Does the USWNT’s W Gold Cup roster announcement signal a sign of the times?

Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara celebrate at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship. Photo Courtesy of Brad Smith/ISIPhotos.

By Allyn Tucker

Boston University News Service

Ahead of the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup, which features the best of women’s soccer from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, the United States Women’s National Team announced its 23 player roster on Wednesday. 

The W Gold Cup, which kicks off on Feb. 20, shows CONCACAF’s, or the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, growing commitment to the women’s game. The men’s edition of the tournament began over three decades ago in 1991, and the introduction of the W tournament brings the biggest CONCACAF commercial event to women’s soccer

The roster announcement was greatly anticipated: it not only signals new head coach Emma Hayes’ preferences, which were yet to be seen before this roster, but also allows media and spectators to predict the Olympic roster choices. Though the roster features many long-time locks and a couple breakout National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) stars, there is one group of women missing from the roster; the veterans, a category often used to refer to the Women’s World Cup class of 2015.

Big names including captain Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Alyssa Naeher and Naomi Girma, the current core of the USWNT, were predictably selected for the tournament. Another unsurprising group of players is the youngsters: Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Jaedyn Shaw. Some of the NWSL’s greatest performers, players like Lynn Williams and Margaret (Midge) Purce who have been underutilized by the USWNT in the past, also got the shout. Missing due to their return from injury, star forward Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario are expected to rejoin the player pool in the upcoming months. Swanson will join the USWNT as a training player ahead of the W Gold Cup.

With all of this current and upcoming talent, the future of the USWNT is bright. With the effort of interim head coach Twila Kilgore and the help of the incoming Emma Hayes, the disconnected team who crashed out of the 2023 World Cup in the round of 16 is nowhere to be found. Also nowhere to be found, though, are some of the biggest names in the sport.

The retirements of legends Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz signified the beginning of the end for some of the longest-tenured women from the World Cup roster, but, for players including Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara, the journey was meant to continue. Morgan, who co-captained the team only six months ago, and O’Hara, who’s World Cup leadership and stability was heavily praised, saw their names left off of the past two USWNT rosters, including the W Gold Cup roster. Becky Sauerbrunn, who was held back from the World Cup due to injury, also hasn’t made her anticipated national team return.

There is one of two explanations for the lack of veteran presence on Hayes’ USWNT: the incoming coach, who begins her tenure in May, is either moving away from the veterans in favor of the leadership of the core group and the talent of the youngsters, or she is asking Kilgore to give her a viewing of younger and more inexperienced players. The second option, practiced by almost every coach new to a group of players, is certainly more likely. 

Only 18 players are named to the Olympic roster every four years, opposed to the 23 at the Word Cup and other international tournaments. This small number has forced coaches to cut incredible players from the tournament since women’s football was added to the Olympic Games in 1996. No matter the American group that travels to Paris this summer, fans and former players alike will be hoping for a refreshed showing that mimics the team’s past success.

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