Backline Chat: USWNT Roster, Lyon, and Where Will Press Go?


Welcome to a new feature here at Backline: our weekly soccer chat. This week, we discussed the new USWNT roster, Lyon’s victory in the Champions League, and the continuing saga of Christen Press’s club situation. 

The transcript below has been lightly edited.

Charles Olney (@olneyce) : Welcome everyone, to our first edition of the Backline Soccer chat. To kick things off, let’s start with the most recent piece of news: the roster for the US Women’s National Team, which just dropped an hour or two ago. What from this roster strikes people as worth discussing? McCall Zerboni getting a callup? Christen Press coming back in after missing the last set of friendlies? The lack of a single natural fullback in the squad?

Alanna Fairbairn (@jfhobbit): I was a little surprised to see Campbell left off the GK list, honestly. The Dash has been the Dash for most of the season, but she’s kept them in striking distance in a lot of games.

Charles Olney: Campbell does feel like a big omission. It’s hard to look at her and Harris, for example, and explain the difference. I’m certainly excited to see Casey Murphy on the list, though, given the issues that all the other big names have been having.

RJ Allen (@TheSoccerCritic): I think the lack of experienced outside backs worries me most. The center backs are all real center backs. The outside backs are not.

Alanna Fairbairn: Yeah, the defense list was a head-scratcher

Tyler Nguyen (@tdn_): Do we think that Ellis just sees no fullbacks in the NWSL for her to choose from? Is anyone an obvious miss?

Alanna Fairbairn: I think all the fullbacks in the NWSL that have seen looks for the National Team have been exiled from the lists for one reason or another; Hinkle, Krieger, etc

RJ Allen: With Short and O’Hara out I think Ellis is less picking real replacements and more just shrugging her shoulders.

Charles Olney: I do think that the fullback pool is pretty weak right now. Looking at other options, Hinkle and Krieger are the two names that certainly leap out for me. Obviously, there are reasons why both might not get the call, but if you’re not going to take them, I’m not sure who else is really making a case for themselves.

Tyler Nguyen: Last season I would have said Gilliland is the obvious miss, but something’s up with her form this year. Good to see Purce get called up but she’s not really the finished product yet.

RJ Allen: I see no reason to call Krieger in at this point. Ellis has made it clear that Krieger’s time moving forward with the national team is done. Calling her up now to be a stopgap just takes the slot away from a player she might more likely take to the WWC in 2019.

Alanna Fairbairn: I see some reason to call Klingenberg, even with the fitness issues that she has. At least she’s experienced and would work well with Heath on the left side.

Charles Olney: Gilliland would be an interesting pick. Ellis has never seemed too enthusiastic about her, and her performances this year have been a little hit or miss. But when on, she’s been very good.

RJ Allen: Do we think Kristie Mewis would have gotten a look at outside back later in the year?

Tyler Nguyen: Oof. Too soon.

Alanna Fairbairn: I don’t think her play at outside back was anything to write home about. She didn’t really blossom until she was put up in the attacking formation

RJ Allen: Mewis was better than Huerta at outside back. (edited)

Charles Olney: Mewis (and Gilliland, et al) does raise the larger question of where this team stands in terms of depth. Ellis very clearly has strong opinions about a lot of players, and while we’ve seen a lot more movement in and out of the marginal slots recently, there do seem to be a batch of players that she simply thinks of as B/B+ players, and no matter how good their form, she just doesn’t buy them as national teamers. Do people think that’s a fair characterization? If so, is that a problem? Or just a quirk?

Tyler Nguyen: It does seem like Ellis hasn’t really ever accepted that players on the national team could just be role players.

RJ Allen: I really think Ellis is holding out hope that O’Hara and Short recover and are fine by next year. She doesn’t seem to really be testing out reasonable people for any new position, much less outside back.

Alanna Fairbairn: I think it’s a problem if they get zero looks at all on the international level. If they get called up and can’t hang, that’s one thing. If they’re prejudged without a call-up that’s an issue. But I also agree with RJ. She seems set on her lineup and these call-ups are just stopgaps until her Chosen Ones recover.

RJ Allen: Talent scouting is part of the job though. As much as I don’t always agree with the ones who are called up you can’t call up everyone in the set up the USWNT has.

Charles Olney: Let’s put this another way. Imagine that Ellis had to step away and you were put in charge of the team. What would you be doing differently in terms of personnel right now?

RJ Allen: Does cutting Carli Lloyd count?

Charles Olney: Sure does

RJ Allen: I really think Ellis is holding on to players that she shouldn’t. Lloyd being one of them. They don’t have the hold on her that someone like a Wambach, Boxx or Pearce had. But I think some of her thoughts are stuck in 2015.

Charles Olney: My approach would be to pretty radically shift things. My feeling is: China at this point isn’t dangerous enough to pose a serious threat to the best US squad, and we’re nowhere close to the World Cup yet. I’d take the chance to blood a bunch of new folks, try out young players that could fill in depth positions, or who might still grow into realistic first choice players a year from now. The Tournament of Nations is coming up and will give us plenty of time to see the first XI play together. Right now, let’s see the kids play, and give the vets a little bit of rest.

RJ Allen: I think this far in to the cycle is not the idea time to try out a bunch of people. I wouldn’t do that until after 2020 but I get why you would want to now. I agree some vets need the rest though.

Becky Schoenecker (@Beckster20): I would start with goalkeeping and shake that up a bit. I would have also called in different players, but I would use this time to like Charles said radically switch things up, but specifically with the keepers.

Alanna Fairbairn: I would kick Allie Long to the curb. I feel like she’s proved that while she’s spectacular in the league, she doesn’t provide much in any position for the NT except *maybe* forward, and we already have tons of those.

RJ Allen: I think Zerboni can do all Long can and a bunch of things she can’t. Long I think has the benefit of being willing to do whatever she is asked. She seems to have no problem playing wherever Ellis wants her.

Charles Olney: I’ve been a Long-skeptic for quite a while, and I generally agree with Alanna. But it would be pretty strange to cut her right now, when she’s playing about as well as I think she’s ever played. I’m not convinced it will last, but at least for the moment, Long is pretty clearly one of the best US midfielders.

RJ Allen: At a club level. Not at a USWNT level.

Charles Olney: I’m not convinced there’s a difference

RJ Allen: Not against China, no. Against England it is.

Becky Schoenecker: Long won’t lose a game for the US, I think she’s a safe roster position until some others step up.

Tyler Nguyen: Midfield for me is not a huge concern area at the moment. I think that US Soccer needs to better decide what they want from their fullbacks. It seems like the main objective is for them to be able to run the line all game, but they’re also expected to contribute to attack and there just isn’t talent out there to do both of those things on both sides of the field. The turnover at fullback in the past year or so has been pretty absurd

Charles Olney: Agree, Tyler.

RJ Allen: The only spots where I am pretty worry-free is centerback and forward. I think the three centerbacks are perfect and we have enough forward talent to make up for a lot of the midfield issues.

Charles Olney: Alright, I think there’s still plenty of national team conversation for us to have, but we’ll certainly have time to cover some of those issues over the next few weeks. For now, why don’t we turn to a different topic: the Champions League.

Lyon defeated Wolfsburg last week in a pretty peculiar game that saw very little action for 90 minutes and then all hell breaking loose as soon as extra time hit. Let’s talk for a bit about the game. How do people feel about the result?

Tyler Nguyen: Lyon are so stacked. Van De Sanden was the best player on the field and OL only brought her on after extra time started.

RJ Allen: I think the Champions League shows why most of the clubs don’t care about their regular club season.

Charles Olney: I get what you’re saying RJ, but I think that’s an exaggeration. Lyon is the exception who doesn’t have to worry about their domestic league. Most of the other big teams have serious competition.

RJ Allen: I am going to be called out for this – I’ll owe it – but I think the CL really contributes to the European leagues being so weak.

Charles Olney: We’ll need to bring on Chloe for a conversation soon, but I think there’s more depth in most of the European leagues than is often credited. Certainly, the attitude and structure of the leagues (and focus on Champions League as the height of competition) creates a system with less parity, but the mid-tier teams in England are still pretty good. The French league strikes me as the huge exception, and I wonder how much of that is driven by peculiarities of the French developmental system.

RJ Allen: I don’t see the English league as very strong. Though they just did a reshuffle on it.

Tyler Nguyen: Lots of players in the NWSL also go to the English leagues and vice versa so it should be pretty easy to compare the two. Look at Crystal Dunn and Nadia Nadim, two players who both swapped the two leagues recently. Both look like they’re more or less the same player.

Charles Olney: If anything, Dunn has been better on both sides of her time in England.

RJ Allen: I think a lot of the top teams might get a win against an NWSL side but over a 24 game season I don’t think any would beat the likes of Orlando, NCC, Portland, Seattle, Utah, Houston week in and week out the way they win games over there.

Charles Olney: Okay, so let’s take that back to Lyon for a second. I think it’s generally accepted that they’re the best in the world. But let’s have fun speculating a bit. How would they do if they were in the NWSL? I think it’s safe to say that they’d win the Shield, but by how much? Would it be close? What percentage chance would you give them to win the title?

RJ Allen: At best they would be maybe 3rd. At worst 6th. I don’t think they win the shield or get close.

Tyler Nguyen: I think the hardest part for Lyon would be cutting their roster down to 20. But I’d back them to get a home playoff spot and then crush the playoffs.

Alanna Fairbairn: I would say the same as Tyler. They just have so much pure talent and I don’t think most of the NWSL has the defensive lines needed to contain them

RJ Allen: Look, maybe I am crazy and maybe I’m not. But super teams don’t often do well in this league. It is really hard to play week in and week out against the other teams in the league and 1) keep everyone healthy 2) keep everyone happy and 3) not get complacent.

Charles Olney: I think those are all fair points. But I also think that Lyon’s second XI would be a playoff team in the NWSL. They’re just ridiculously stacked

RJ Allen: I am unimpressed with them as a team. They have a lot of great parts but I think the sum is weaker than the parts. But would I take Ada Hegerberg to play on any team in the league? Yes.

Charles Olney: I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that point. But maybe another way to think about things would be to reverse the question. What if some of the top NWSL teams were in Europe? How would North Carolina and Portland do if they were in the Champions League this year? Would North Carolina win the WSL in England?

RJ Allen: I think Orlando, Seattle or NCC would do very well over in Europe. And without the same salary cap I think a lot of the coaches would have a blast pulling in a few more key players.

Alanna Fairbairn: I think Portland would strive to match Lyon for a stacked roster if they didn’t have the salary cap, which would definitely help them compete

Charles Olney: I think the point about roster limits and salary caps is important. But, of course, this is the whole reason why the NWSL is as balanced as it is. A Portland that didn’t have to deal with roster restrictions would really just be Lyon 2.0, wouldn’t it?

RJ Allen: Which would make the league weaker as a whole because it would create an imbalance that a lot of teams, money or not, wouldn’t be able to overcome. This is why I am a strong advocate for the leagues being more balanced and having tighter rules in place to keep it that way.

Charles Olney: Alright. One final topic for this week: Where in the world is Christen Press going to end up? Some news came out today suggesting that Göteborg might not be willing, or able, to cover the cost of her contract when it’s up in a few weeks. She has been good in Sweden—unsurprisingly—but the team is doing poorly, and it seems like they might be wondering whether the investment is worth it. That said, it doesn’t seem like any of the issues that led to her going to Sweden in the first place have really been resolved. Houston still owns her rights and doesn’t appear particularly inclined to negotiate.

So, the question: where do people think Press is in September? Back in the NWSL? Still in Sweden? Signed with a big European team in one of the top leagues?

RJ Allen: I think Mewis being hurt is going to force Houston’s hand. They need help and she is their biggest chip right now.

Alanna Fairbairn: I think it’s a matter of how stupid Houston’s front office is going to be about it. Or how stubborn, maybe is a better way to put it. I do not think she’s going to end up in Houston, no matter how much they may want her. They need to understand that, and get some serious value for her

Becky Schoenecker: I doubt she’ll end up in Houston, but I would like her to. I think they have a chance to get to the playoffs, which was a bit unthinkable at the beginning of the year. With Mewis out they need a Press to have any chance now I think.

Alanna Fairbairn: Houston already dealt with Carli Lloyd not really wanting to play there, I don’t really want them to have another unhappy star. It’s not a good look, and it doesn’t do anyone really any good.

Tyler Nguyen: Houston definitely feels like they need some value right now but I still don’t really see a trade out there that they’d be willing to accept. I don’t actually think Houston should play Press since their forward line looks so good at the moment. You want to bench Prince or Daly right now?

Charles Olney: If Press wanted to play for Houston, I think she’d actually slot in fairly well. She and Daly would play off each other well, and Press would alleviate some of the problems they have holding possession through the middle. But I agree: she’s almost certainly never kicking a ball for the Dash, so there’s not much point in speculating.

Becky Schoenecker: Which team could use her the most/would be willing to trade for her?

RJ Allen: I’d really like Press to go to Utah. I think she and ARod could make some magic happen and it would even things out. But I don’t know what Utah could give up for her. Seattle has pieces the Dash could use but they want a NT player, or they did, so unless they want to give up Long I don’t see it.

Charles Olney: I agree with RJ that Press would fit extremely well into the Utah system, but it’s hard to see what deal Houston would be willing to accept. One consideration: Heather O’Reilly is finished in England and Utah has her rights. It’s hard to see her being willing to go to Houston, either, but I have wondered whether a three-way deal could be possible that would send O’Reilly somewhere else.

RJ Allen: To be fair HAO doesn’t have to be willing. Houston just has to think she is.

Alanna Fairbairn: If O’Reilly were hypothetically willing to play in Houston, I would cry with happiness. I don’t know that they would be able to woo her, but she would help so much.

RJ Allen: Draft picks I would think. Or an extra international slot.

Charles Olney: If you were Houston, would you do a straight swap of Press for HAO (assuming you got some confirmation that she’d actually be willing to play for you)? I would.

Alanna Fairbairn: In a heartbeat.

Becky Schoenecker: Absolutely. I think HAO would fit in to their team much better as well.

RJ Allen: Assuming she was willing I think they would want HAO and a draft pick or something.

Alanna Fairbairn: I think it’s not just a talent thing either. HAO strikes me as the type of person who would fit in well with the ethos Pauw is trying to implement

Charles Olney: So it’s settled. HAO for Press. Both teams get better, and the we all get to watch some great players come back to the league. It’s a win for everyone.

RJ Allen: The other thing is that if Houston doesn’t trade her I’m not sure they get anything. The NWSL might have offered them something if LA gets a team and she’s moved there but there is no guarantee they will.

Charles Olney: That’s the other big question mark. If they expect to get decent value there, then it really might make sense to just hold her rights and wait for the payout. If all they’ll get is a draft pick or something, then it’s a pretty bad idea to give up a good trade chit when you could extract real value from Seattle/Utah/etc.

Tyler Nguyen: Last from me: I really want Houston to lean into their role of scrappy underdog team where players who just haven’t worked out on other teams prove their value. But it doesn’t seem like their front office really knows what their identity as a team is.

Charles Olney: Absolutely. Given how well the team has managed to do in terms of results, there’s a real chance to wipe away a lot of the bad taste from previous bungling. It’s just a matter of actually getting it done.

Image courtesy of Steph Nacho
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