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Sauerbrunn, Quon, and why its still too early to see NWSL’s influence on Sermanni’s choices

May 22, 2013, 6:47 PM EDT

Becky Sauerbrunn (C) congrtulates goal-s

It’s too early to tell who will be the NWSL’s Becky Sauerbrunn – somebody who used the ill-fated Women’s Professional Soccer as a springboard into the U.S. women’s national team. The then-Washington Freedom defender had seen some limited time with Pia Sundhage’s team before WPS began, but she wasn’t a real factor. By the time the league started in 2009, she’d been seen and judged; seemingly a long shot to forge a role with the national team.

In that new league, the Virginia grad was a stand-out, her cerebral leadership combining with a two-plus-year iron woman streak to force her way into the squad. With it, her recall became a symbol of hope of an array of professionals who, shut out by an increasingly stagnant national team roster, could see Sauerbrunn’s ascension as vindicating their persistence. Thanks to WPS seasons that put Sauerbrunn’s intelligence, consistency, and dependability on display, the now-FC Kansas City captain embedded herself at the international level. Now, after 42 caps, Sauerbrunn’s an obligatory call-up.

We’re now a month and a half into WPS2; or, WUSA3, depending on how you want to look at it. Tom Sermanni has been at NWSL games just about every weekend, and with every team streaming their home games online, the U.S’s new boss has seen all the potential candidates. After six weeks, there’s a pretty big body of evidence to suggest who is in form, so if somebody had emerged as an early Sauerbrunn, they would have called up, right?

The June 2 against Canada is a friendly. It’s on foreign soil, where there’s no significant need to sell tickets. It’s against a rival, but one that the U.S. faces with some regularity. With the World Cup two years out, there’s no pressing need to see how the Alex Morgans and Abby Wambachs of the world will do against the Canadians, even if it’s always good for the team to get time together. In a low-leverage situation where the information you gather about players is more important than the final result, doesn’t it make sense to call in a few more borderline players?

[MORE: Breaking down the 21 called into to face Canada.]

Perhaps. Perhaps Sermanni doesn’t agree that a month and a half of games is enough to justify any shakeups. And perhaps there haven’t been any players who’ve made a sufficient case, because when yesterday’s roster was announced, there were no huge surprises. No new Sauerbrunns had won a spot. Even the inclusion of an uncapped Amber Brooks caused little discussion, given her form at Bayern Munich and Shannon Boxx’s continued recovery from surgery. With a team as tight as the U.S. women’s national team, it might not be worth shaking things up, even if that means some of the same motives that kept players like Christen Press from breaking in appear to be in play.

That may also be why Yael Averbuch and Megan Rapinoe were the only surprise omissions, with U.S. Soccer making the point to explain Rapinoe, at a busy point on the calendar with Olympique Lyonnais, will join the team for June’s matches against South Korea. Megan Klingenberg was also a potential call in, but having only three national team caps, the omission of the former Tar Heel wasn’t a huge surprise. Alyssa Naeher could have gotten a look, with her season in Potsdam done, but her absence surprised no one.

The roster’s curiosities aren’t so much the omissions as two of the inclusions. Carli Lloyd, who spent the first part of the season recovering from a broken shoulder, has only made one brief substitute’s appearance for Western New York. Jillian Loyden, who broke her hand before Sky Blue FC’s season started, was recalled despite having yet to play a minute in the NWSL. Rather than look at Becky Edwards or McCall Zerboni in midfield, or give young Adrianna Franch another camp’s training in goal, Sermanni’s elected to stay the course.

It’s too early in Sermanni’s tenure (and NWSL’s existence) to start drawing conclusions, but it’s worth considering what it would take for somebody to be dropped from the national team. Lloyd and Loyden have barely played ahead of a friendly on foreign soil, yet they’re still in. Kelley O’Hara has inexplicably struggled for Sky Blue, and while it’s probably far too early to be dropping her from the national team, no natural left backs were called up. As the league moves forward, we’ll have to see if fitness or form influence national team recalls, because after Wednesday’s selection, the only thing we know will keep you from an invite are finals in UEFA Champions League and the French Cup. If that’s the standard, it’s going to by 2011-12 all over again.

If you’re looking for a drawback to the lack of turnover in a highly successful team, look to the Canada. Look to the squad they named on Wednesday. Illinois-born left back Rachel Quon, in her first season with the Chicago Red Stars, has been recalled by John Herdman, the Stanford alum having a connection to Canada through her father. The CSA still has you get her cleared, and who knows if the call-up will stick, but this could turn into a minor irritant for the U.S. No, Quon was never likely to be a major contributor for the national team, but if she evolves into a regular for Herdman, she’ll join Lauren Sesselman, Karina LeBlanc, and Chelsea Stewart as U.S.-born players who’ve elected to play for Canada (all with varying levels of connection to the States). Those aren’t Sydney Leroux-level players (somebody who made the opposite switch), but for a U.S. team looking at an improving rival, it should still be a concern.

There are two things that make Quon’s move particularly interesting. First, she’s been playing well, and when rumors circulated last week that the U.S. may have a surprise call-up, Quon’s name was one you could have inferred. Ultimately, however, it’s unclear she’s that much better of a long-term prospect than somebody like Sky Blue’s Kendall Johnson. Camille Levin, starting for Göteborg in Sweden, could also be an option. Quon may have a U-level pedigree, Stanford training, and be in form, but ultimately, the difference between her and Johnson could prove irrelevant.

The second curiosity may become more important. Left back is arguably the States’ weakest position, which only highlights the loss of a potential contributor. Kelley O’Hara’s first on that depth chart and played very well this winter, but while being shuttled between left back and left-wing for Sky Blue, O’Hara has struggled. If she carries that form into national team duty, Sermanni has problem. (Keep in mind, we’re still two years out from the World Cup.) Kristie Mewis, a natural attacking midfielder, is number two on the depth chart, through Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Sauerbrunn, and even Megan Rapinoe are capable of playing left back.

It is troublesome that, in light of potentially losing Quon, there are no natural left backs on the roster, the team’s first choice is in a slump, and none of the alternatives are playing the position for their clubs. But perhaps more troublesome is a sacred cow syndrome that kept Press out of the team for so long and perhaps contributed to Quon’s Canada call-up. Having played at U-levels for the United States, it’s reasonable to assume the 22-year-old would have remained loyal to the U.S. given reason to do so. But with as little roster turnover as we see from the States’, it’s difficult to blame her for pursuing an international career.

In his fifth month on the job, it’s far too soon to say whether Sermanni will protect the sacred cows. While none of the last cycle’s core have been dropped, Sermanni has found time for players like Press, Dunn, Mewis, Ashlyn Harris and Julie Johnston – all encouraging signs. Those inclusions may be a function of injuries and absences or a concerted effort by a new coach, yet when you see Lloyd and Loyden as obligatory callups while a player like Quon is turning to Canada, it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind: Is there too much deference to the old guard? And when will another Becky Sauerbrunn rise from the domestic league?

Right now, it’s far too early to answer those questions. Just file it away.

  1. frijoleronoventa - May 22, 2013 at 9:08 PM

    O’hara has been great for sky blue when she plays at left back. If she weren’t in the back along with Rampone during the Portland game last week I highly doubt they would have come out of that game with a clean sheet. Also it was only about two months ago when arguably O’hara was at her best for the national team at the Algarve. She defended spectacuarly and got many looks at goal, even an assist in the game against Sweden. She’s nowhere near being cut.

    I would argue midfield is our weakest. Hands down. Carli Lloyd is inconsistent, as is Tobin Heath. Cheney, O’Reilley, and Rapinoe are the only midfielders that can consistently perform well for 60-70 minutes.

    Sermanni probably won’t call up any NWSL who haven’t been called up before until July-August I’d say when things are starting to get tough and nitty in the league. There he’ll see those who stand out and deserve a call up.

  2. bradygazelle - May 22, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    It has been so frustrating to see Kelley O’Hara up top. She was just awesome at left back against Portland. I wish she would stay there both for her career and for the USWNT.

    The biggest surprise to me in the NWSL so far has been Allie Long (I know somee people hate her play as well), but she doesn’t have the speed to play at the international level in my opinion.

    By the end of the season somebody will step up. Of course, Canadians and Mexicans will too – which is good for the sport but not necessarily good for the USWNT.

    • footballlawyer - May 23, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      This comment section is too broad, and is founded on too many assumptions. First of all, Allie Long has speed. She is not playing in her natural position @ Portland. They really need to look into that since she is their best natural midfielder. We obviously all know that Sinclair is not a natural midfielder. That being said, this article (and many others) are fooling themselves thinking that Becky Edwards is USWNT material. That belief shows a serious lack of soccer IQ, and leads to questions about one’s pedigree. Game analysis will prove that Allie Long is the best natural midfielder on Portland FC. Furthermore, Portland FC coach Cindy Cone is quoted as saying that Allie Long deserve a call up. Who are we to believe? Some writers, fans, or those who are assessing talents everyday ON THE PITCH.

      The reality is that many players, including Sauerbrunn were once the victims (yes, victims) of criticism by fans, writers, ignorant coaches, and politics. If this WNT wants to continue to its winning ways, it will have to depart from the old and IN with the new. The fact that Carli Lloyd is getting called in is proof that the OLD is still being used. What is Boxx going to bring this team in the next few years? How much longer can we keep chanting after Rampone? Are we to believe that this country cannot find another center back capable of performing at such a high level were they given the chance these next two years?

      The reality is setting in, and the new USWNT coach better learn from the past. You need to grow this squad, not keep it classic. You need to develop younger players, and release the ones who WERE the future a decade ago or less. The midfield position needs new blood. Bring in the Allie Longs of America. She is fast enough to stand out in the new league, is she not playing against internationals there? Is she not causing USA Soccer legends to urge she get a call up? Who knows better… the writers of this article or bradygazelle? Let’s be serious, Portland FC is winning because of Alex Morgan, Sinclair, and Allie Long. Statistics prove this fact, and Foxhaven will hopefully continue to surge in that ball club.

      As for O’Hara, Ali Krieger is the best outside back. PERIOD. The other outside back should make way for Dunn, it is that simple (provided things continue to develop as they have). O’Hara at midfield and forward is a joke. All it means is that her club coach is desperate, and he is just in that old classic American soccer mindset that “she’s on the National Team!”

      Finally, to those who want to talk about “soccer” (really football), I’d suggest they educate themselves on the evolution of the game. The USWNT needs a true #10. Becky Edwards is NOT a #10. Allie Long is a true #10. Being a true center midfielder requires an innate ability to create spaces that allow you to link up to players, all while controlling the tempo. There is NO OTHER player who has been able to do that for Portland other than ALLIE LONG. That is why everyone is talking about her. Those who talk negatively about her game simply want some track star to run the mid, or they want some seemingly poster child-like figure to get the nod. When reality sinks in, we will all realize that the players of the future are the young ones (Tobin Heath, for example) and the Allie Long types. They bring a quality of play that is RARE, get over yourselves and your cynical takes on these players. Truth is, MAJORITY of you can outpass them. MAJORITY of you CANNOT link up with your forwards like they do. Seems to me Alex has enjoyed receiving passes from Allie Long that end up in goals for her, PK’s for her, and open looks for her. May I add, Allie Long has scored twice this year for Portland (one was in their friendly vs U of Portland). She is also on the stat sheet for assists. Becky Edwards? None. Let’s ask Alex Morgan who is feeding her every weekend on Portland!


  3. kernelthai - May 23, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    KO…if u judge O’Hara by her scoring then she has been a complete failure on the USWNT. For that matter, so has Ali Krieger who got her first international goal this year. That’s one more than O’Hara. The truth is O’Hara doesnt ever have to score a goal. She needs to to defend well and get forward on overlaps and feed crosses into the box. Her problems scoring on the top level is likely why she was in the midfield (or the bench portion of the midfield) before the move to left Back. Now if she’s not the forward Sky Blue was hoping for that’s too bad for them, but it doesnt effect the USWNT a smidge.

    Quon … I dont blame Quon for jumping at the chance she may never have gotten with the US. I dont like Herdman’s approach however. He got edged out in the semi and won the Bronze because he had players who left everything on the field for him. They were heroic. Im not sure why he thinks bringing in players from other countries is an upgrade. He may improve the talent level but will those players live and die for a country they dont even know the anthem to?

    Sermanni… The FBs who have caught my eye in the NWSL r Johnson, Merrit Mathias, Leigh Ann Robinson and Marion Dougherty and Nikki Marshall. I dont think any of them r better than O’Hara and two of them play on the right (as Quon did at Stanford I believe). He also can use Sauerbrunn on the left who is much better back-up than Mewis. Possibly the only league player who might have rated a call was Becky Edwards because I think she is a better immediate fill in for Boxx than Brooks or Johnston. I think Johnston has a ton more upside tho and should get the time for better or worse.

  4. alexcisneros88 - May 23, 2013 at 3:44 AM

    This “commentary” is conflating O’Hara’s performance at left back and her performance at forward. As left back for both the national team and Sky Blue she has been excellent. People gave Rampone credit after the shutout in Portland, and rightfully so, but O’Hara deserved just as much credit. To even mention “dropping” her from the team is ridiculous and seems more about eliciting a reaction to get page views than any sort of sincere analysis.

    The national team weakest position is in the central midfield. I don’t see Shannon Boxx going through to the next World Cup because I’m not sure at ~39 years old she will have the speed or agility she needs, but also as players age they tend to get injured more. She’s a great player, but that’s certainly going to be an upbill effort and counting on her to be 100 percent in 2015 is quite a gamble. The other players we’ve put in that role have been inconsistent at best — Lloyd had a great Olympics but struggled a bit before that. Cheney has a lot of talent but has been pretty inconsistent. I think Averbuch is a good option, but simply hasn’t had enough caps to know how she’d do on a regular basis for the national team. Bottom line is, we haven’t found a great answer there. That part of the field is the big mystery: What on earth are we going to do there and feel really solid about it? We can’t pray for Hope Solo to assist Alex Morgan when we need a goal, which actually happened and helped lift us over France in group play of the Olympics.

    So, given that, I think calling out left back/O’Hara specifically conflates two separate issues (is she a good forward vs. is she a good left back) but is also an obvious attempt to fan the flames of her fanbase, which online at least, seems a lot bigger or more active than the aforementioned midfielders. I’ve seen your Twitter feeds, Richard, and how you like to make fun of the fans of the younger players like Morgan, O’Hara, etc. It’s really unprofessional and a bit douchey, and it makes it hard to take you very seriously with this stuff.

    I wonder, how is it puzzling that Loyden and Lloyd were included in call-ups? The national team has a vested interest in both right now and of course they want to evaluate their progress. Loyden was arguably our No. 2 goalkeeper behind Solo. A Hope Solo injury puts the national team is a very precarious position. I can’t think of another position where the drop off in quality from the normal starter to a backup is such a big concern. With our central midfield struggling and looking like a liability down the road, there’s no wonder they want to evaluate Lloyd as well. Like I said, our midfield can’t really afford to lose anyone we think may be able to be consistent for us in the future potentially.

    I absolutely agree with Sermanni that it’s still too early into the season to make decisions about bringing in new players, especially for a single game in Canada. Teams barely had preseasons and we are only six weeks in. It’s definitely too soon to evaluate someone’s consistency and think about any long-term changes. Secondly, Sermanni is inheriting the best team in the world. If I were him, I would continue evaluating our current, gold medal-winning lineup and figure out where we can actually improve or where we risk a vacancy within the next three years. He’s seen the Olympic team play, but maybe he needs to see it some more. Bringing in a new player for a single game in Canada (a sold out game with a rowdy, bloodthirsty crowd) is probably not going to do a lot for his perspective on that. Why would he bother? It’s one game — one single game — and a grudge match at that.

    As for Quon, you even admit that she probably would’ve never been a star for the national team, and then go on and on about how it should worry the U.S., as if a number of promising Canadian and Mexican players haven’t defected before her and the U.S. has managed to do just fine anyway. Anyone who thinks they are going to get to play for the U.S. will stay in the U.S. program without question. So, you may say it should “be of concern,” but it’s not clear why exactly. It’s not really a loss for the U.S. and it’s a clear win for her. She’s putting herself in a position to be a major contributor on a national team that desperately needs to think about its next wave of players and has a lot to work through in the future. Good on her.

    Really, I’m just not sure this column is half as insightful as you thought it was. But we’ll see what happens in the coming months.

  5. bradygazelle - May 23, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    The best US left back is, unfortunately, playing for New Zealand.

    The second-best right now is Kelley O’Hara.

    Pia started to try to make the US more versatile in formation, but fortunately or unfortunately with Morgan and Wambach (and now Leroux and Press) the US is compelled to play at least a two-forward system, which then puts Cheney out of her best position. Hopefully, Cheney will grow into a better central midfielder (in a four-midfielder system) by the next WC because I imagine it’s going to be Cheney and Lloyd at that point.

  6. m05five05 - May 23, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    Kelley o’hara is one of the strongest soccer players for our National team and one of the best defenders. What she’s doing with sky blue is amazing she’s a beast and if anyone thinks otherwise then they need help seriously. This article is a joke

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