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US surprises with seven new callups to upcoming women’s national team camp

jill ellis

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.

Unless significant injuries happen during camp, don’t expect to see many of these faces on the field in Seattle (Oct. 21, against Brazil) or Orlando (Oct. 25, against Brazil). This is still a Victory Tour, and for three players, it will be their last hurrah. But as with the regular callups, the time each new face has with Ellis and her staff should be more meaningful than whatever minutes they earn in a friendly. Impress in the coming week, and you could be in line for additional callups later this winter. Fail, and you could be back waiting for the US’s next set of shock recalls.

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Whether this set of recalls signify a meaningful change in national team policy remains to be seen. The team is reputedly hamstrung by selection and cost issues derived from its labor agreement with its players, one that almost requires any national team player that’s healthy and established in the pool to be called in. The situation reached an absurd level last winter when a handful of NWSL veterans participated in the US’s U-23 camp in lieu of being brought in to the senior national team. Unlike on the men’s side, where Jurgen Klinsmann has developed a large and rotating pool of players, the women’s national team seemingly needs players to fade out before new talents can be brought in.

Today’s callups also beg a series of questions about players who weren’t call in. Defensive midfielders Keelin Winters (Seattle Reign) and Jen Buczkowski (FC Kansas City) have become exemplars of fans’ frustrations with national team callups. Chicago midfielders Vanessa DiBernardo and Danielle Colaprico can reasonably argue they deserve places in this group, while goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, once seen as a future number one for the program, may still worry about her chances now that she’s been exiled to Norway after failing to agree to a new contract with Western New York. FC Kansas City’s Leigh Ann Brown, teammate Erika Tymrak, Portland’s Allie Long as well as Seattle defenders Lauren Barnes and Kendall Fletcher, among others, could work if this new, open door will be as inviting for them in the future.

With the exception of Dunn — somebody who will compete for a spot on the 18-woman squad for next summer’s Rio de Janiero Olympics — today’s new group may yet be victims in a calculus that limits the senior pool to a select few. But, with Holiday, Chalupny and Boxx likely the first of many to transition out over the next year, these new faces have the inside track to become the entrenched veterans of tomorrow. If they can’t cement spots, a deep pool of potential candidates is waiting to fill their shoes.

Full roster, via US Soccer:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (12): Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), Jaelene Hinkle (Western NY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Univ. of Virginia)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Shannon Boxx (unattached), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Western NY Flash), Christine Nairn (Washington Spirit), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (7): Lindsey Horan (Paris Saint-Germain), Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), Stephanie McCaffrey (Boston Breakers), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (unattached)



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