Even in a globally recognized USA women’s national team roster filled with prominent superstars and world champions, older peers can sometimes seem a bit odd to their younger peers.
“Some of the songs they play [what] They’re all listening, I have no idea what they are. “They sound like… what my parents hear,” said Sophia Smith, 22, who was once hit hard by older gamers for not knowing a song by ’90s rapper Tupac. “Or they talk. about the technology they had, like the CD.”
Smith, a forward for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, has never used a CD player. She has also never been to a World Cup.
Ditto (at least in terms of the international tournament) for 23-year-old Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave. In preparation for her first-ever World Cup, the aspiring centre-back found it amusing that when young, veteran Alex Morgan used Mapquest, a website popular in the early 2000s for printable directions, to travel.
“We were joking about MapQuest… she pulled out the actual map to get to the games,” Girma said, laughing.
Sometimes confused by those older than her — Smith admitted she “won’t watch a movie that’s ‘grainy’,” seemingly referring to a time before the advent of HD broadcast — both Smith and Girma represent a broader youth movement for the USWNT.
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Of the 23 players traveling to the World Cup, which begins July 20 in Australia and New Zealand, a whopping 14 will be taking part in the tournament for the first time. Of those 14, half are 25 or younger, meaning successive winners will rely on the exuberance of youth rather than the wisdom of experience.
In the 2019 competition, the USWNT had eleven debutants, up from just eight in 2015. Both teams also had fewer players aged 25 or younger.
With the goal of capturing an unprecedented third straight world title and fifth overall title, manager Vlatko Andonovski and his players met with media representatives in Carson, California earlier this month to discuss the presence of young talent in their roster, the key veterans who will guide them. The main aim is to create and maintain a connection between the generations.
Find common ground in the field
18-year-old Angel City FC winger Alyssa Thompson, the youngest name on the USWNT roster, finds it surreal that she gets to be a teammate of their heroes.
“I can’t believe I’m playing with players I’ve looked up to my entire life,” said the teenager, who was selected first overall in the NWSL draft just months earlier – the first No. Pick to be selected at all from high school.
Thompson, who could become one of the possible stars of the World Cup, was just 17 when she made her USWNT debut in a 2-1 friendly loss to England last October. Thompson recalls being in awe of the soccer stars around her at her first camp with the national team.
“When I came in, every single player was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s her in real life,'” she said of her thoughts on training with the best in the country. “With every single player, I literally thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m here.'”
Although Thompson also admitted that she found it a little odd that some of her teammates grew up without cellphones, she didn’t seem to notice much of a difference between everyone once the ball was in play.
“You can’t really see that on the pitch.”
Smith agreed, noting that building trust comes naturally.
“You come into this environment and it’s so intense and so difficult. I think you have no choice but to rely on and rely on your teammates,” the Thorns star said of building connections, regardless of age. “We also spend so much time together in these camps. It’s every day. You just get to know each other. I think we all have a common goal and that connects us and brings us together.”
A large part of this unity is thanks to the openness and support of their experienced teammates.
For Trinity Rodman, a 21-year-old Washington Spirit forward, a prominent figure like 37-year-old Megan Rapinoe has been a key source of advice ahead of the World Cup.
“I’ve talked to Pinoe a lot and she’s just really open to being realistic and not sugarcoating anything for me,” Rodman said. “She says it’s a test and the main thing she told me is that you’re here for a reason, isn’t it, and if you deviate from that you won’t perform as you want. ” “
Morgan, who competed in the Worlds three times along with Rapinoe and Kelley O’Hara, was also a key mentor to the younger group of players.
“Alex takes me under her wing every day at camp, helping me and explaining things to me,” Smith said. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to my whole life. Playing with her now is the best thing ever and I can just watch her go through life and learn from it as I train every day.”
The children are more than fine: “They are really damn good”
There’s one important but very, very obvious caveat with many of the unusual USWNT names: they’re incredible soccer players.
“I’m not worried about inexperience,” said Andonovski. “In fact, I’m amazed by the energy and enthusiasm that the young players bring, by the intensity and drive. … I think that will be one of our advantages.”
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Girma, who is expected to be one of the USWNT’s two central defenders, scooped the NWSL’s 2022 Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year awards. Smith, a likely name in Andonovski’s XI on one of the wings, contributed to the lead as Portland won the NWSL championship last season while also earning the league’s MVP honors. A strong option on the USWNT right wing for minutes, Rodman was the 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year. Just 18 years old, Thompson is already scooping up accolades, having recently been named NWSL Rookie of the Month for March-April.
“We have a lot of people going through their first World Cup but they’re doing really damn well,” said midfielder Rose Lavelle, 28. “So I have all the confidence in the world that they will be up to this challenge.”
Players in their mid-20s awaiting their World Cup debuts, such as full-back Emily Fox, defender Alana Cook and midfielders Savannah DeMelo and Ashley Sanchez, are also part of a broader generational shift. For Cook, the OL Reign defender doesn’t think there will be any problems with the national team’s transition thanks to bosses who steered it in the right direction.
“This team has always been through cycles and changes and I think the incredible legacy of our older players is that they made sure everyone behind them and around them is ready. I think it’s always a next-woman system when the time comes. “When it’s your turn, you have to be ready,” Cook said. “Having younger players coming in is not a bad thing. I think it’s just a testament to how hard the veterans worked to make sure the things we have, the culture, the work ethic, the tactics, are ingrained in all of us.”
Preserve a legacy
When you look at the veterans, you get the feeling that they are maintaining and developing the leadership of the national team over their predecessors. O’Hara, preparing for her fourth World Championship, recalls the impact former USWNT players had in the early days of her international career.
“I feel like I had really great teammates around me who were veterans when I came on this team, Abby Wambach, Heather Mitts and even Lauren Cheney.” [Holiday]”She’s only a year older than me, but she’s been on the team for a while,” O’Hara said. “I’ve always tried [help] to make every newcomer feel welcome, comfortable, because you have to be able to feel that way to be your best self.”
Midfielder Lindsey Horan, one of USWNT’s leaders, took inspiration from Becky Sauerbrunn, the longtime captain who was ruled out of this summer’s tournament last month after suffering a foot injury sustained in April.
“She’s my first call or text, and what she’s doing on the field and what she’s done for me in Portland, it’s just like I’m following her lead and I want to be that role model for her.” “Young people are coming and the new players are here,” Horan said. “I try to be the best role model and voice for these young players whenever they need advice or questions.”
This impression left also goes far beyond the borders of the field.
For years, USWNT players have clashed with US soccer over its demands for equal pay and better working conditions. After a gender discrimination lawsuit was filed in 2019, the case was settled in February 2022 and players were awarded a $22 million lump sum payment. Months later, they agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that provided for an equal split of World Cup awards between the USWNT and the US men’s national team.
“We just got our first settlement check [from U.S. Soccer] in the mail a week ago,” Morgan said last week. “Naomi joked that she didn’t get one and I was like, ‘Be thankful you’re just the same.'”
Older co-workers can seem a bit odd in the eyes of their younger co-workers, but there’s no denying that they know a little more about the job. And don’t make the mistake of assuming some of the USWNT veterans are contactless retirees.
“My goodness. Don’t make me age,” Crystal Dunn said when asked how she could connect with someone as young as Thompson. “I’m still cool and hip, that’s what I try to tell all my teammates. … I have a kid and all of a sudden people are like, ‘Oh, have you heard about TikTok, Crystal?’”