Leigh Ann Robinson

European commitments see United States name 25-woman squad for friendlies against Australia, New Zealand

4 Comments

Oct. 20 isn’t a reserved date on FIFA’s women’s calendar, and with an increasing number of U.S. players taking advantage of opportunities in Europe, that poses a problem for U.S. Soccer. Four of the current squad (named this afternoon) are playing for Swedish power Tyresö. Two more are in France. Another promising attacker is playing for Bayern Munich. It’s hard to get the band together when their clubs aren’t obligated to release them.

That may be why 25 women were named to Tom Sermanni’s squad for upcoming friendlies against Australia (Oct. 20) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, Oct. 30), though only 18 women will dress for each match. For the Australia game, the squad will be without Tyresö’s players (Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Christen Press), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon). Erika Tymrak, with Bayern Munich after earning the NWSL’s Rookie of the Year award, was not named to the squad.

Sermanni’s team will undergo a second shift after the Australia match. College stars Crystal Dunn (North Carolina) and Morgan Brian (Virginia), who will miss their team’s Oct. 20 ACC matchup to be in Texas, will return to their schools after the Australia match. Likewise NWSL fullbacks Leigh Ann Robinson (FC Kansas City) and Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC) will leave the team before the New Zealand games.

For Cox, the callup is her first since returning to the field late in the NWSL season, the 27-year-old sidelined for most of the season as she welcomed her first child. With 82 caps to her credit, the 2008 gold medalist was once a national team mainstay, though he last appearance with the U.S. was in May 2012. Now she’ll compete against Dunn and converted midfielder Kristie Mewis for a place on the depth chart.

source:
Stephanie Cox, pictured here with the LA Sol, returned to action late in the NWSL season after delivering her first child. Though 27-year-old defender has 82 caps with the U.S. national team, she’s been called in for the first time since May 2012. (Source: JMR Photography, via Wiki Commons.)

They’re part of the 10-defender crew named to the U.S. squad, one that’s emblematic of the strange tension between old world scheduling and the new realities of the women’s soccer world. Whereas the U.S. has previously been able to ignore FIFA dates because few (if any) players were playing in Europe, financial opportunities in France, Sweden, England and Germany makes it more likely out-of-window games will create conflicts. In one sense, the U.S. surely has enough depth to give players 22 through 25 a shot in otherwise meaningless matches, but on the other hand, the margin for borderline players like Tymrak, Paris Saint-Germain’s Lindsey Horan, and Bayern’s Amber Brooks diminishes with decreased opportunities. There’ll be deprived of opportunities granted domestic-based players.

With two games scheduled in the October FIFA window, it’s hardly a major concern. It’s unlikely the borderline Europeans were omitted because they wouldn’t be released for the Oct. 20 friendly. After all, the Tyresö and French contingents were still named to the squad despite being unavailable for Australia.

Still, the scheduling is an example of a unique, unprecedented predicament for U.S. Soccer. Their women’s players are becoming subjected to the same pressures as their men’s. National team priorities must be balanced with their professional ambition. While that doesn’t preclude scheduling games outside a FIFA window, it remains to be seen how the practice persists.

Heath, Rapinoe, Press, and Krieger — all key players for Sermanni are already out for Australia. A few more key players go to Europe, and these out-of-window camps will no longer be worth it.

Here’s the full squad:

U.S. Women’s National Team Roster
GOALKEEPERS (4): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Adrianna Franch (WNY Flash), Jill Loyden (Sky Blue FC), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (10): Rachel Buehler (Portland Thorns FC), Stephanie Cox (Seattle Reign FC), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Whitney Engen (Tyresö), Meghan Klingenberg (Tyresö), Ali Krieger (Tyresö), Kristie Mewis (FC Kansas City), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Leigh Ann Robinson (FC Kansas City), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Yael Averbuch (Göteborg), Morgan Brian (Virginia), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (WNY Flash), Heather O’Reilly (Boston Breakers), Megan Rapinoe (Lyon)
FORWARDS (4): Sydney Leroux (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Tyresö), Abby Wambach (WNY Flash)

Realities of CONCACAF, tyranny of goals on display Tuesday for U.S. women

7 Comments

Sydney Leroux stole the show Tuesday, but if there was ever a ho-hum four-goal performance, this was it. That’s not to say Leroux, trying ardently to make her case to start for the U.S. Women’s National Team, doesn’t deserve credit. She certainly does, though with a header into an open goal, a tap in of Lauren Holiday’s work, a left-footed jab Mexico’s Cecilia Santiago should have stopped, and a nice set piece header, Leroux’s performance was more opportunism than dominance. The tyranny of goals (how they overshadowed the details) ruled the headlines after the U.S.’s 7-0 win on Tuesday, though in that way, Leroux’s night was a metaphor for her entire team’s performance.

The U.S. weren’t at their best. Who would have expected them to be, with most of the team having just completed their teams’ NWSL seasons? In a friendly scheduled three days after the North American women’s league’s final game, the team looked capable, controlling, but far from their best. Some nice second half spells of possession were the exception in a game defined by the pure disparity in talent.

Despite getting zero minutes from Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, and Ali Krieger (with only Morgan even in camp), the U.S. were still light years ahead of their competition. And that’s the case almost anytime they play in CONCACAF. Though it wasn’t so long ago the U.S. were actually losing to Mexico (as they did in qualifying for the 2011 World Cup), most competition in this part of the world proves a step down from a spirited intrasquad scrimmage. It’s too bad “USA 1 vs. USA 2” wouldn’t sell as many tickets as “USA vs. Mexico,” because it would be a better test.

The final score line looked good, and the team hit the 90th minute at their typical CONCACAF canter, but ultimately, we learned almost nothing from the match. That Sydney Leroux can pour in goals against regional competition is a well-established fact. Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly, and Christie Rampone still perform at their same elite levels. We knew this. The performance from Mexico was so meek, we didn’t get a chance to learn anything about Erika Tymrak’s international-readiness, the “Kristie Mewis Left Back Project,” Leigh Ann Robinson, Crystal Dunn, or Becky Sauerbrunn’s viability in defense, or Hope Solo’s current quality. And because of the way the U.S. played, we didn’t get to judge Lauren Holiday’s ability to translate her Kansas City creativity to the international stage. Mexico just didn’t offer enough resistance.

That, unfortunately, is life in CONCACAF. There’s nothing the U.S. can do to change it, besides be more willing to meet stronger teams on their own turf (which, to their credit, they’ve done multiple times this year). For now, the toughest competition Tom Sermanni will find is within his own player pool, one so talented that the second-best XI in CONCACAF may also be under U.S. Soccer’s umbrella.

source: Getty Images
FC Kansas City’s Erika Tymrak was one of six Blues in the U.S. team during Tuesday’s second half. The current NWSL Rookie of the Year was joined by Lauren Holiday, Kristie Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Leigh Ann Robinson, and Nicole Barnhart.

That’s why it’s been so important that Sermanni’s expanded the player pool, brought in players like Erika Tymrak (left) or Christen Press, and recalled players like Yael Averbuch. It’s something that Pia Sundhage did at the beginning of her tenure, though she ultimately settled on a squad that, while good, lost its edge internally. By the time Sermanni was appointed, you didn’t have to go far to find a player who was looking for a new challenge, if not the outright chance to shake up what’d become a very stoic pecking order.

At almost every position in the team, there’s competition right now. Even Christie Rampone, the team’s 38-year-old captain (coming off a strong season in the NWSL) isn’t guaranteed her place. The team has four elite strikers, three world-class wide players, four defenders fighting for spots in the middle, and new, developing options at fullback. Beyond the assumption a healthy Hope Solo’s unlikely to lose her spot, central midfield is the only place where there seems to be little competition, though even there Sermanni’s brought in names to challenge Lloyd and Holiday. Nobody expects Averbuch or Morgan Brian to win spots, but Sermanni’s clearly trying to lengthen the depth chart.

That competition’s not something we’re going to see in a friendly like Tuesday’s. All many observers will see is the lopsided score, the four-goal game, and assume everything is business-as-usual. But it’s not. In truth, the team looked like they’d just come off a long season, and that’s okay. And although there wasn’t much competition on the pitch, the emerging, internal competition will help this team meet its new challenges.