By CAITLIN MURRAY
With nearly every camp the U.S. Women’s National Team has had since coach Tom Sermanni took over, a new player has been called up to train with the senior squad – and next week will be no different.
As qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup loom seven months away, Sermanni is thinking even more long term, which means we shouldn’t expect to stop seeing new faces with the USWNT.
“The World Cup is still over a year away,” Sermanni told SBI on Wednesday. “And there’s always value in looking at players who may potentially come into consideration for the squad.”
The USWNT will face China in a pair of friendlies April 6 and April 10 in their first matches since placing seventh at last month’s Algarve Cup, the USWNT’s worst finish in the annual tournament.
Sermanni has been on a roll, handing out first caps to 12 players in the 16 months he’s been on the job – but, he says, it’s been a necessity at times. With injuries, pregnancies and European club duty, the pool of players has varied in size. That’s not to say Sermanni wouldn’t have called up young players eventually, but the timing has just been ripe.
“Because of these things, it’s much more valuable to have players in the squad now so that we can assess them rather than having to assess a player two or three months out from the World Cup,” Sermanni said. “Then, she’s under tremendous pressure coming into the squad for the first time with the World Cup so close at hand.”
Of course, part of bringing in new players means changing lineups – and there has been plenty of that under Sermanni. In seven matches this year, Sermanni has fielded seven different starting 11s. Last year saw the same kind of shuffling, including 14 different back lines in 16 matches.
That wasn’t a exactly a controversial talking point, perhaps, until the USWNT lost for the first time ending a 43-game unbeaten stretch last month – followed by another loss where the team set a record for most goals the USWNT ever conceded in a single match.
“We haven’t really been really been playing the way we normally play,” Abby Wambach told Sports Illustrated this week. “I think there’s been a lot of factors. I know Tom likes to switch up the lineup quite a bit, which is very different than what we’ve been used to. So, learning how to play with new players game after game, after game, it’s harder to get a rhythm.”
“That’s why our team has always been so successful – because I always know exactly what Alex Morgan is going to do.”
Wambach will have to keep waiting for Morgan though. She’s been injured since the fall with a stress fracture and there’s no clear recovery in sight.
That leaves a spot for forward Katie Stengel, who will be at a training camp starting Monday in Denver until the USWNT’s April 6 friendly against China. She’s a U-23 forward whose goals helped the squad win the Six Nations Tournament earlier this month – a performance that earned her a call-up into the USWNT camp, Sermanni said.
But Stengel has opted to forgo the National Women’s Soccer League, where almost all USWNT players will report this spring, to play for the semi-pro Los Angeles Blues SC. Her senior year at Wake Forest had been cut short due to a treatable medical condition, meaning next week’s camp may be her best time to catch Sermanni’s eye.
“Due to her injury setbacks, I haven’t had the chance to really see her,” Sermanni said. “But this event was a good time to bring her in and see how she performs among the full national team players. Her call-up I think shows the value of the system of increased integration between the youth national teams and the full team.”
Another young name on the roster is goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who after two call-ups remains uncapped with the USWNT. But as young players join training camps, they are replacing veterans, like goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who under previous coach Pia Sundhage had been the clear second-choice to Hope Solo.
Barnhart “is still a very important part of our program,” Sermanni said, adding that he wants to ensure she stays healthy after “battling with a few injuries issues.” But with Solo, Barnhart, Jill Loyden and Ashlyn Harris all dealing with injuries last year, it’s clear the USWNT needs to develop more goalkeepers, he said.
“We’ve had a consistent three-to-four goalkeepers over the past many years,” Sermanni said. “Like outfield players, we’ve got to start looking at opportunities for other goalkeepers who we feel have potential and put them in an environment where they compete with and against other national team goalkeepers and field players so they can continue to develop.”
- Wambach took a shot this week at the Canadian Soccer Association’s announcement that they plan to bid on the 2026 men’s World Cup by pointing out that Canada is giving the women artificial turf for the 2015 World Cup. “Do you think the men will be playing on the same turf that we are? You know the answer to that,” she said.
- Sermanni named a new assistant coach, Omid Namazi, who is coming off a stint as an assistant coach with Iran Men’s National Team. Prior to that, he had been a head coach in both the U.S. professional women’s leagues that preceded the NWSL.