By Alex Holmes
We all know Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn, three veterans who are leading the USWNT into its first camp of 2021. But how well do you know the players who are just a few caps old or still in search of their first? Ahead of the team’s match with Colombia (Monday, January 18, 7 P.M. on FS1), let’s get acquainted with several of the January camp players who might have flown under the radar until now.
Queen of the NWSL Draft: Emily Fox – 3 caps
Her name might be fresh on the minds of soccer fans, as Fox was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NWSL Draft and will take her talents to Racing Louisville FC. Fox is no stranger to the senior team. She played in two friendlies against Scotland and Portugal at the end of 2018 and was battle-tested against a very strong France side in early 2019.
Her biggest strength? Speed. Arguably the fastest player in the college game, Fox can get up and down the field at will, making dangerous flanking runs into the attacking third. She brings tremendous ball control and a high soccer IQ as well. Should she earn playing time in the next few weeks, look for her to make an immediate impact.
Miss Harvard: Margaret “Midge” Purce – 2 caps
Purce graduated from Harvard. If that isn’t impressive enough, consider that while maintaining a career as a professional soccer player, Purce also successfully ran for a position on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, a prestigious and venerable governing body whose members are elected by Harvard alumni.
After graduating in 2017, the Boston Breakers selected Purce in the first round of the NWSL draft that same year. She went on to play for Portland and is currently with Sky Blue FC. She earned her first cap in November 2019 against Costa Rica and most recently made an appearance against the Netherlands last November. Do not be fooled by her label as a defender on the roster—Purce scored 42 goals during her college days.
Lioness, Stars and Stripes, Les Rouge et Bleu: Alana Cook — 1 cap
Alana Cook might have the most intriguing soccer resume on the U.S. roster. Thanks to her father’s English citizenship, Cook is eligible to play with the English national team. She donned the Lioness jersey in September 2019 and played in friendlies against Portugal and Brazil. Just one month later, Cook made her first appearance with the USWNT, starting and playing the full 90 minutes against Costa Rica.
Cook has also had success with Paris Saint-Germain and recently extended her contract with the top-tier French team to 2023. The former Stanford All-American will add depth to an already stacked U.S. defense.
A long history for a young player: Jaelin Howell – 1 cap
At 21 years old, Howell is the second-youngest player on the roster, just ahead of 20-year-old Sophia Smith. Although she is one of the youngest at this month’s camp, she has been here before.
Howell earned her first cap last November against the Netherlands, after replacing Lindsey Horan, who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the trip. Her first call up to the senior team came in 2017, the same year she was a finalist for U.S. Soccer Youth Player of the Year.
Howell, a junior at Florida State, did not register for the NWSL Draft and seems to be planning for one last run at a national championship with the Seminoles. Her stellar college career includes the 2018 NCAA National Championship, the 2020 ACC Midfielder of the Year award and All-ACC accolades for each season she has spent in Tallahassee.
Post ‘99: Sophia Smith – 1 cap
Sophia Smith became the first player born in the 2000s to earn a cap with the USWNT in her senior team debut against the Netherlands. At 20 years old, Smith is the youngest player on the roster, but has experience playing in multiple youth World Cups. She was also the first teenager drafted into the NWSL, with the Portland Thorns selecting her as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Smith’s speed up top will remind fans of Mallory Pugh. She is strong on the ball and will cause many problems for opposing backlines. Keep an eye on her ability to find space and finish shots.
Stepping between the pipes: Aubrey Bledsoe – no caps
The goalkeeping position briefly opened after Hope Solo’s departure in 2016, but since then the goalkeeper pool has consisted of Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris, Jane Campbell and Adrianna Franch. Now, Aubrey Bledsoe adds her name to the mix. The 29-year-old Washington Spirit keeper will need to make a strong impression on head coach Vlatko Andonovski in order to crack the starting eleven behind Naeher, Harris, and Campbell.
Don’t be surprised when that moment comes. Bledsoe is a terrific shot-stopper and has a commanding presence on the field. This is Bledsoe’s third straight call up. She led Washington to a quarterfinal finish in last summer’s Challenge Cup. The former Wake Forest standout also has experience playing professionally in Norway and Denmark.
Eligible at last: Catarina Macario – no caps
That number will not last for long. As long as she is healthy, Macario is basically guaranteed to earn her first cap in one of the upcoming friendlies. FIFA finally granted Macario eligibility to represent the United States on Wednesday. Born in Brazil, Macario had to wait for her American citizenship and the green light from FIFA to be allowed to play in an official match with the U.S.
Macario has done anything but fly under the radar. She recently signed with Olympique Lyonnais, which is considered one of the best football clubs in the world. Her technical ability in the midfield and shooting prowess garnered her a lot of attention while at Stanford, where she won two national championships. Soccer fans do not have to wait too much longer to see Macario in action with the USWNT.
A new year, a new camp, and plenty of new faces. Tune in to the USWNT’s matches against Colombia on January 18 and January 22 to see the beginning of U.S. Soccer’s next generation.
Image Sources: Getty Images, USWNT Twitter