We see this once or twice a year – the United States’ women’s national team going outside of their comfort zone to call in new faces, the way most national teams do on a more regular basis. But given how infrequently head coach Jill Ellis, her staff, and her immediate predecessors introduce significant new talent into the team’s player pool, you’ll forgive the women’s soccer world for being abuzz after today’s announcement: The US’s camp for the next games of its Victory Tour will feature eight players who were not part of this summer’s World Cup, including seven who will get their first time with the national team this year.
The Victory Tour is, ostensibly, a series of matches to celebrate this summer’s first place finish at Canada 2015. But with Lauren Holiday, Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx set to retire from a squad that was the already oldest at this summer’s tournament, new blood is going to be needed at some point in the coming cycle. Now, as the team occasionally does in the offseason when it has a prolonged period of time together, a series of new-ish faces have been brought into the fold. (Full roster, below.)
Some players have made national team appearances before. Washington Spirit midfielder Christine Nairn, absent from the senior team for six years, was originally capped as an 18-year-old. Samantha Mewis, one year removed from a stellar career at UCLA, originally got a look while still in school. Lindsey Horan, recently hobbled by a knee injury while plying her trade with Paris Saint-Germain, was at one time on the brink of a breakthrough under former head coach Tom Sermanni. Crystal Dunn, part of the last team camp but not the World Cup squad, was the National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player.
The rest of the septet is brand new. Forward Stephanie McCaffrey (22 years old) is coming off a rookie season for the Boston Breakers in which she posted three goals and three assists in 19 appearances. Jaelene Hinkle (22), debuting last season with Mewis in Western New York, played every minute of the season in defense. Emily Sonnett, a 21-year-old midfielder and defender from the University of Virginia, is the second Cavaliers player to get a look as an undergrad in recent years. Both her and former teammate Morgan Brian played for U.S. assistant coach Steve Swanson at UVa.
The biggest surprise, though, is the inclusion of Gina Lewandowski. A regular contributor for Bayern Munich in the Frauen Bundesliga, the 30-year-old defender seemed to personify the problems players have getting a significant chance while playing Europe. Though Lewandowski has developed into one of the most reliable players on a German title-winning team, she has yet to get a meaningful chance with her national team, with many onlookers inferring her age and club geography meant her time had passed. Surprisingly, those onlookers may be proven wrong.