USWNT January Camp is here: What’s in store for 2018?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 19: Julie Ertz of the USA celebrates after scoring a goal with Alex Morgan of the USA against the Korea Republic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 19: Julie Ertz of the USA celebrates after scoring a goal with Alex Morgan of the USA against the Korea Republic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The USWNT reported for the first training camp of the new year, and with the FIFA Women’s World Cup just a year away, 2018 will be a huge test.

The first U.S. women’s national soccer team training camp of the year is underway in Carson, California. Video of defender Emily Sonnett smashing the notorious beep test has been circulating, and fresh faces from the top NCAA division 1 programs have been spotted on the training ground. USWNT head coach Jilll Ellis called 26 players into the 15-day camp which kicked-off on Jan. 6 and will run through Jan. 21. The final day of camp will be highlighted by a match against Denmark at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium. After 2017 presented its fair share of challenges for the USWNT — flash back to the SheBelieves Cup and a string of under-performances in friendlies — 2018 welcomes a fresh start.

Of the players called in to camp, 22 earned a cap with the USWNT team last year, but the roster is still bolstered by youthful talent, with 14 of the 26 players earning just 33 caps or fewer. Enough with the stats that you can find on U.S. Soccer’s website; the point is there’s a lot to be excited about with this team.

All aboard the Julie Ertz and Alex Morgan train …

Whatever midfielder Ertz and forward Morgan have for breakfast every morning, I suggest we all toss out our frosted flakes and pulpy OJ for that. Ertz earned the honor as U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year in December after dominating the defensive midfield position for the WNT in 2017. Ertz is still known by many as a center-back, mainly because of her lockdown defensive performance throughout the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. However, with a new name on her back and a new positional shift up the field, Ertz is cruising and there’s no doubt the 2018 WNT will rely heavily on her midfield presence.

Speaking of cruising, Morgan comes to camp on a run of seven goals in the last seven games for the WNT. Morgan has 80 international goals and is arguably playing the best soccer of her career. Assuming she stays healthy, her ability to score from what seem like impossible angles will be a key to setting the U.S. up for a successful year.

Next: Alex Morgan: The year that was

Fresh off the school bus

Two of the uncapped players on the roster are coming off their college seasons. Graduating senior Savannah McCaskill joins the USWNT from University of South Carolina, where she led the Gamecocks to the College Cup and finished the season with eight goals and nine assists. McCaskill is registered for the National Women’s Soccer League’s (NWSL) 2018 College Draft and will likely go No. 2.

Tierna Davidson is the second uncapped player called into January camp. Davidson, a sophomore defender for the Stanford Cardinal, helped her team win the 2017 National Championship. Although Andi Sullivan has very much made her mark and earned her caps for the national team, Sullivan is another face fresh off the school bus. Sullivan and Davidson both played for Stanford this season, helping the program earn a second national title. Sullivan is likely to get picked first overall in the upcoming NWSL draft.

A foundation stands strong

Ellis, and all of U.S. Soccer, has made it clear investing in younger players is the move of the new year, and with the addition of these newcomers, mixed in with a roster still very much dominated by youth, camp will be an important step in building the foundation for the year.

Still, there’s a solid foundation here. While the roster is decorated with a few new faces there are also a few that have worn red, white and blue proudly for years. *Cue Carli Lloyd’s fan club.* Maybe its the new year making me emotional, but it’s slightly insane to think that Lloyd has played 246 games with the USWNT and is the most capped player. At 35 years old, she may not hold the starting spot in the midfield like she once did, but her course with the USWNT shows the success of the women’s team’s cycle.

Three years ago, Lloyd was at the pinnacle of her career. Now her role is slightly different and that’s okay. She came off the bench throughout 2017 and gave the USWNT the spark necessary to finish those late goals. She should have a similar role this year, coming off the bench to add a spark, and some valuable experience, late in games.

After the opening match against Denmark at the end of the month, the USWNT will be tested against world No. 2 Germany, No. 6 France and No. 3 England for the SheBelieves Cup. The USWNT won the inaugural tournament in 2016, but last year it was France who stole the show. Redemption is an understatement, and from the looks of camp so far, the USWNT are hungry to change the course of the new year.