A new year, a new hope for the women’s national team. After the letdown that was 2016 (sorry, but the way the team got booted from the Olympics definitely overshadows everything else in the USWNT landscape), 2017 offers the promise of a fresh start in more ways than one. There are roster changes a-coming and the potential for a big shake up between the WNT and their soccer overlords at US Soccer. Here are three big things the WNT needs in 2017.
1. A new collective bargaining agreement
There’s been plenty said about the team’s old CBA, which eventually came to a head in a lawsuit between the team and US Soccer. As far as the writing of this article, the WNT has not reached a new CBA with US Soccer. The old CBA expires at the end of 2016.
What’s at stake in 2017? In soccer terms not a whole lot, although it might potentially affect NWSL since US Soccer pays the salaries of American allocated players who are in the league as a way to defray costs for club owners. But there are no big tournaments in 2017 (at least not ones that the Americans can participate in) and the biggest thing on the line is probably SheBelieves, a four-team mini tourno between the U.S., England, France, and Germany. Now that’s a solid little chunk of change for US Soccer; at the last SheBelieves the biggest game drew over 25k in attendance and the other two games were both midweek but still managed a respectable 13k+ each. But it’s nothing like the leverage of boycotting a World Cup or an Olympics. Still, strike isn’t quite on the table yet (even though team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn has said it’s on option) and we can hope that the team manages to make progress on a new CBA that lines up more with their salary demands.
2. An uninterrupted NWSL season
Perhaps this one sounds a bit selfish from a fan perspective, but consider that most of the WNT players have been going nonstop since qualifiers. Not Olympic qualifiers, World Cup qualifiers. That two-years-on two-years-off cycle creates a very intense period of time when most of the team doesn’t get to stay in one place longer than a few months. With nothing but SheBelieves (depending on the outcome of CBA negotiations) and some FIFA windows, this is the first season in a while that WNT players will be able to stay in their home markets for an entire season. It would behoove US Soccer to not pack every single one of those FIFA dates with an international friendly and instead give their players a chance to stay put with their teams. It gives the players some continuity and helps them build in their respective NWSL markets, and what’s good for the league ultimately comes back to benefit USSF. Hopefully they know that.
3. A real 10/an heir apparent to Ali Krieger
Perhaps this one is unfair in combining two into one, but it’s essentially asking Jill Ellis to consider finding players who are actually comfortable in the positions they’re being asked to play. The team has lacked a real string-puller since the retirement of Lauren Holiday, and they’re similarly lacking in reliable wingbacks (sorry Meghan Klingenberg and Kelley O’Hara).
The team really needs someone with vision in that 10 spot instead of relying on a patchwork combination of deep-lying and attacking mids, a combination that sometimes fails to yield results. They similarly need someone on the back line who can hold against skilled teams but has the speed to work the flanks - in fact, someone like Ali Krieger, who seems to have fallen out of favor with Ellis given she’s played in five out of the last 10 games and has started only one of them. It’s easy to see why - she’s clearly not quite as attack-minded as Klingenberg and O’Hara, and Ellis apparently wants someone on the wings who eats danger for breakfast. But neither is Krieger completely a stay-at-home defender, and she’s shown plenty of times that she can join in the attack when need be; just watch footage of her combining with Crystal Dunn. What Ellis really needs is the next generation of Ali Krieger (who, with apologies to her fans, is 32 and an outside shot to still be starting at all in 2019), someone with the defensive chops to keep things stable, but also the ability to get high and make that cross then track back without anyone exploiting the space behind her.
Those are three big things the team needs in 2017. What else should be on the wish list? Remember, Santa is watching you and knows if you deserve it or not.