Following bitter disappointment at this summer’s Olympics, the United States women’s soccer team will begin building toward a new era and the 2019 World Cup in earnest on Wednesday. The U.S. will face Switzerland in a friendly match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with a squad featuring 11 uncapped players.
The match comes two months after the 2015 World Cup winners crashed out of the Olympics in the quarterfinal stage to Sweden, ending a run of three straight gold medals. There were already signs of a new-look side emerging in last month’s friendlies against Thailand and the Netherlands. Goalkeeper Hope Solo was beginning her six-month suspension for her comments after the Sweden defeat, while fellow World Cup winner Heather O’Reilly announced her retirement from international soccer.
But the process has been dramatically accelerated for this month’s matches, which also see the team take on Switzerland again in the second match of a double-header on Sunday in Minneapolis. Coach Jill Ellis has handed opportunities to a host of new faces and has signaled that the established veterans have no room for complacency.
"I think where we eventually get to is an environment much like the rest of the world, where players get selected based on their performance [in the moment]," Ellis said ahead of Wednesday’s game. "Right now, I think we are in the exploratory phase, looking at a number of players. Does that mean some of our current players won't be in? Yes. Does it mean they are eliminated? Of course not."
A system that sees players, unlike for the men’s team, getting paid a salary by U.S. Soccer, combined with a previous lack of a flourishing domestic league has meant there has been little turnover of players in recent years. However, Ellis’ comments and selection suggest that the National Women’s Soccer League, which has just finished its fourth season, will now play an increasing role in players earning selection for the national team.
Of the 11 uncapped players, all but one, Stanford junior Andi Sullivan, currently plies their trade in the NWSL. And three of them featured in the league’s Best XI – Chicago Red Stars defender Arin Gilliland, Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai and the Western New York Flash’s Lynn Williams, who finished as the NWSL’s top scorer with 11 goals.
With qualification for the next World Cup in France not taking place until 2018, it is certainly an ideal time to take a look at new players who could make a contribution going forward.
"That's the place we're in, where we owe it to the team and the program to see what else is out there," Ellis added. "Not just see what else is out there, but give them a shot in this environment ."
The U.S. has faced Switzerland just twice previously, in 2015 and 2014, winning by three-goal margins on each occasion. Currently ranked 15th in the world, it has been a team on the rise and qualified for the World Cup for the first time last year, when it made it to the last 16 before bowing out to host Canada. The team will, though, be missing its standout player, Ramona Bachmann, because of injury.
Kickoff Time: 9 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN2
Live Stream: Watch ESPN