As the U.S. prepares for its three final friendlies before heading to France, the vibe around the camp has changed
For the U.S. women’s national team, training this week, on the surface, has looked the same as it always has.
Players have gathered on the field, done some jogging, stretching, and warm-up activities, getting some touches on the ball before the session began in earnest.
But there is clearly a different vibe coursing through these 23 players, because they are now locked in as the group that will go to France next month and attempt to win a second straight World Cup.
“It’s a long journey to make a roster, and the team goes through so many different phases and stages and iterations,” U.S. winger Christen Press said.
“So it’s special for us to come together, this unique group of 23, and celebrate and also begin the new journey that begins when you actually make the roster.”
Since the end of the 2016 Olympics, every player called in to the USWNT has been looking to impress Jill Ellis with the World Cup in mind. Over nearly three years, established stars have been fighting to lock down a starting role while everyone else has been doing whatever they can to get on the plane to France.
But now, the focus of every player in camp has changed.
“Between the last camp and this camp when the roster was named is the change of the phase,” Press said.
“Now in how we train the focus is slightly different because there is not the focus on making sure you’re individually making your spot. Now that that’s concluded it’s just about putting the team first.”
Of course, there are still individual battles to be fought. The 23 players in camp have their spot on the World Cup roster secured, but there are still only 11 that can start.
The difference now, though, is that even those who aren’t on the field during games will have an important part to play.
“When it comes to this team it’s about playing your role in whatever you’re asked to do,” defender Kelley O’Hara said. “Whether you’re a starter, whether you’re coming off the bench, whether you’re getting into training and being that opposition that we’re trying to prepare for, so everyone plays a role.
“At the end of the day, 23 players win a World Cup so that’s really all that matters.”
Of those 23 players, 11 are on a World Cup roster for the first time. Press says that the 12 players who have been at a World Cup – herself included – need to do whatever they can to mentally prepare the first-timers for what their experience will be like.
“The big thing that’s very special is you kind of get in this bubble while you’re there and you’re a little bit separate from the rest of the world,” Press explained.
“It’s kind of a weird thing to experience for your first time. Each world championship it does help a lot and I think it’s one of our responsibilities as veteran players to bring the younger group along and help them deal with that.”
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With the competition tougher than it’s ever been, young players and veterans alike will have to jell for the U.S. to win a record fourth World Cup.
O’Hara, for one, is confident that it will happen.
“It is definitely a bit different feeling because this is our group,” the defender said. “This is our squad and these are the people that we’re going to win a World Cup with.”