The NWSL is taking a week off to allow its players to cross the globe and play for their home nations. With just two weekends left in the season, the NWSL playoff picture is mostly set. The Courage and Thorns have locked up the #1 and #2 slots in the rankings and are guaranteed home playoff games, and the Pride, Red Stars and Reign vying for the opportunity to face off against them. In place of NWSL matches, you can catch the Courage players on the national teams of the USA, Brazil, Ireland and Norway (probably).
The US Women’s National Team
Four Courage players have been named to the squad set to play against New Zealand on Friday and Tuesday:
Sam Mewis – midfield: The last year has been a huge step forward in Mewis’ career. She has been officially contracted by the USWNT, something that just one other Courage player can boast, which gives her a huge pay raise and pretty good employment security. The 24 year old midfielder can play either attacking or holding midfield, and she seems like a prime candidate to become the captain of the USWNT as her career progresses. The Tournament of Nations in June saw Mewis play a significant number of minutes, far more than I initially broadcast, while solidifying her starting spot on the team. In these two games I would expect for Mewis to play a more attacking role, as Carli Lloyd is out with a knee injury, and could give her an opportunity to rack up international goals against a woefully overmatched New Zealand side.
The 7 midfielders on the roster is deceiving about the competition that Mewis might have for playing time during these two games. Tobin Health has yet to play a single minute for the Portland Thorns this season, and is extremely unlikely to play at all during the two games. Likewise, both Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle are just coming back from injury and neither players has played a full game. Lavelle has played in just one game since the trip to Scandinavian where she hurt her hamstring. This leaves Mewis as one of the most surefire starts in a midfield that is lacking much cohesion, and I expect to see her start both games and play most of the minutes. Anything less than a combined 3 goals and assists would be a disappointment to the amazing player that Mewis is.
Abby Dahlkemper – defense: I was surprised by how much time Dahlkemper got during the Tournament of Nations, but I must have been giving Jill Ellis too little credit for recognizing talent. Dahlkemper has nearly earned her own National Team contract after being heavily featured in the Tournament of Nations at centerback alongside Sauerbrunn and Ertz. I would be surprised if she gets less than 120 minutes out of the 180 possible over the two games, but it is always possible that Ellis will want to see whether Sauerbrunn and Ertz have the same magic connection that helped the USWNT bring home the World Cup in 2015. Dahlkemper, like Mewis, is extremely young at just 24 years old and could be a mainstay of the USWNT for the next decade. While we won’t see much of her against New Zealand – the ball will probably spend much of the night on the Fern side of the field – it is always nice for the Courage to have their players earning those extra paychecks after working their asses off all season.
Taylor Smith – defense: Before the Tournament of Nations I projected that Smith was little more than a situational call-up who wouldn’t see much playing time. It happens regularly, a player will work out in camp and the coaching staff decides they don’t quite meet the requirements for hitting the pitch in an international game. Taylor Smith was the opposite, playing over 2/3rds of the minutes during the 3 game Tournament of Nations before coming back and playing a 3 game week for her club team. That kind of dedication to club and country will get you some serious props from this writer, and it’s obvious that Ellis is considering her for a long-term stint by calling her back for a second consecutive camp. Unlike Dahlkemper and Mewis, both of which seem to have cemented their USWNT status, Smith needs another good set of games to ensure she will stay in the minds of the coaches when they decide who to start at outside back during the World Cup qualifiers in 2018. There are still 2 more camps of 2017, so a pair of assists and solid defending are what Smith will hope for if she wants to join Mewis and Dahlkemper as on-field regulars for the USWNT.
Lynn Williams – forward: I really feel bad for Lynn. She went to Scandinavia with the team and got hurt before the first game kicked off, and then she sat on the sidelines for the whole Tournament of Nations, getting little more than a few token minutes at the end of one game. Lynn isn’t a bad player, but when you’re competing with Press, Morgan, Dunn and Pugh it’s hard to find much playing time. Adding to this issue, Sofia Huerta has also been added to the team, although she might play at outside back instead of playing forward like she does for the Red Stars.
I would love to see Lynn get significant playing time during one of the two games, but I really think Ellis is trying to decide which pair from Dunn, Morgan and Press will provide the most attacking power for the team. Lynn does a lot of things right, especially on a team tailored for her skills like the Courage are, but I don’t think she fits well into this particular USWNT. That may change in the future and she is already a contracted player, but I hate to see her go to camp and repeatedly get left out of the lineup.
The Rest of the Internationals
Debinha – forward: While Debinha has fallen out of Paul Riley’s good graces, she still plays an important part for Brazil and she always get huge applause for her early-season heroics from the crowds at Sahlen’s Stadium. Brazil will face off against Australia on Friday and Tuesday, but we Americans will probably have difficulty catching the games. If finding a broadcast of women’s soccer from overseas wasn’t hard enough, the Friday game will be at 1 am Eastern and the Tuesday game will be in a brutal 5:30 am timeslot. I will be trying to catch the game tonight, but I have no ambitions of being up and hour before normal to fight with international soccer streams. I wish Debinha the best of luck, though, and will be reporting on her successes.
Nora Holstad Berge and Denise O’Sullivan won’t play until Tuesday. I’ll have an update before then, assuming their team websites are correct.