The final USWNT matches of 2023 will bring more fresh faces and different looks. Primarily that freshness comes in the form of 20-year-old Korbin Albert (left) and 22-year-old Jenna Nighswonger (right), who have been called into their first-ever senior national team camps by interim head coach Twila Kilgore.
“I think this roster denotes a new chapter and I think that is really important,” Kilgore told the media on Monday about the complexion of the 26-player roster named for the upcoming China friendlies.
“[We wanted to] get more players in and get some evaluations in a quicker period of time whether that is in training or in games. It gives every opportunity for each of them to show us why they're here, that they can win, they can be brave … that they want to be here for the long term.”
Albert is considered one of the best players to ever have put on a University of Notre Dame jersey. After two successful seasons in South Bend, where the midfielder scored 28 goals in 44 matches and was named a MAC Hermann Trophy top-3 finalist, she signed a contract with French club Paris Saint Germain in January 2023.
Over in France, Albert has quickly adapted to life in the D1 Arkema and UEFA Champions League. Whether in a deeper defensive midfield role, or a box-to-box “No. 8” type, she has barely missed a match for Les Parisiennes. With the USA looking for fresh ideas and tempo in the midfield, a lack of experience should not limit Albert’s opportunities.
Few players have looked so assured playing at the professional level for the first time as Nighswonger. She played in 17 of 22 matches and was named the 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year on route to winning the championship with Gotham FC this past season.
Known for her long-range passing skills on her left foot, Nighswonger came into the league as an attacking midfielder who had been one of the most exciting goal-creators in the NCAA for Florida State University.
Curiously, Gotham head coach Juan Carlos Amoros opted to deploy her as a left back. The move didn’t stop Nighswonger from excelling and she was able to adapt her skills to the new position seamlessly. The Southern California native has been listed as a midfielder on the USA roster. So, for now, she should be seen as another weapon for Kilgore to boost the sluggish position group.
“Jenna [Nighswonger] has come off a great club season, I talk to Juan [Carlos Amoros] pretty regularly,” said Kilgore. “She has a strong history as midfielder ... she played as a “six” for me in the [USWNT] U-20s, her strength is her versatility.”
The uncapped duo is not the only change to the USA roster for the upcoming home December friendlies against China. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell is back for the first time since 2022; while the vastly experienced defender Abby Dahlkemper is also available having recouped from a long-term injury layoff that kept her away from national team duty for nearly two years.
Rounding out the faces who did not play on the most recent USWNT roster are Tierna Davidson, who narrowly missed out on a place at the 2023 World Cup, and Rose Lavelle, who after playing a part for the USWNT in Australia and New Zealand has struggled for fitness throughout 2023.
After their worst-ever finish at a World Cup, the USWNT is closing out the year with a welcome sense of renewal. As the seasons change, and leaves fall across the country, so too does the make-up of the national team continue to evolve.
Dahlkemper returns. It has been 19 months since the 30-year-old Dahlkemper (photo above) last put on a USA jersey. The 2019 World Cup winner’s long injury absence began after she fractured her ribs while playing for San Diego Wave FC in May 2022. Then, in September that same season, she started having back spasms.
After attempting to play through the pain, Dahlkemper was diagnosed with a stress fracture known as spondylolysis. That meant the center back needed to have surgery, which kept her off the field from October 2022 until August 2023.
“I feel like as athletes, we know our bodies so well, and I just knew something wasn’t right.” Dahlkemper said on the Snacks podcast, which is co-hosted by Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, in September 2023.
“I was obviously so scared to get surgery and I didn’t really know what they would find when they went in there, but I was like, I need to get this not only for my career and livelihood, but also for my life after soccer.”
Dahlkemper made her return to soccer with the Wave in August 2023, and scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win over the Orlando Pride on her third match back. It was the first time she had found the back of the net in the NWSL since 2016.
With Dalhkemper in the lineup, the Wave went an undefeated 4-0-1, notched three shutouts and averaged just 0.4 goals against per match. After claiming the NWSL Shield, San Diego was bounced out of the playoffs at the semifinal stage via a 1-0 defeat to OL Reign. Dalhkemper played 90 minutes in all six matches.
Known quantities absent. There’s a handful of notable USWNT veterans who, after a long NWSL season, and grueling World Cup, have been left out of this international window. These are primarily players that Kilgore, and USSF Sporting Director Matt Crocker, already know plenty about.
The players missing out are goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, defenders Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn, Sofia Huerta, midfielders Ashley Sanchez and Andi Sullivan, and finally Alex Morgan. “None of the players left off the roster are out of the mix. This is just one step in making the right decision moving forward,” Kilgore said about the notable veteran absences from this roster.
Kilgore stated that she spoke to every single player who were on the previous USWNT roster personally, and told them the exact reasons why they are not on this roster. These absences, while notable, and in some cases understandable, are not necessarily permanent. This December window is clearly about experimentation. But how long-term these fresh ideas will be is unclear.
Short-term, long-term. With the news that Chelsea’s Emma Hayes will become the head coach of the USWNT after the end of the WSL season, there were plenty of questions to be asked about how Kilgore steers this team in the short-term, without Hayes, and what the overall plan is for the long-term, when Hayes takes the reins.
How much influence will Hayes have on the roster and how can she affect the team’s growth prior to her arrival?
Well, Kilgore was adamant that she feels “empowered” to develop this team while Hayes cannot be in total control. But also admitted there will be some collaboration between now and summer 2024, when Hayes takes over the team ahead of the Olympics.
“Matt and Emma trust me to move the team forward…it’s a very collaborative process,” said Kilgore.
“Obviously, I need to be conscious and aware Emma is in a full-time job right now. ... I have the ability to reach out to her any time. She’ll make time for me. In terms of the roster. ... I was able to share my ideas with Emma and she shared her ideas with me. We picked this roster collaboratively.”
Crocker also backed this “collaborative” approach and said on Monday that starting today both Kilgore and Hayes will have input to shape the USWNT. He insisted this means revolutionizing the team's style of play. In particular “breaking down a low block” and developing a progressive attacking possession style.
“We want the team to be bold and brave and dynamic going forward ... we feel the team can develop that with both Emma and Twila,” said Crocker. “The collaboration process begins now. Led on a day to day basis by Twila, but with the ability to tap into Emma’s skills moving forward. I’m really excited for the potential for change, for the Olympics and beyond. You can see now we have a young and exciting roster. I want them to grab this shirt and be excited by the chance they have got.”
In addition to Albert and Nighswonger’s inclusion in the December window, there’s already a bright young attacking core that is ready to implement the USSF’s desired makeover.
The 19-year-old Jaedyn Shaw and 22-year-old Mia Fishel (photo above) were the breakout stars of the October friendlies against Colombia. There is also the 18-year-old Olivia Moultrie, coming off an impressive year with the Portland Thorns, who could be another to chomping at the bit to make an impact in the USA’s new-look midfield.
Player (club) caps/goals (age)
Jane Campbell (Houston Dash) 7/0 (28)
*Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit) 1/0 (31)
*Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage) 16/0 (27)
*Alana Cook (OL Reign) 29/1 (26)
Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave FC) 79/0 (30)
Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars) 50/1 (25)
*Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage) 37/1 (25)
*Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave) 24/0 (23)
Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars) 41/0 (33)
M.A. Vignola (Angel City FC) 1/0 (25)
Korbin Albert (Paris Saint-Germain, FRA) 0/0 (20)
Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns) 5/0 (24)
*Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC) 6/0 (25)
*Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA) 137/30 (29)
Olivia Moultrie (Portland Thorns FC) 0/0 (18)
*Rose Lavelle (OL Reign) 91/24 (28)
Jenna Nighswonger (NJ/NY Gotham FC) 0/0 (22)
*Emily Sonnett (OL Reing) 81/2 (29)
Mia Fishel (Chelsea FC, ENG) 2/1 (22)
Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit) 21/5 (28)
Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC) 24/4 (28)
*Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit) 26/6 (21)
Jaedyn Shaw (San Diego Wave FC) 2/1 (19)
*Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC) 36/14 (23)
*Alyssa Thompson (Angel City FC) 8/0 (19)
*Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC) 58/17 (30)
*Members of USA's 2023 World Cup squad.
• USA-China, Saturday, Dec. 2 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (3 pm ET) TNT, MAX, Telemundo, Universo and Peacock.
• USA-China, Tuesday, Dec. 5 in Frisco, Texas (8 pm ET) on truTV, MAX, Universo, Peacock