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.

When the U.S. women’s national team announced their December roster this week, the last camp of the calendar year clearly marked a season of change. Former manager Vlatko Andonovski is long gone, his successor has been named, and a fresh group of players will have a chance to prove themselves before the work of 2024 begins.

Still, the process used for the most recent roster selection, and what comes next, is open for debate. The USWNT is still reeling from an uncharacteristic World Cup, in which the team won just one match before being eliminated in the Round of 16 at the hands of Sweden. The result warranted a shift change in direction, but the reality of the USWNT’s current position might require more incremental change.

The team’s upcoming friendlies against China PR are technically the first under new manager Emma Hayes, but the team will be managed by committee for the next six months. Interim manager Twila Kilgore will guide the squad through the 2024 Gold Cup, and Hayes will step in full-time in May, with four games remaining until the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The bottom line is that this schedule is necessary for the U.S. to land Hayes, U.S. Soccer’s preferred candidate by a mile. Hayes has an understanding of the U.S. development system and an impressive managerial resume with Chelsea FC that includes both season-long and Cup trophies. She has communicated bold opinions about larger systemic issues that have eroded the USWNT’s dominance on the world stage, and her ability to scout and develop players at the club level has few rivals.

“What became apparent was that the best candidate in this process wasn’t available right [away],” U.S. Soccer technical director Matt Crocker told the media this week. “But just seeing Twila evolve and develop into and show her leadership qualities, I became really confident that we could manage and have an interim plan that could ensure that we could have our cake and eat it.”

While U.S. Soccer is confident in the team’s long-term future, the current plan requires a tightrope walk on a short timeline. The USWNT’s 2023 World Cup performance has left the team bracing for transition both in personnel and in tactical approach, with some tough choices to make before the Olympic roster is set. Crocker has said he wants the U.S. to become a more possession-based team with the flexibility to handle different types of opponents. He has also acknowledged that, for Hayes to oversee those changes, the USWNT might have to de-prioritize Olympic gold.

“We can start to implement some of those changes both on the pitch and off the pitch that we want to see the team become in the future,” he said this week. “And it will be an evolving process that starts now, and you can see that from the roster that’s been picked.”

Kilgore told reporters on Monday that she created the provisional roster for this international break, and that list was sent to Hayes. The two coaches then consulted one another on the final 26-player list. Kilgore has been very cognizant of the job in front of her, first as a coach on staff for Andonovski’s tenure and now as the person who will be relied upon to make day-to-day decisions until Hayes arrives.

“I think it’s important to remember that nobody’s ever irreplaceable,” Kilgore said, “And the fact that Matt and Emma trust me to help move the team forward in the interim is really empowering.”

Twila Kilgore has earned the respect of USWNT players in her time as interim coach. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Kilgore has earned the opportunity to oversee the USWNT’s next phase, with players across the board responding positively to her stewardship of the team. But her handling of the two international windows prior to Hayes’ hiring also produced lingering questions.

Kilgore walked into a difficult situation, having to absorb a team coming off their worst-ever World Cup result after the resignation of their coach of the last four years. She clearly took a soft touch in the aftermath, building on a tactically conservative Round of 16 performance that produced more flashes of strong play than in the group stage. The U.S. also got a chance to say goodbye to two beloved teammates in Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe, a task that can distract even the most focused players, especially after an emotional tournament exit.

But then in the following international break, Kilgore fell into a common pitfall as a manager. Rather than taking the emotional boost from September to introduce a greater fluidity in the USWNT’s style of play, she continued with the hyper-pragmatic approach. She stuck very closely to the team’s World Cup starting lineups without a huge step forward from that group, leaving the last four friendlies feeling unsatisfactory for many.

Kilgore had said in September that she didn’t put too much weight into the team’s current 4-2-3-1 formation, intending for things to not be as stringent as in the last year of Andonovski’s tenure.

“Formation sometimes, it’s just five yards here or five yards there,” she said at the time. But the U.S. continued to struggle to score against Colombia in October, going three consecutive halves without a goal as players looked just as cautious in their positioning as ever.

An infusion of fresh talent assuaged some of the tactical issues, with San Diego Wave standout Jaedyn Shaw and new Chelsea signing Mia Fishel scoring and looking like exciting options for the future in the team’s attack. But the USWNT left October with many of the same questions that have plagued them since their World Cup disappointment.

December will provide another opportunity to dig into the USWNT’s current issues and look for their solutions. Many veterans were left off the roster, allowing experienced players to regain their legs and manage burnout after a taxing year while giving opportunities to newer faces that can provide different strengths. Who will be invited back into the fold in the new year remains to be seen, but it’s clear that whoever is in camp needs to be given a fresh influx of ideas both in and out of possession.

“I’m most excited to talk more football, and to continue to listen and learn about how [Hayes] wants us to play,” Kilgore said this week. “And those are all things that will happen more and more in the future when she’s not as tied to Chelsea.”

Hayes’ Chelsea commitments aren’t going anywhere in the short term, and the USWNT seen in December will be as much Kilgore’s as their new long-term manager’s. With more work to be done to become competitive again against the world’s best, the USWNT now begins the difficult balance of maintaining confidence in the current group while being open to growing pains. Kilgore’s ability to keep a steady hand on the wheel could make all the difference in 2024.

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

Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and several more veteran players found themselves left off the U.S. women’s national team roster for the last camp of 2023. But don’t count them out for the 2024 Olympics.

USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore talked with each veteran player about the decision to leave them off the roster, she said Monday.

“None of the players that were left off the roster are out of the mix,” Kilgore said. “We want to win and we want to make sure that we bring the best players with us to the Olympics, and this is just one step in making sure that we are making the right decisions moving forward.”

Players who were called into the October camp but not the December camp include Morgan, Dunn, Alyssa Naeher, Sofia Huerta, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ashley Sanchez and Andi Sullivan.

“I did call all the players that were in the previous camp that aren’t on the roster and explain to them why,” Kilgore said. “Those conversations are between coach and player. But I will say that each and every one of them are professionals. They responded as professionals would. They understand that we’re watching everything they do, everything matters.”

The coaching staff knows what all these players “are capable of doing and what their value is,” Kilgore said. The USWNT sees in the upcoming friendlies against China the opportunity to evaluate a wider pool of players.

As the team continues to build toward next year’s Olympics, Kilgore and incoming head coach Emma Hayes wanted to get younger players some looks with the senior national team. But the veterans are still very much in the mix for the Olympics, she said.

“There’s equal opportunity moving forward to make this roster,” she added.

And as for why they called in the players that they did, including newcomers Jenna Nighswonger and Korbin Albert, their strong play at the club level contributed to the decision-making process.

“The leading factor was that these players have been performing really well in their home environments,” she said. “We’ve been consistently watching them and giving an opportunity to both challenge and support in our environment and be able to evaluate them.”

After Midge Purce was left off the U.S. women’s national team roster at the end of 2022, former head coach Vlatko Andonovski said she would have the chance to “fight for her spot.”

Almost a year later, Purce has done just that — and now she’ll be attending USWNT events as an NWSL Champion and the Championship MVP after she was named to the December training camp roster.

“What a great game [the NWSL Championship] was to watch live, in so many ways, and Midge had an excellent game, obviously earning MVP,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said. “She did an excellent job making a case for herself and I would say that’s a message to everybody — that their performance and their day-to-day, what they’re doing matters, that we’re watching and that they’ll be rewarded appropriately for their work.”

Purce made the case for herself in the second half of the NWSL season after missing 10 weeks due to a torn quad through July. She rebounded well from her injury, scoring four goals in her 12 appearances for Gotham FC in the regular season. Leading up to the season, Purce made her ambitions clear. 

“Last year is not something that was enjoyable for me, it makes me sick,” Purce said. “This year I want to score goals on both the national team and for the club, I want to be a top player in both settings. That’s all I’m after.”

Purce lived up to her own expectations, including becoming the second player in league history to contribute two assists in a championship match. She assisted on both goals in Gotham’s 2-1 win over OL Reign to win the title. And she successfully fought for her USWNT roster spot. 

“I think Midge is a very special talent with very strong 1-v-1 ability, and she showcased that special quality,” Kilgore said. “But she also did a lot of defending in the game and was a big part of their overall team tactics, which I think is also important.”

Korbin Albert has been making waves with Paris Saint-Germain FC. Soon, the 20-year-old will look to make her mark on the U.S. women’s national team.

Albert was named to the USWNT’s December training camp roster on Monday afternoon, the first call-up of the midfielder’s career. U.S. interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Monday that she’s looked to expedite Albert’s path to the senior team roster since she stepped in for Vlatko Andonovski in August. Emma Hayes, currently the head coach at Chelsea, will assume USWNT head coaching duties in May.

“When I first took over as interim, one of the first things that we did with the provisional roster was add Korbin,” Kilgore said. “She’s somebody that we’ve been watching, in terms of the whole technical staff, for a good amount of time now. Her roles have been increasing with her club. Obviously she’s getting good Champions League games.”

Albert played Division I soccer at Notre Dame for two seasons before signing with PSG in January 2023. Albert collected many accolades during her two years with the Irish. She was named ACC Midfielder of the Year and a First Team All-American in 2022. That same year, she was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, an award given out annually to the best female and male college soccer players in the country.

Albert has made four starts and seven total appearances for PSG this season, including in a Champions League group stage match last week against Ajax and fellow USWNT prospect Lily Yohannes.

Albert has also been a member of the U.S. youth national team pool from 2015-2019. She made six appearances for the U.S. U-20 team, two of which came during the U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica in 2022.

“She has a little bit of versatility in the midfield, playing a little bit lower or higher at times depending on what the team’s needs are, and Emma and I were in agreement that this was the right next step for both Korbin and the team,” Kilgore said.

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.”

The U.S. women’s national team’s youth movement has arrived, with Olivia Moultrie and Jaedyn Shaw each earning call-ups for the team’s October friendlies.

Moultrie and Shaw join Alyssa Thompson, who rounds out the teenage contingent as the only one of the 18-year-olds with World Cup experience. The trio of phenoms represent the USWNT’s future.

“It’s really important that we create a pathway for them to integrate into the environment and learn from it,” interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Wednesday, noting that every time that players are introduced to the USWNT environment and international soccer, they “learn something” that they can translate to their game.

“The idea is we basically accelerate their development,” she said. “They’re also talented and capable of helping now. It’s just the decision of whether now is the right time and also if they’re outperforming their teammates. So we think that bringing them in and exposing them to the environment is a plus both in the environment and in their home markets and will generate some success moving forward.”

The USWNT is in the process of hiring a permanent head coach, with a target deadline of December. The new head coach also will have valuable information about the young players and how they adjusted to the environment thanks to the recent camps.

“Every player that’s called into camp has an opportunity to prove themselves,” Kilgore said. “… I think Jaedyn and Olivia both bring really special qualities.”

Kilgore also sees the differences between Moultrie and Shaw. As a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, Moultrie has a strong presence between the lines, understanding her positioning while also defending “really well.”

“She’s playing on both sides of the ball, which is really important at this level, and we’re excited about that,” Kilgore said. “I’ve had a few conversations with Portland and they’re very complimentary of her development and eager to support her. In Olivia’s case, she’s a long term player for U.S. Soccer. She’s been through our youth system. I think she’s got a pretty good head on her shoulders in terms of understanding patience, not just on the field but in the process.”

As for Shaw, Kilgore pointed to a special quality possessed by the San Diego Wave forward.

“There’s very few people that can play a final ball the way that she does,” she said. “And she’s learning pretty specific partnerships at her club, but she’s also capable of creating those types of partnerships with other players because of the ability to play different types of balls.”

Thompson, meanwhile, is someone that the USWNT is “really pleased” with; she received her first call-up in October 2022 and played at the 2023 World Cup. But she’s still learning from every camp.

“She’s done a lot in the last year,” Kilgore said. “And she’s, in my opinion, right on track to where she should be. These things don’t happen overnight. This is somebody that could potentially be a generational talent. And it’s really, really important that we continue to support her as she goes along this journey.”

Moultrie, Shaw and Thompson all played together the youth national team at the 2022 U-20 World Cup, and all made the jump to the NWSL over the last several years. Moultrie led the way in 2021, followed by Shaw in 2022 and Thompson in 2023.

Still, Kilgore reiterated the difference between international soccer and the NWSL, underlining how much the teen trio will learn as they grow with the USWNT.

“There is a really big difference between the way that soccer is played in the NWSL and the international game,” she said. “And there’s also a big difference between training and playing in your club environment and training and playing at the international level. So again, this is just about exposure for these players, teaching, learning and obviously competing, whether it’s in training, in games, but it’s about a long term process. And it’s not about the immediate, it’s about the future.”

Becky Sauerbrunn missed the 2023 World Cup with a foot injury, but she is back to being “one of the best center-backs in the world” — and to being a key leader for the U.S. women’s national team.

The 38-year-old defender was named to the USWNT roster for October, setting her up for her first international appearance since April.

There is no doubt that Sauerbrunn’s presence was missed at the World Cup. While other players did step up in her absence — for example, Julie Ertz at center-back — there is no one answer when it comes to replacing Sauerbrunn, both defensively and from a leadership standpoint.

“I think it’s really important to just kind of remind everybody that Becky would have been on the World Cup roster had she been fully fit for international minutes at that time,” USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Wednesday.

Quietly, Sauerbrunn has been making her way back from the injury that kept her away from the USWNT – and from what would have been her fourth World Cup. She’s been a steady presence for Portland since mid-September. And while she’s not back to a full 90, her return has been promising.

“Anytime a player, you know, suffers an injury and has to work their way back, that’s always gonna be really difficult,” Kilgore said. “But the quality of play that Becky has shown in her return has been very, very high. There’s a reason why she’s one of and has been one of the best center-backs in the world.”

Kilgore then called Sauerbrunn “one of the best center-backs that we have” before speaking on Sauerbrunn’s leadership, which will be instrumental as the team continues to bring in young talent such as Jaedyn Shaw and Olivia Moultrie.

“She is a leader, she helps us program in every single way,” Kilgore said. “And my expectations for Becky are simply to come back into the environment and be herself and like every player continue to prove that she belongs in the environment and compete for spots moving forward.”

The interim head coach also pointed to players stepping up in Sauerbrunn’s absence as another “mark of some of Becky’s leadership.” And when Sauerbrunn did rejoin camp in September for roughly 48 hours, “nothing really changed.”

“Becky was herself and she encourages other leaders in the group to be themselves,” Kilgore said. “Leadership is really about having an open dialogue, encouraging people to their true selves, bring their opinions and their special qualities to the table. So I just expect Becky to come back in the environment and be herself.

“Obviously holding high standards is part of everybody’s responsibility and having some self accountability is important to that as well. But I expect Becky to partner with myself and other leaders on the team to make sure that the standards are high for all of us as individuals but also as a group.”

While Sophia Smith and Becky Sauerbrunn returned from injury for the U.S. women’s national team roster, several big names remain out for the October friendlies against Colombia.

Tierna Davidson

The 25-year-old defender received a kick to the face in the Chicago Red Stars’ Sept. 30 match against Racing Louisville. She missed the team’s final two matches of the regular season, and she is not ready for international minutes, USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Wednesday.

“That contact to the face was pretty severe,” Kilgore said. “She’s recovering and moving forward.”

Rose Lavelle

The 28-year-old midfielder has played intermittently since picking up a leg injury in April. She joined the USWNT at the 2023 World Cup but made just two appearances upon her return to the NWSL — and none since Sept. 3. She’s played just four NWSL matches total in 2023.

Following OL Reign’s win Sunday in their final regular season match, Laura Harvey said that Lavelle would be available only if her team really needed her.

“Rose was sort of there if we desperately needed her to be there, and thankfully we didn’t,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said Sunday. “I know she was still running (on the field) after the game so that we can keep her ticking over in preparation for Friday.”

Kilgore echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

“Both players [Lavelle and Davidson] aren’t ready for international minutes,” she said. “We’re also being very careful with protecting players. Rose is making progress, just not ready for this event.”

Catarina Macario

Macario has not played in a competitive match since tearing her ACL last June, and she hasn’t featured for the USWNT since last April. The 24-year-old midfielder signed with Chelsea in June, and she has been settling in with her new club in the Women’s Super League. But she has yet to play in a game in the WSL through the first three matches of the season.

“Cat is integrating at Chelsea, she’s just not ready for international minutes yet,” Kilgore said. “We’re collaborating with them in terms of keeping in touch and making sure she has everything she needs, but she’s just not ready for international minutes yet.

“She’s just continuing on her timeline there and we trust the people that she’s working with and that she’s entrusted herself to. Things seem to be moving along well.”

Kelley O’Hara

The 35-year-old defender is out with a lower leg injury. She made the World Cup roster but played just nine minutes in the tournament. Since her return to the NWSL, she has played in three matches for Gotham FC, most recently seven minutes as a substitute on Oct. 1.

While she initially was named to the USWNT’s September roster, she was replaced ahead of the friendlies against South Africa. At the time, the USWNT said in a release that the defender’s “return to play has been slower than anticipated and she will remain with her club to continue her progression to full fitness.”

Mallory Swanson

Swanson has remained out since tearing the patellar tendon in her left knee during an April friendly against Ireland. While she has been seen practicing with the Chicago Red Stars, the 25-year-old forward continues to rehab her injury.

Olivia Moultrie has gotten her first call to the U.S. women’s national team.

The 18-year-old midfielder has featured in the U.S. Soccer system before, having played for the U-20 team at the 2022 U-20 FIFA World Cup. She is one of three players on the October training camp roster from that tournament, joining Jaedyn Shaw and Alyssa Thompson.

“It’s really important that we create a pathway for them to integrate into the environment and learn from it, so that they can take advantage of their time when they’re in the environment but also when they’re in their home markets,” interim head coach Twila Kilgore said of the USWNT’s youth movement.

The road to the USWNT has been a long one for Moultrie despite her youth. In 2021, she became the youngest player to take the field in the NWSL at 15 years old. While that record has since been usurped amid a wave of youth talent, Moultrie blazed the trail by fighting the league’s age requirement.

Since then, Moultrie has come into her own as a member of the Portland Thorns. She came up big at several points this season, recording two goals and three assists. Her five points rank fifth on a stacked Thorns team that includes Sophia Smith, Crystal Dunn and Morgan Weaver.

“If you look at the impact (Olivia) has had the last two games, it’s impressive by any standard,” Thorns head coach Mike Norris said of Moultrie in May. “As a younger player, she’s pushing and challenging for a start. … Given the impact that she’s had the last two games, I couldn’t really ask any more of any player coming off the bench.”

Moultrie started in 11 of 21 games this season for Portland, which is indicative of the success she has found. And receiving your first USWNT call-up one month after your 18th birthday is a great way to celebrate.