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United States Women's National Team prepares for December friendlies with China

Three uncapped players highlight interim coach Twila Kilgore's first United States Women's National Team squad to face China in two friendly matches in early December.

Most USWNT fans are looking forward to current Chelsea FC head coach Emma Hayes beginning her tenure ahead of the 2024 Olympics, but in the meantime, those watching can get a sense of the players Hayes will consider picking for her squads.

The Stars and Stripes are ranked third in the FIFA women's rankings while China, winners of the 2022 Asian Cup, are 15th.

The two nations first played in 1986, and they clashed in the 1999 Women's World Cup Final, which the US won. The United States has won 36 of its 58 meetings with China, while China has won nine times and they have drawn 13 times.

After a disappointing World Cup earlier this year, some USWNT players are fighting for their spots while others will try to stake a claim for regular call-ups.

Click here for more about US Soccer's appointment of Emma Hayes as USWNT coach.

USWNT vs China information

WhenGame 1: 3 PM ET, Sunday, December 2
Game 2: 8 PM ET, Tuesday, December 5
WhereGame 1: DRV PNK Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Game 2: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
How to watchGame 1: TNT, Max, Peacock
Game 2: TruTV, Max, Peacock

Veterans make way for new faces

A USWNT squad without Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, and Kelley O'Hara. Some fans will be asking where the time went, while others will say it's been time for the old guard to make way for the next generation.

Rapinoe, O'Hara, and Ertz have all retired while Morgan and Dunn were not called up. Catarina Macario, the 24-year-old forward who plays for Hayes at Chelsea, was not called up as she continues rehabilitating the torn ACL injury she suffered last year.

A handful of uncapped players are in the squad. First is Olivia Moultrie, the 18-year-old playmaker who debuted in NWSL at 15 and has been part of USWNT camps this year.

Players who have never been involved with the senior team until now are Paris Saint-Germain's 20-year-old midfielder Korbin Albert and 23-year-old Gotham FC midfielder and 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year Jenna Nighswonger.

Another eight players have single-digit appearances for the USWNT: goalkeepers Jane Campbell and Aubrey Kingsbury, defender M.A. Vignola, midfielders Sam Coffey and Savannah DeMelo, and attackers Mia Fishel, Jaedyn Shaw, and Alyssa Thompson. The oldest non-goalkeepers on that list are Vignola and DeMelo at 25.

A new-look defense

One thing that the USWNT needs to figure out is its shape, starting in defense.

In the World Cup, then-head coach Vlatko Andonovski used defensive midfielder Julie Ertz at center back ahead of natural defenders Alana Cook or Tierna Davidson, and he played midfielder/winger Crystal Dunn at left back. The two starting defenders from the World Cup who will likely hold their spots are center back Naomi Girma and right back Emily Fox.

With three right-footed players down the left flank during the World Cup (Dunn, left-center midfielder Lindsay Horan, and left winger Sophia Smith), it was hard for the USWNT to create unpredictable attacking patterns on that side of the pitch since all three players wanted to move onto their right foot.

The presence of Angel City FC defender Vignola in the squad answers that issue. As a left-footed player who has played left back since college, she will provide width and create space toward the center of the pitch for an inverted left winger like Smith to move into.

Who fills out the midfield?

Another issue during the World Cup was the defensive midfield position behind forward-thinking midfielders Rose Lavelle and captain Horan. A new call-up could fill that role for years to come.

Sam Coffey provided eight assists with most coming from deep midfield for the Portland Thorns this past season, good enough to be a finalist for the league's MVP Award. Her passing draws the most headlines, and for good reason since she ranks in the top third of all NWSL midfielders in almost every passing stat on FBRef, and she ranks in the 90th percentile or better in assists, long passes completed, crosses, passes into the final third, and shot-creating actions from set pieces.

But it's her tackling that might be most valuable to the USWNT. This past NWSL season, she won 2.16 tackles per game and recovered the ball 8.5 times per game, good for the 95th and 76th percentiles respectively.

When you consider her 1.56 interceptions per game (86th percentile) and how she tackled 55 percent of the dribblers who took her on (90th percentile), she looks like a prototypical midfielder who can impact a game in a bunch of ways.

If Kilgore wants Coffey to play a more defensive game, she could bring Coffey's club teammate Moultrie into midfield to provide the creative spark. 

Moultrie started in just 11 of her 21 appearances for the Thorns and often played with Coffey. Moultrie scored twice and provided three assists, and she ranked in the 85th percentile or higher in these per-90-minutes stats: assists, expected assists, shots on target, expected goals, key passes, through balls, and shot-creating actions.

Goals by committee?

Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan became some of the most famous women's soccer players - and female athletes in general - thanks to their free-scoring exploits with the USWNT on the world's biggest stages.

Those three legends each averaged more than one goal in every two games. But now that Morgan appears to be past her prime after creating 3.1 expected goals and scoring none in the World Cup, the USWNT needs to find goals.

One positive is that this USWNT squad has three of the NWSL's top five goalscorers: Golden Boot winner Smith, Ashley Hatch, and Lynn Williams. None of those three have reached the 0.5 goals per 90 minutes that the aforementioned legends have, and the two players who have reached that metric - Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel - each have one goal in two appearances.

Smith scored 11 goals in 1,283 NWSL minutes in 2023, which equates to a goal every 117 minutes. But she played in the notoriously end-to-end NWSL where opportunities open up thanks to the parity of all the teams, meaning she still needs to adjust to the low-block defenses that have held her to 14 goals in 36 USWNT caps.

Beyond the personnel decisions, the USWNT needs to learn how to break down low-block defenses, which was one of the reasons they crashed out in the World Cup round of 16.

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