The U.S. Women's National Team are no slackers.
After winning the FIFA Women's World Cup back in 2015, there was only a year to prepare for the 2016 Olympics – in which the US fell to Sweden on penalty kicks. At that point, the United States made moves to make sure they wouldn't fail in their next big tournament. Fast forward to July 2019 and the moves paid off — the USWNT hoisted their fourth World Cup trophy.
The team has made headlines over the past four years. They've been knocked down, faced some stiff competition and have even gotten in political disagreements on a national level; even taking contract matters into their own hands, suing U.S. Soccer.
It's been a seismic four years and a long journey for this USWNT squad – with some huge landmarks along the way.
2018: Crystal Dunn Becomes a Left-Back
It was a head scratching move for every national team fan.
Crystal Dunn, who just barely missed the 2015 World Cup roster, was moved from her preferred attacking position to more of a defensive position. Or rather, a completely defensive position.
Despite having plenty of natural left-backs in the NWSL to choose from, head coach Jill Ellis plucked Dunn from the attack and put her into the left-back spot. She wasn't the only player Ellis did this to, also dropping Sofia Huerta into the back line only to disown her from the national team later because her club coach wouldn't play her in defence.
Dunn faced a similar situation, as Paul Riley of the North Carolina Courage kept her in midfield instead of moving her where Ellis wanted. Either way, Dunn made the World Cup roster and helped shut down players like Kadidiatou Diani of France and Ellen White of England – while adding a huge attacking threat overlapping with Megan Rapinoe.
2016-2018: Youth Finally Joins the USWNT
Hark the herald angels, Ellis finally listened and brought in younger players!
With the retirements of Shannon Box, Abby Wambach, Lori Chalupny, Lauren Holiday and Christie Pearce (Rampone) – and the forcing out of Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen and Heather O'Reilly – it was time for the USWNT to look for younger players.
Players like Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis rose to the occasion at the World Cup, with the former awarded the Bronze Ball for the tournament's third best player, also scoring the game-clinching goal against the Netherlands in the final.
Meanwhile, Mewis contested with another young player (Lindsey Horan) for a starting spot in Ellis' 4-3-3 formation midfield and won more often than not.
Looking at all the youth talent on the bench too, the USWNT has a real shot of winning another title in 2023.
2017-18: Carli Lloyd Goes to the Bench
One of Ellis' faults is that she relies on the past too much.
For example, most national teams do not call players in based on their name. If they are not performing for their club team, they don't get a call up. That's how it works on the U.S. Men's National Team (in theory), and in national teams around the world. If it went that way on the USWNT, players like Ashlyn Harris, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd wouldn't have been called up.
In the event they did – but Lloyd's capacity and time on the pitch was limited. Despite scoring three goals against Japan in the final back in 2015, Lloyd spent most of the World Cup on the bench.
She started against Chile, but other than that she entered matches as a substitute. However, that's a positive for the team. Other players were simply outperforming Lloyd, and the fact that Ellis recognised that and acted accordingly gave the attack some much-needed zing.
2019: USWNT Sues U.S. Soccer
Equal play, equal pay.
That's what the U.S. Women's National Team players are fighting for, and have evidence to back it up. Just a few months away from the World Cup, 28 members of the WNT sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. For a detailed description of the lawsuit, read ESPNW's piece.
In other countries, players who speak up against their federation are punished – it's happening right now with players in Argentina. The USWNT have been pioneers on the pitch and are now serving as leaders off the pitch, leading the way in the fight for equality.
2017: It's the Naeher Show
Hope Solo will long be revered as the most fearsome goalkeeper in the world – not just in U.S. Soccer – and was the first goalkeeper to ever reach 100 shutouts on the international stage.
However, she was essentially banished from the USWNT her off-field shenanigans – including calling Sweden 'cowards' after they knocked Solo's side out of the Olympics – became too much for U.S. Soccer to tolerate. After rotating for a while between Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris, Ellis finally decided on her new number one goalkeeper.
At 31 years old and not getting any younger, Naeher isn't the future of the team; but at times she put on a clinic at France during the World Cup. She made a big-time penalty save against Steph Houghton to protect a tight 2-1 lead in the semi-final, before keeping her first knockout clean sheet in the final, depriving the red-hot Vivianne Miedema and Lieke Martens of any opportunities.
Solo will always be the greatest goalkeeper in U.S. Women's National Team history. But, for now, Naeher is hearing less and less of her name.