The Future is Now: Why the USWNT is falling behind

An undeniable decrease in form has left the United States national team fans arguing over what, and who, to blame.

As Julie Foudy mentions in her recent article for ESPN, fans will criticize Vlatko Andonovski’s decisions, whether or not the roster is brimming with youth talent.

The Andonovski era began brightly for the Macedonian coach. A sound record and unbeatable results lead many to believe that the USWNT would continue with their winning ways.

New-old faces

Andonovski’s time as USWNT coach is characterized by “new-old” faces. Kristie Mewis, Lynn Williams and Casey Krueger received second chances after time out of the limelight under Jill Ellis.

Throughout the Andonovski era, valuable chances for young players to gain international experience dissolved. The USWNT Olympic roster had an average age of 30.8 years.

The best players in the world such as Alexia Putellas, Vivianne Miedema and Sam Kerr started professional careers well before their twenties. At 24, Rose Lavelle was coined the future of the USWNT, while Miedema, two years younger, already broke the all-time scoring record for the Netherlands.

Contrary to popular belief, the United States doesn’t lack youth talent. Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith, Jaelin Howell and Trinity Rodman are perfect examples of exceptional players under 23.

Out of these four, only Macario went to Tokyo as an alternate.

Mallory Pugh goes up against Kelley O’Hara during the 2021 NWSL Final on November 20, 2021. (Photo by Edward Metz).

The Washington Spirit — A model to emulate

It’s worth taking a look at why the Washington Spirit won the NWSL Championship this past November — an utter shock to both those who follow the NWSL and those who don’t.

The firing of Spirit head coach Richie Burke last August set off another chain reaction of abuse allegations in United States women’s football. In spite of the controversy, the Spirit thrived. The Washington DC side found themselves unbeaten since September, with everything to go for and little to lose.

Why was this? The Spirit found the perfect mix between youth and experience. Players like Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara and Aubrey Kingsbury ruled the back line as teenage sensation Trinity Rodman unleashed her potential up front. The young Spirit roster was the future of the USWNT, but the future is now.

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Transition isn’t an excuse

The US-American game relies on energy, physicality and intelligence. As the USWNT looks to the future in limbo between young and aging generations, these characteristics are nullified. This generational divide is common across international women’s football.

Teams such as Germany, France, and Spain balance this divide by continuously bringing up new players and pushing limits.

As the women’s game improves, the United States will find themselves with less and less time to waste. The collegiate system — where athletes play sports at a pre-professional level while working towards a degree — is losing relevance. As wages increase and opportunities open, the necessity for a university degree will decrease.

United States players should turn professional early, as exemplified by the Washington Spirit.

The generational divide and the time needed to integrate new players into a professional setting is an issue the United States emphasizes, only to have an excuse.

The United States mentality is world class, and that is exactly the level the USWNT should perform at no matter the age of the players on the pitch.

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