After a year full of learning experiences for the U.S. women's national team, the four-time Women's World Cup winners are closing out 2023 fully focused on applying those lessons.
The USWNT eyes a resurgence after a squad loaded with veterans exited this year's Women's World Cup in the round of 16, and has seemingly already identified the main approach to get there -- freshening up the player pool. The roster for the final camp of the year may include 13 members of the World Cup team, but a youthful rebuild is well and truly underway.
While the team awaits Emma Hayes' May arrival, interim head coach Twila Kilgore is working with a youth-focused roster for the final games of the year. Only one outfield player -- defender Casey Krueger -- is over the age of 30, while 12 players had 20 or fewer caps at the start of camp and eight of the starters in the USWNT's 3-0 win over China on Saturday were 29 and under.
Introducing new players to the fray is hardly the only item on the USWNT's agenda for the rebuild, though. New tactical ideas were on display on Saturday with the hope of addressing some longstanding problems, and the same will likely be the case when the Americans finish out their two-match series against China on Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.
Here are three keys before the game.
1. A formation change pays dividents
After spending much of the last year and change in a 4-3-3, Kilgore trotted out a 3-4-3 on Saturday. Naomi Girma was in the center of that back three, but next to two new partners -- Emily Fox, playing a more reserved role than she did at the World Cup, and Abby Dahlkemper for her first cap in more than 500 days following her recovery from back surgery. Krueger and Trinity Rodman took over the flanks, while a cast of familiar faces filled in the rest of the lineup.
The results were impressive. The group appeared more fluid and managed to overwhelm China's defensive early and often, allowing them to rediscover the attacking flair that the USWNT has been synonymous with throughout the team's history. They boasted 65% of possession and posted 22 shots throughout the game, and overall created an ideal scenario for their own success.
Time will tell if this is a go-to formation or just one of many the USWNT will consult in the foreseeable future. The 3-4-3 is a lineup that Hayes uses frequently at Chelsea, but the manager is known more for her tactical pragmatism than a preferred formation, so expect Kilgore and Hayes to tinker when the situation calls for it.
2. Despite goals, USWNT still wasteful up top
The USWNT may have some new faces and some new tactics on display, but one thing is still plaguing the team -- a lack of sharpness in attack. An offensive group led by Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman put 11 shots of their 20 shots on target, but went into the first half with only a 1-0 lead despite the clear ability to score a lot more.
The team dealt with the same problem at the World Cup, where they racked up shots but could not find the back of the net after their second group stage game against the Netherlands. The USWNT averaged 19.62 shots per game, third amongst all the teams at the World Cup, but put just 32.9% on target and ranked 13th in that category. The team also underperformed on their expected goals tally of 9.3 with just four goals.
Saturday's performance indicates that the team is capable of delivering the goods in attack, much like the veterans that filled in some of the attacking roles at the World Cup. The wasteful performance did not cost them on Saturday, but will need to be a habit they fix in time for Paris to ensure the ghosts of Australia and New Zealand do not come back to haunt them.
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3. New faces continue to make a mark
Kilgore's eagerness in playing uncapped or inexperienced players is arguably the most exciting part of the quick turnaround between the World Cup and the Olympics, and this camp is no exception. NWSL rookie of the year Jenna Nighswonger and 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie became the latest players in the post-World Cup period to pick up their first caps, and 20-year-old Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Korbin Albert could be next as the last uncapped player on the team.
Equally as exciting, though, is that the USWNT's rebuild includes veteran players that have been on the bubble over the last few years, but very much could play a part in the immediate future. Players like Krueger and Dahlkemper, the latter of whom was a crucial member of the team's 2019 World Cup victory, exemplify that and demonstrated their credentials on Saturday. That was especially true for Krueger, who excelled as an attack-minded right back and was active in an offense-minded game plan.
The same is also true for Margaret Purce, who is weeks removed from her MVP performance in the NWSL Championship. She came on as a substitute and did much of the heavy lifting on Rodman's goal as she skillfully outmaneuvered an opponent before allowing Mia Fishel to assist the goalscorer.
A mix of veteran talent and younger players will likely be the way forward for the USWNT heading into Paris and beyond, but a chance to rediscover those who have solidly delivered at the club level could be a unique way to freshen up the squad and deliver in the short term.
- Date: Tuesday, Dec. 5
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- Place: Toyota Stadium -- Frisco, Texas
- TV: TruTV
- Stream: MAX