Tracking the Courage During the FIFA Break

 

The USWNT won the 2015 World Cup in Canada, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse for the NWSL. On the positive side, the victory drove an increase in interest and attendance for the league. Americans across the country learned that they could watch those world champion players in person for about $20 without travelling around the country. The only problem was that none of the players were in much of a hurry to get back to their club teams when they could just spend time on talk shows and riding through the streets of NYC on floats. Lacking significant foresight into the conflict, the NWSL scheduled regular season games right through the World Cup, meaning that all of the best and most popular players weren’t actually there for the fans to see. For about 6 weeks of the season the players were absent (although they tended to come back at different times), something that frustrated fans trying to see their newly crowned champs.

The 2016 schedule was better, as the NWSL tried to learn from their mistakes and schedule the season around the Olympics in Brazil. The league took a 3 week break during the Olympics with 20 of the greatest players missing from their clubs. The USWNT crashed out of the Olympics in their earliest defeat in team history, but that didn’t stop a few players (Carli Lloyd being the most surprising) from taking their time returning home to their clubs from Brazil. The one notable exception here was Ali Krieger, who decided to come back from Brazil as soon as her team was eliminated to join the Washington Spirit in their game before the Olympic finals were concluded.

With all of this history behind us we come upon the first empty weekend in the NWSL, set aside so that the best players in the league can embark on a diaspora to rejoin their countries around the world. The Courage have a number of internationals that will be playing in games away from the United States this weekend in case you are itching for some soccer to follow during our break.

US Women’s National Team

  • @ Sweden – Thurs. June 8th, 1:30 pm
  • @ Norway – Sun. June 11th, 1:15 pm

Abby Dahlkemper (D) – After the loss to Sweden in the 2016 Olympics, US coach Jill Ellis decided to switch from a 4-back defensive scheme to a 3-back. Thus far the transition has been an absolute disaster, most notably earning the worst defeat in a decade when the US was beaten by France at RFK Stadium in March (I had the pleasure of watching us get destroyed in the pouring rain). Dahlkemper has been exceptional in Paul Riley’s 3-back, and Jill Ellis will likely give our star defender significant minutes next to Becky Sauerbrunn in the back.

Jaelene Hinkle (D) – Jae won’t be playing a strictly defensive role in the 3-back, instead she will be one of the defensive midfield wingers, expected to play wide and push the ball up the side of the field (the exact same position she plays for the Courage). Hinkle has gotten multiple call-ups and some playing time with the USWNT, but she hasn’t made a significant impact. She has shown enough improvement with the Courage this season to earn a trip to Scandinavia, but I wouldn’t expect her to get more than ~60-90 minutes of game time across the two games unless she impresses Ellis in camp.

Samantha Mewis (M) – Mewis has earned lots of playing time recently, but she is competing with a stacked midfield going forward. The fact that Tobin Heath and Morgan Brian are out with injuries means that Mewis should be given nearly two full games of playing time to convince Ellis that she is strong enough to beat out the other midfield stars (Horan, Long, Lavelle, Lloyd and Rapinoe in the future). Her passing accuracy will be something to keep an eye on in these two games.

Lynn Williams (F) – Lynn was originally left off of the roster because Ellis is bound by the CBA to give Sydney Leroux a shot coming back from her maternity leave. When Alex Morgan suffered a second hamstring injury Williams won her spot back amongst the powerhouse American fowards. It is not a stretch to say that the USWNT has the strongest attacking lineup in the world, and Williams might struggle to earn playing time with Dunn, Press, Pugh and Leroux (and Morgan when she returns to full health) competing with her. That said, she had world class speed and her ball handling has improved significantly over the last two seasons, so she might be able to earn a long term spot when compared directly with these other players.

 

U-23 US Women’s National Team

  • Open Nordic Tournament (all games are in Sweden)
  • vs Norway – Tues. June 6th
  • vs England – Fri. June 9th
  • @ Sweden – Mon. June 12th

Ashley Hatch (F) – Hatch was set to leave on June 1st for her tournament in Sweden, but instead she stayed behind to start her first game and score her first goal both in the same NWSL game. The dynamic forward will likely earn about two games worth of playing time across the three game tournament, but watching any of these games will be difficult as they aren’t has high-profile as the Senior National Team games. She is good enough to play in the best professional league in the world, so she should have success when she steps on the field.

 

Brazilian Women’s National Team

  • @ Spain – Sat. June 10th
  • @ Iceland – Mon. June 12th

Debhina (M) – While the odds of finding a way to watch these games legally in the states seems quite low, that is no less reason to support our players abroad. Debhina has scored 21 goals in 54 caps for the Brazilian WNT, and will likely get an opportunity to add to that total during her break from scoring goals for the Courage. Spain and Iceland are both strong European sides, and playing two games so far apart in such a short period of time will be tough. I wouldn’t be surprised if she only played in one of the games.

Rosana (M) – Rosana has played in 112 games for her nation, but it seems like her days are waning. At 34 years old she is no longer a staple of the national squad, although she did play against Bolivia in April. Rosana will not be playing in Europe on this trip, but her efforts for Brazil should be recognized.

Canadian Women’s National Team

  • vs Costa Rica – Thurs. June 8th, 8:30 pm
  • vs Costa Rica – Sun. June 11th, 2:00 pm

Sabrina D’Angelo (K) – D’Angelo is stuck in a crowded squad for Canada where she will be battling with Stephanie Labbe (Washington Spirit) and Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue FC) for starts. My feelings are that Canada sees Sheridan as the keeper of the future for the team while Labbe stands as more of the present day starter. This really leaves D’Angelo as the odd woman out, and I think she will probably just get 45 minutes of play during the two games if she isn’t held out entirely. You can probably find a way to watch these games on CBC if they interest you, and while you will see lots of players your recognize from the NWSL you will likely need to look at the bench for their only Courage player.

 

Other Internationals

Yuri Kawamura (D) – Yuri won’t be playing with her Japanese teammates due to an ACL tear that will also keep her out of the rest of the NWSL season. We are wishing her a speedy recovery.

Abby Erceg (D) – Erceg, the most capped player in New Zealand women’s soccer history with 131 appearances, retired from her national team and burned the bridges behind her in February of 2017 when she roasted her nation’s handling of women’s soccer. Even if she were still with the Ferns it doesn’t look like they will be playing this weekend.

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