On Monday, interim U.S. women’s national team head coach Twila Kilgore named an interesting 26-player training camp roster ahead of two December friendlies against China PR. Though many notable names were left out of the group —including Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Crystal Dunn — Kilgore emphasized that none of them were out of the mix. Instead, the decision allowed room to call in some newer players and to bring back players who have been out of the mix for various reasons. It’s a roster with eyes toward the future.
This is the first roster following the announcement that Emma Hayes will take over the role of USWNT head coach after the conclusion of her season with Chelsea in May. While Hayes is an ocean away, Kilgore and U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker indicated her integration into the team has already begun, albeit incrementally.
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“We’re sharing information, knowledge sharing,” Kilgore said. “There’s a provisional roster that comes out first, which I prepared. I was able to share my ideas with Emma. Emma’s able to share her ideas with me and we picked this roster collaboratively, and we will do so moving forward. I will have opportunities to go to London and spend time with Emma in person and hopefully vice-versa.
“The group is a really together group that I enjoy leading. And in terms of working with Emma in the future, I’m most excited to talk more football, to continue to listen and learn about how she wants us to play. And those are all things that will happen more and more in the future when she’s not as tied to Chelsea. In the interim we’re working on the overall environment, what it should look like when she comes, and we’re in alignment already as humans and and football coaches.”
“Twila’s role in all this is absolutely imperative,” said Crocker. “She will make day-to-day decisions. She will clearly collaborate and work closely with Emma, as I mentioned, being respectful for Emma’s time and the job that she’s got to do at Chelsea.”
As part of earning her USSF Pro License, one of Kilgore’s assignments was to study a top coach for a year. She had picked Hayes, so she felt quite in tune already with Hayes’ thinking around players and tactics.
“So far, collaboration has been excellent,” Kilgore said. “But Emma’s time is very limited, and I need to tap into that when it’s most appropriate and allow for her to focus on what she’s doing and me to focus on what I’m doing.”
Crocker also spoke about trying to ease Hayes into the USWNT system while also respecting their agreement to let Hayes finish the season with Chelsea and prepare for Champions League. “We’re working some final details around her schedule,” he said. “Being really respectful of Chelsea, it would be an ideal situation for her to come and meet the players and staff and we’re very hopeful that that can happen.”
With regards to this roster in particular, this seems to be only the beginning of an evaluation process that is about planning for 2027 as opposed to reacting to 2023.
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“We’ve focused on regrouping after a difficult World Cup,” Kilgore said. “Making sure that we sent off Pinoe and JJ in style, reintegrating some players that might play a role moving forward, and starting a really good onboarding process for some next-generational talent. But obviously, the dynamic has changed with me coming on board and knowing what our long-term vision is starting to look like. I’ve been extended as interim head coach which gives me a longer runway to kind of get things prepared for when Emma comes in.”
This camp will have a longer lead-in than other camps now that it’s the NWSL offseason; Kilgore said they would have four days instead of just one where everyone would be able to participate at the same time.
The absence of players like Morgan and Dunn was noted, but Kilgore repeatedly told reporters that it was not a comment on their ability. “We simply wanted to use this roster to get more players in to look at them and get some evaluations in a quicker period of time, whether that’s in the environment in training, or in games,” she said.
26 players for the final camp of ’23 🇺🇸 https://t.co/IdjIki403Z pic.twitter.com/MwtBEfJOnJ
— U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (@USWNT) November 20, 2023
With the NWSL championship fresh on everyone’s minds, Kilgore mentioned Gotham FC champions Midge Purce and Jenna Nighswonger in terms of the attributes that made them a good fit for this camp, a reminder as well that club play is still a major, if not the major, factor in evaluation for call-ups.
“(Midge) did an excellent job making a case for herself,” said Kilgore, “And I would say that’s a message to everybody that their performance in their day-to-day, what they’re doing matters, that we’re watching, and that they’ll be rewarded appropriately for their work. I think Midge is a very special talent with very strong one-on-one ability, and she showcased that special quality, but she also did a lot of defending in the game and was a big part of their overall team tactics, which I think is also important.
“Jenna has a strong history as a midfielder, both as a 10, 8 and 6. She played the 6 for me when she was working with the U23s. And she’s done a good job as a left back this year. I think part of her strength is that versatility, and when we look forward to an Olympic roster, knowing that there’s fewer spots, versatility is actually going to be something that will be taken into account and heavily weighed.”
Hearing a mention of the Olympics is certainly ear-catching in the context of Hayes not getting a ton of face time with this team before the tournament next year. U.S. Soccer isn’t writing off the Olympics or taking it less seriously in favor of a longer-term approach toward the 2027 World Cup, but they seem aware that the team needs change both short- and long-term.
“We’ve got a great long term coach coming in in Emma. We’ve got an outstanding short term plan and leader in Twila,” Crocker said. “Now we’ve got a young exciting roster and my message to the players is really clear: grab this shirt, be excited by this opportunity in this challenge that you’ve got, be bold and brave.”
Kilgore also made it clear that the coaching staff isn’t just in information-gathering mode, but that Olympic roster spots were actively on the line.
“I think it’s really important that I’m very clear in this,” she said. “None of the players that were left off the roster are out of the mix. We want to win, and we want to make sure that we bring the best players with us to the Olympics, and that this is just one step in making sure that we are making the right decisions moving forward.”
(Photo: Jenny Chuang/Getty Images)