The U.S. women’s soccer team began its next era this week by unveiling a 22-player roster for a two-game tour of Australia that starts at the end of this month.
Five of the players have never played for the national team, and a further six have 10 or fewer caps. Just one player, captain Becky Sauerbrunn, is older than 30.
That group includes forwards Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage), Margaret Purce (Gotham FC) and Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns); midfielders Catarina Macario (France’s Lyon) and Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit); and centerbacks Alana Cook (OL Reign of Tacoma, Wash.) and Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars).
They’re all well-known to regular followers of the national team, but they aren’t yet household names among casual fans. The time for that to change has arrived.
“They have potential to be on the  World Cup team, and I think that’s the best motivation they can have,” U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski said in a news conference after the roster was announced.
The forward corps includes three of this year’s top four scorers in the NWSL: Washington’s Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch (11 goals), Purce (9), and the Reign’s Bethany Balcer. It also includes the Portland Thorns’ Morgan Weaver, who brings a high-energy playing style as a winger or central striker.
“Even though it’s an inexperienced front line, we still feel comfortable with where they’re at,” Andonovski said. “There are not many opportunities to build that experience. And with losing a year because of COVID in the preparation for the  World Cup, we’re going to have to expedite this process a little bit.”
In the midfield, it will be interesting to see how Andonovski deploys Ashley Sanchez, a former U.S. youth nation team phenom who’s now in her second year as a pro. She has often played as a forward or winger, but Andonovski sees her as an attacking midfielder with this group.
“The fact that she is versatile is only positive,” Andonovski said. “But as of right now, we see her as one of the attacking midfielders for us, in tight areas — in areas where she is, I think, very good at that and can solve problems for us.”
On the back line, a lot of eyes will be on OL Reign’s Sofia Huerta, who’s likely to see playing time at right back. Can she play well enough to give competition to Kelley O’Hara, the Americans’ starting right back for the last few years who opted out of the trip because of family obligations — and who will turn 35 during the next World Cup?
There will also be questions at goalkeeper. Of the three netminders called in, Jane Campbell (Houston Dash) is the only one who has played for the senior U.S. national team — and just seven times. Bella Bixby (Portland) and Casey Murphy (North Carolina) have been superb in NWSL games, including Murphy making 13 saves in a first-round playoff game at Washington on Sunday.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to put those young goalkeepers in a tough and challenging environment, and to put them through some adversity and see how they deal with it,” Andonovski said. “I think that Australia’s an incredible team, they’re playing at home, long travel, with lots of fans. We’ll find out very fast who’s cut for big games under pressure.”
As for the notable omissions, they aren’t just the veteran players from the Olympic team. Andonovski said he invited Chicago Red Stars winger Mallory Pugh, who played on the 2016 Olympic team, and Washington Spirit 19-year-old phenom forward Trinity Rodman, but both players “opted out for this camp.” He added that they will be in the U.S. team’s next training camp in January.
Andonovski also passed on Gotham FC right back Caprice Dydasco, though he hinted that she could get a call to the January camp. That decision will be made after the U.S. team gets back from Australia.
The games down under will take place at Sydney’s 83,500-seat Stadium Australia (the 2000 Olympics’ home) on Nov. 26, at 11 p.m. ET on FS2 (Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. local time); and Nov. 30 at Newcastle’s 33,000-seat McDonald Jones Stadium at 4 a.m. ET on ESPN (8 p.m. local time).
It will be the U.S. team’s first visit to Australia since the 2000 Olympics. The traveling group will depart after the Nov. 20 NWSL championship game, and arrive in time for a round of COVID-19 tests and some practices after everyone is cleared. Australian law mandates that the entire delegation must be fully vaccinated.
Goalkeepers (3): Bella Bixby (Portland Thorns), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
Defenders (7): Alana Cook (OL Reign), Abby Dahlkemper (Houston Dash), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)
Midfielders (6): Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Catarina Macario (Lyon, France), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)
Forwards (6): Bethany Balcer (OL Reign), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Margaret Purce (Gotham FC), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage), Morgan Weaver (Portland Thorns)