Thursday, February 29, 2024

Mallory Swanson returns to USWNT as training player ahead of W Gold Cup

United States women’s national team coach Twila Kilgore has named her 23-player roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, with three additional practice players set to participate in pre-tournament camp, including forward Mallory Swanson. This will be Swanson’s official return to the national team after recovering from a torn patella tendon last April.

“Evil will come and be Evil. We’re excited to have her back in the camp environment,” Kilgore said. “We know that in everything Mal does, she brings a very high level of professionalism and a high level of execution. We think she’s absolutely ready to take the step and she’s just a really important leader on this team.

The squad is largely unchanged from the 2023 team’s final friendlies against China in December, with the notable returns of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (who could win her 100th cap at the Gold Cup) and defender Crystal Dunn. Notable absences from this camp are veterans Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan, who were not on the December roster.

“We have quite a few players that are not in camp that we are still looking at and evaluating for the Olympics. No one is left out. This goes for some of our biggest names. This goes for the lesser names we follow. We want to get it right,” Kilgore said. “As far as Alex is concerned – I guess that goes for everyone who isn’t here – whatever happens in the Gold Cup will matter going forward and whatever happens outside of it Gold Cup will be important in the future.”

In a new twist after a busy NWSL offseason, NJ/NY Gotham FC now leads the way in NWSL representation with seven players: defenders Dunn, Tierna Davidson and Jenna Nighswonger; midfielders Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett; and forwards Midge Purce and Lynn Williams. Since the last USWNT roster, six players have signed with new clubs.

Midfielder Savannah DeMelo and defender Gisele Thompson are the other two non-roster players who will train with the USWNT. Gisele Thompson, the younger sister of striker Alyssa Thompson, recently signed with Angel City FC and earned her first senior team call-up. Even if it’s limited to the training environment, the nod is another positive sign for Gisele Thompson as she builds on her junior national team experience.

“It’s just a good opportunity for Gisele to get a first-hand look at what the environment is really like,” Kilgore said. “Obviously she’s starting her career in the NWSL, so she has a lot of firsts, but I think that’s an important part of her understanding what she’s working toward.”

Guardians (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (8): Alana Cook (Seattle Reign FC), Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave FC), Crystal Dunn ((NY/NJ Gotham FC) Tierna Davidson (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Emily Fox (Arsenal), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC) ), Casey Krueger (Washington Spirit), Jenna Nighswonger (NY/NJ Gotham FC)

Midfield (6): Korbin Albert (PSG), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Olympique de Lyon), Rose Lavelle (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Olivia Moultrie (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (NJ/NY Gotham FC)

Attackers (6): Mia Fishel (Chelsea FC), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave FC), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC)

How to watch the Gold Cup

The first W Gold Cup brings together 12 teams, eight from CONCACAF and four invited nations: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. In the United States, CBS holds the rights to the tournament, with every match available on Paramount+.

The USWNT will play all three group stage matches at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. All matches will begin at 7:15 p.m. PT/10:15 p.m. ET:

  • against Guyana/Dominican Republic (winner of the preliminary match), Tuesday February 20
  • against Argentina, Friday February 23
  • against Mexico, Monday February 26

The 12 teams are divided into three groups of four. The top two from each group, plus the top two third-placed teams (eight teams in total) advance to the quarterfinals at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. The quarter-finals will be distributed according to the results, with 1 against 8, 2 against 7, etc.

The four winners will travel to San Diego and Snapdragon Stadium for the semi-finals and final, with the tournament concluding on March 10.

“Not only is there a trophy on the line, but it is a great opportunity to capitalize on significant match opportunities and experience the short turnaround times between matches, which is a pace that closely mirrors the Olympic format,” he said. Kilgore said in the press release.

The games are significant, but they are also the first of the year. The team will likely treat this as an extended preseason and that should be the biggest takeaway; If they qualify for the final, that’s a lot of time together on the training pitches and minutes of play earned. It probably won’t be the prettiest games, but it will still be a lot of data for everyone, including new head coach Emma Hayes. The delicate balance Kilgore and the team will have to achieve is recognizing the pressure of this impending Olympic team while trying new tactics and combinations.

Forward momentum

Fishel and Shaw scored their first USWNT senior team goals last year. (Photo by Brad Smith, Getty Images for USSF)

Everyone (including me) was rightly excited about the squads for the December friendlies. Seeing continuity between the two camps isn’t that surprising, but what’s more exciting is the chance to see players like Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel become expected names on a USWNT roster — and candidates to start as well.

If there’s one thing that will unite everyone in excitement, it’s seeing Swanson move closer to a full return to the national team. Before his injury last April, Swanson was in electric form. Despite his extended absence, Swanson led the team in goals (7) last year. There’s no need to push her back until after the Olympics since everyone involved with the USWNT already knows exactly what she brings to the mix, so allowing her to get back into shape via the NWSL is the right thing to do.

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I wrote after the December friendlies that the team achieved victories not “perfectly, but in a way that told us something about the direction and immediate future of the project before the Olympics “. These matches were also relatively quiet, with smaller numbers of spectators and limited media coverage.

But we are now in an Olympic year. It’s not quite the same year as a World Cup year, and the players still have a few months to step out of the spotlight. When Emma Hayes arrives, all bets are off. For now, the Gold Cup could be important in putting the little things in order.

(Photo: Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

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