Abby Dahlkemper: “The experience we get during our time here is just invaluable.” (Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
A much younger version of the U.S. women’s national team that we know and love will play in Australia this week and next.
Thirteen players have 10 caps or less and six are hoping to make their international debut when the Americans play in Sydney and Newcastle.
It should not come as a surprise that U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski is ready to throw some, perhaps all, into the deep end of the pool to see how they fare against one of the top international sides in the world.
The first encounter will take place at Stadium Australia in Sydney on Saturday, Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. local time (Friday, Nov. 26 at 11 p.m. ET on FS2) and the second will be at the McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 8:05 p.m. local time (4:05 a.m. ET on ESPN).
“This was not a coincidence,” he said via a Zoom press conference Wednesday night. We wanted to test [them] right off the bat. We wanted to test the players that are in this environment now against some of the best players and we wanted to test them in such an adversity that we’re going to have here traveling, long travel jetlag after a long NWSL year against a great team, 40,000 people at the at the stadium. I think that very, very quickly into the game we’ll find out who’s cut out for this and who’s not.”
The uncapped players include goalkeepers Bella Bixby (Portland Thorns) and Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), defender Imani Dorsey (NJ/NY Gotham FC), midfielder Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit) and forward Bethan Balcer (OL Reign) and Morgan Weaver (Portland Thorns).
For those players, it is an opportunity of a lifetime. After all, you don’t get a second opportunity to make a first impression.
“Anytime you get called into camp, you have to take advantage of that and continue to learn,” center back Abby Dahlkemper said. “It’s really refreshing seeing so many players have such great years in the league [National Women’s Soccer League] and getting rewarded for that. I think the future is very bright, and but we can’t look past.
“Obviously, we have to qualify for the World Cup first, but these games are very important. If we qualify for the World Cup, you very well could be seeing a lot of these players that are in camp in 2023 down here in Australia. It’s really important, it’s going to be really tough. Two games against a very good side and Australia. So we can’t take these games lightly at all. … The experience we get during our time here is just invaluable.”
Dorsey was added to the team on Nov. 15, increasing the roster to 23 players.
“We felt like Imani has done well in the in the league,” Andonovski said. “She has proved that that she’s definitely someone that deserves a look, or if at the very least deserves to experience this environment or get a taste of this environment a little bit more.”
Andonovski added that defender Emily Fox was not 100 percent fit, “so we should want to have another option at that spot.”
Outside of the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics, it has been rare for the USWNT to travel outside the country to play. Given the various restrictions and protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those opportunities have been even more sparse the past 18 months.
So, the two matches down under will allow the players, particularly the newcomers, gain more vital experience on another continent. The 2023 WWC is co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.
“It is important that we that we travel outside of the country,” Andonovski said. “We experience a little bit of adversity, and we experience an environment where the opponents have that advantage or have that support. I think that that it’s important that not just we experienced something like that, but we experience it in a venue or in the country. That will be one of the hosts for the next big event or the World Cup 2023.
“Hopefully in the future, we’re going to be able to do that a little bit more often; or more often than we were in the last 18 months or so. And I think it is important and especially for players that have never been on they’ve never experienced something like that before.”