On Women’s Soccer: A closer look at the recent USWNT newcomers

Christen Press

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By CAITLIN MURRAY

When head coach Tom Sermanni took over the U.S. Women’s National Team last year, he had quite the quagmire on his hands.

He inherited an Olympic gold medal-winning squad with the best depth in the world. But that wasn’t going to carry his team to a World Cup three years away. So, he did what any national team coach would do: called in player after player, averaging almost a new player per training camp.

But now the World Cup is inching closer and the USWNT’s core group isn’t settled, even to the point where the team has appeared, at times, to lack chemistry on the field. That was never more apparent than in a historic 5-3 loss to Denmark last month. Afterward, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan said frequent line-up changes might be the reason for the shocking defeat.

Sermanni told SBI last week that he still sees value in bringing new players on board, even with a looming World Cup not far on the horizon. After giving 12 players their first caps in 16 months as coach, SBI takes a look at how those rookies have fared:

THE BRIGHT SPOTS

It’s easy to forget that before Sermanni took over last year, Christen Press had zero caps with the USWNT and most American fans probably didn’t know who she was.

What a difference a year makes.

With 11 goals in 15 games and a spot behind the world’s most potent attacking stable – Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux – Press seems to turn the USWNT depth chart into an impossible riddle for Sermanni.

He must spend the next several months deciding how and when to use Press, who is the current top-scorer in Sweden’s renowned first division – a league that’s home to many of the world’s best players, including Brazil’s Marta. But make no mistake: Sermanni will find a spot for her.

Sermanni found a couple more pleasant surprises in Morgan Brian and Crystal Dunn. The surprise, of course, wasn’t that they are good. Both represent the very best of college soccer – to wit, Dunn won the MAC Hermann Trophy in 2012; Brian won it last year. The unexpected part was how much better they could become amongst the USWNT elite.

Luckily, they both happen to fill spots where the USWNT needs help the most.

Brian brings a calm composure and defensive ability that pairs well with the attacking-minded and physical Carli Lloyd in the center, where Shannon Boxx has left a hole the USWNT is desperate to fill. It’s a similar story in defense, except Sermanni has seemed to turn the back line into a revolving door, bringing in new players, revisiting forgotten ones and shuffling starting spots with nearly every match. While Dunn has been tried at both left and right, her potential is clear. With some more game experience and clearer role on the team, she’ll be around for a long time.

Sermanni has invested considerably in two top college players who, at the ages of 21, appear to be virtual locks for the 2015 World Cup. Not bad.

FADING BACK

Not all of Sermanni’s first-time caps will be sticking around.

It’s hard to see where Ashlyn Harris fits onto this squad. Long considered either the third- or fourth-string goalkeeper for the USWNT, Harris earned her first two caps last spring, allowing a goal in each game.

Those performances didn’t make a strong case for her to move up in the ranking – despite Harris being one of the few good things to say about the Washington Spirit last year – but there is perhaps no bigger roadblock than Hope Solo. Harris may never overcome the unfortunate fate of trying to make it on the USWNT while Solo is still in top form. One goalkeeper – whether that’s Nicole Barnhart, Jill Loyden or someone else, who would be a starter on any other team in the world – will only get to be Solo’s back up as consolation.

Lindsey Horan probably knows something about how that feels. She’s a forward – and a very good one at that – which means she faces the daunting task of trying to overtake Wambach, Morgan, Leroux and Press for a roster spot.

That’s not to rule Horan out altogether. The 19-year-old still has time on her side and an impressive resume of experience already. She was the first American woman to skip college and turn pro, joining Paris Saint-Germain for a six-figure salary fresh out of high school. She scored an impressive 20 goals in 25 appearances for the club last year. If a spot on the USWNT depth chart does open up, she could grab it.

For forward Sarah Hagen, 24, it looks even more difficult. Unless Sermanni sees a spot for her in the midfield, she may be waiting for a spot that never opens up.

Defender Leigh Ann Robinson will also have trouble convincing Sermanni she is worth a long-term investment. At age 27, she earned her first cap after a successful season with FC Kansas City, but there’s reason to believe Sermanni will look to groom younger talent like Dunn there.

DARK HORSES

At only about seven months from World Cup qualifiers and 15 months from the World Cup, some of the rookies still have time to clarify things in Sermanni’s mind.

Based on minutes, Kristie Mewis seems very likely to be a mainstay of the squad going forward – the question is where. Long a midfielder with a penchant for long-range blasts, Mewis has been slowly converted into an outside back by Sermanni, but he still manages to start her in the midfield sometimes, too.

Sermanni told SBI earlier this year he is breaking down his World Cup roster by position, with utility players like Mewis getting their own category. That may bode well for Mewis in the eyes of Sermanni, who said he sees his line-ups changing from game-to-game in the tournament.

Mewis’ younger sister, Samantha, is another utility player, according to Sermanni. Even more important though, she could serve as a central midfielder, where the USWNT’s bench is shallow.

Erika Tymrak is also worth watching in the midfield. She had a breakout year for FC Kansas City, which helped earn her the call from Sermanni in September. But her name didn’t appear on the next three rosters, with Sermanni recommending she instead get the experience of a loan to Bayern Munich.

It seemed to work, with Tymrak scoring her first goal in her second cap by November, but she’s seen the field very little in 2014 for the USWNT. She may need to plead her case again once FC Kansas City’s new season starts this month. Tymrak gave Sermanni plenty to think about after the National Women’s Soccer League wrapped up last year and she looks primed for another big season in 2014.

Midfielder Amber Brooks and defender Julie Johnston will join the NWSL this year, too. The early half of the season may be their last best chance to convince Sermanni to bring them back in the fold.

If we’ve learned anything from Sermanni’s track record of shuffling rosters at a rate of nearly a new starting 11 per game, it’s that anything is possible.

This entry was posted in U.S. Women's National Team, Women's Soccer. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to On Women’s Soccer: A closer look at the recent USWNT newcomers

  1. Rob says:

    Don’t see Mew2 as a utility player, she’s all CM (AM or DM tbd).

    I’ve loved Morgan Brian’s play in the last 6 months, but don’t see her jumping Lloyd or Holiday. Maybe if Sermanni’s looking to change up lineups in the WC to keep players fresh.

    • FYI says:

      link to soccerbyives.net

      “I had seen her play in college and I thought she was decent, but it can be hard to judge in college games. So I went to the camp and I liked what I saw,” Sermanni said. “She impacted all the sessions I saw. She had the look of somebody who’s a utility player who can fit in here or there whenever they have to. I liked her mobility, I like her energy and she looked like she had an awareness about her.”

      • Rob says:

        Maybe I have a different definition of a utility player, and certainly Sermanni has seen her from an entirely different perspective, but Sam Mewis to me doesn’t qualify as a utility player. She’s a CM. If she starts trying her hand at CB or FW, given her height, maybe I’ll re-evaluate, but she doesn’t have the speed to play out wide and so I peg her as a CM, not a utility player.

        Kristie Mewis is a utility player. She can play wide or centrally, forward or back, reasonably well. I’d like to see her stand out a little more, but she’s got good IQ and good ball skills and so she can manage most positions rather well while supporting superior players at other positions. That’s a utility player.

  2. Paul Miller says:

    I think Press might be better than all of them. I don’t watch a lot of the women’s team, but catch them a bit here and there. First time I saw her I wondered who that was – and either Wambach or Morgan or maybe both were in the same game. But compared to Press both looked, well, limited. You know what it is – think I just figured it out. Obviously Morgan and Wambach are good female attackers. But Morgan is fast with good touch and Wambach is direct and fearless. Not common attributes among a lot of female players. Press, however, moves like a male attacker. Not in straight lines, not a bull in the china cubbard; a lot of lateral movement, etc. Morgan is faster than defenders and Wambach is tougher than defenders – Press moves around defenders like a male attacker.

    • Elite Hunting says:

      Please try to be serious. You just said the most prolific scorer in the history of the world’s best women’s team looked “limited” next to her. She’s an extremely talented young player. We’ll see, in 15 years, if she’s lived up to any of that potential. That’s what it is right now – potential. LOL at Morgan and Wambach as “good” female attackers.

    • The Garrincha says:

      Not a bad overall assessment Paul Miller,
      although Wam, and Baby Horse, have quite a few more nuances and wrinkles to there games. Morgan is still the most deft and clinical finisher on the team, perhaps in the game.
      Wam, just needs to just do it in the box, because the range is not there anymore, nor should it be. Her best attributes have always shined in the box and that is where she will always reign.
      Leroux, is there, Press, is there, they both bring an arsenal with their repertoire.

      Now save for Horan, and Stengel, maybe one or two others, any player who has aspiration of making the USWNT over the next few years just as a striker, had better learn to be a skilled attacking/playmaking midfielder ie. Rapinoe, Heath, Holiday, Tymrak, Brian?, Hagen?, Ohai?, and LLoyd (maybe the most complete midfielder in USWNT history? like MB90 on the mens side, all repping tri-state like Wam, Rampone, O’reilly,and Dunn, the grit and heart, coincidence?),
      off course Sauerbrunn and Krieger, are two of the best defenders in the world today.

      The reason I single out Horan, is her experience and pedigree is coming to fruition.
      She has the size and skill to be dominate similar to Wam, who will need an heir apparent for her skill set in the not to distant future.
      And Stengel, who also has the raw strength and ability to hold up play.
      Stengel, is really good with the ball at 10 to 20 meters from goal, where she does equally well at laying off passes or turning and taking a shot.
      Everybody else in the pipeline pretty much should be as complete, athletic, skilled, and multidimensional as possible.

  3. Gerard D. says:

    Need to get out to some more games.

  4. Kor says:

    Interesting article. I understand Sermanni’s desire to bring in more players. He’s found a few gems. But, the newbies know that they are auditioning for a spot, that they have to showcase their skills within a limited opportunity window. That can affect the team chemistry. As good as Press has been, I’ve seen her try a very difficult shot rather than pass to an open teammate for the higher percentage scoring opportunity. I think that will change with time now that she’s becoming a regular. But it sort of highlights the chemistry issue. The team sometimes seems disjointed. It’s about time for Sermanni to start thinking about building a cohesive squad. The Algarve Cup was a disaster.

  5. Falls City Outlaw says:

    Caitlin, I wanted to say, your writing is outstanding. Kudos to you for raising the bar!

    • Ali Dia says:

      Flat out truth. Superb work and a solid foundation for a regular bit. Caitlin is getting serious here… You watching, Deuce?

  6. VaFan says:

    The fact that Morgan Brian is recognized above for her “defensive ability” is a big credit to her, because her defensive skills pale in comparison to her offensive capabilities. She may not dislodge Holliday or Lloyd right away (although I wish Carli would get an assist every month or two — center-mid’s are allowed to do that), but the future of this team’s midfield won the U20 World Cup in Japan about 18 months ago.
    Speaking of the U20’s, Horan should be available to the senior team by September and I would take her without any hesitation over A-Rod. No question.

  7. Pingback: Jack to Impact? Union in Chicago previews, more USA-Mexico reaction, more news

  8. Arleth says:

    KEEP Sarah Hagen …. Morgan Brian that’s about it ……. And maybe Erika Tymrak …. L.Horan still has a long way to go!!! She’s young …. Sermanni need to have a set line up already usually all the time his line ups are diff like wtf players need to start getting comfortable how do we expect to win the World Cup like this….don’t $%#& up Sermanni

  9. pkshootout says:

    These the new group that’s going to eventually flop against a more organized and very lethal counterattacking team like the World Champions, Japan. I wish them the best, but in WC they seem to chicken out.

  10. Allex says:

    I like seeing some of the new faces, but I am probably in the minority when I say this….this team has taken a major step backwards under Sermanni. It is time to build some team chemistry. These past few months have been a disaster. Meaningless wins against second and third tier teams give such a false sense of security. Press has promise and has scored in bunchs…I like her a lot…but she is not at Abby or Alex’s level. Abby and Alex want to win. I see Press wanting to score first and win second. The past 14 months have been nothing but meaningless stat padding. Sermanni is cutting this way too close to qualifying for me. Let’s get on it already…

    • z says:

      I completely agree that this team has taken steps backwards under Sermanni. He inherited a well oiled machine that was in need of a few tuneups and updates and instead took it apart completely and now none of the parts seem to fit right. Settling on a lineup would go a long way towards helping to get this team playing better but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to believe in the concept of a set starting lineup. I’m quickly losing faith in him the more he opens his mouth about how he thought this year’s Algarve performances were better than last year’s.

  11. kernel_thai says:

    I cant say I get the Mewis thing. Sam Mewis is a great passer and really understands the game the rest of her game is a project. Kristie Mewis is a good all around play who is solid at the pro level, yet no where is she extraordinary. Somehow she gets called to every camp despite a lack luster season at KC. She was neither their best outside back (Robinson) or their best outside mid (Tymrak). I dont even buy her value as a utility player because of the 23 player roster. Give me Johnston and Tymrak off the bench, each able to effect a game on the international level, and I like my chances much better.