of focus,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said. “She’s just been really intentional. We see that in training. We see that in games, and she’s starting to play more and more with the people around her as well. She’s obviously a very gifted individual player, and she’s looking to play more with her teammates.”

The USWNT will close out the year with another friendly against China at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Korbin Albert received her first-career call-up to the U.S. women’s national team in November.

And, according to USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore, the Paris Saint-Germain FC midfielder and former Notre Dame player is fitting in well with her new teammates. 

“I don’t think it’s easy to fly in, coming off the games that she’s come off of. She’s playing a bigger and bigger role at her club,” Kilgore told reporters on Dec. 1. “So she’s come in, she’s acclimated really well on a physical level. She’s integrated with the group really well. She’s taking information. She’s very, very studious.”

Albert, 20, has been a part of U.S. Soccer for years. She has played on the national futsal team, and she made appearances as a midfielder in the 2022 U-20 World Cup on behalf of the U.S.

While Albert is a midfielder through and through, the USWNT has been known to shuffle players’ positions. And Kilgore is making no exception of Albert. 

“We have been integrating her in training in multiple positions, and we’ll decide shortly how we’ll use her in the games,” Kilgore said.

Albert is versatile enough to play any midfield position. And while Kilgore did not reveal which positions Albert is playing in camp, she and incoming coach Emma Hayes could stretch Albert’s versatility even further.

For example, USWNT veteran Crystal Dunn, who was not named to the December roster, plays as a midfielder in the NWSL but defense for the USWNT. And Jenna Nighswonger played defense for Gotham FC in her rookie season but has been called up the USWNT as a midfielder.

Regardless of where she will be playing, Albert is a young player who likely has a long future with the USWNT.

“It’s been excellent, she’s in a great space to be able to functionally perform her job with understanding of the people around her, what her exact role within the subgroup in her line that she’d be playing with,” Kilgore said.