USWNT rebuild begins in earnest: Alex Morgan, other vets left off latest roster

The long-overdue rebuild of the U.S. women's national team will begin, or at least accelerate, later this month.

The USWNT will gather in South Florida for a week-long training camp, then friendlies against China on Dec. 2 and Dec. 5, and it won't look like the USWNT that fans have come to know (and love, but also bemoan).

Alex Morgan won't be present. Nor will Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn and Andi Sullivan. With Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz retiring, in all, 10 players from the USWNT's 2023 World Cup roster have been omitted from this November-December roster — for a variety of reasons.

Some, like Morgan and Alyssa Naeher, will still contend for roster spots at the 2024 Olympics. But they hogged playing time at their positions — striker and goalkeeper, respectively — for so long that succession planning became difficult. A camp without them will grant opportunity to youngsters or understudies. It will also allow for something of a clean slate, a blank canvas on which new ideas can be sketched and new partnerships can flourish.

It remains unclear how many of those ideas will come from Emma Hayes, the USWNT's incoming head coach. It remains unclear whether Hayes, still under contract with Chelsea through May, will even be in Florida. It's also unclear how much of the rebuild, between now and May, will actually be hers.

But she contributed to what U.S. Soccer on Monday called an "overall strategy and plan" for the coming months and years. Her boss, sporting director Matt Crocker, is overseeing the plan. Her soon-to-be assistant, Twila Kilgore, will implement it as the interim coach. U.S. Soccer said in a news release that Kilgore "chose the roster as part of" this strategy and plan, which now must take hold on an expedited timeline.

The federation largely wasted its first two camps after the infamous 2023 World Cup. In September and October, it was still searching for a coach, and treading water, at Crocker's directive, calling in all healthy World Cup veterans.

The vast majority of those veterans, though, are known quantities. They did not, and do not need their umpteenth friendly appearances.

The coaching staff, on the other hand, does need to see Sophia Smith at striker and Jaedyn Shaw anywhere. They need to see Sam Coffey and Olivia Moultrie in midfield. They need to see Jenna Nighswonger, the 2023 NWSL rookie of the year, and Korbin Albert, a 20-year-old who's been starting for PSG in the Champions League and in France.

So, Kilgore called in Nighswonger and Albert, plus four others who had not been capped prior to the World Cup (Shaw, Moultrie, Mia Fishel and M.A. Vignola).

She did not call in Kristie Mewis and Ashley Sanchez, nor Kelley O'Hara and Sofia Huerta. (Those four, plus Rapinoe, Ertz, Morgan, Dunn, Sullivan and Naeher, are the 10 World Cup players who aren't included.)

Catarina Macario and Mal Swanson, meanwhile, have still not recovered from long-term injuries. But Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper have; Dahlkemper, a 2019 World Cup starter, will return to the national team for the first time since April 2022.

The only puzzling part, however, is that there isn't more turnover. Any training camp needs veteran presence, of course, but many of the non-World Cup invitees — such as 28-year-old Ashley Hatch — are also known quantities.

But the moral of the story is that the USWNT player pool became far too narrow under the previous coach, Vlatko Andonovski. It will have to expand, quickly, to recover from years of mismanagement.

The full 26-player roster is below.

USWNT roster for December friendlies vs. China

Goalkeepers (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)

Defenders (7): Alana Cook (OL Reign), Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars), M.A. Vignola (Angel City)

Midfielders (8): Korbin Albert (Paris Saint-Germain), Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns), Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville), Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Olivia Moultrie (Portland Thorns), Jenna Nighswonger (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign)

Forwards (8): Mia Fishel (Chelsea), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Alyssa Thompson (Angel City), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC)

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