Young USWNT players hope to turn SheBelieves Cup spotlight into recurring roster spots

Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch warms up.
Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch warms up prior to the first half of the NWSL championship match against Chicago Red Stars on Nov. 20, 2021, in Louisville, Ky.
(Jeff Dean / Associated Press)

Ashley Hatch’s first call-up to the women’s national soccer team came in 2016 and ended with her playing the final 16 minutes of a 4-0 win over Switzerland.

For most of the next five years, she sat by her phone hoping for another call. When that wait proved to be mostly in vain, Hatch prepared to move on.

“Maybe it’s not in the cards for me,” she concluded. “I kind of made the decision that being on the national team or not being on the national team was not going to dictate who I am as a player. I had to make that conscious decision.”


Which is when the phone rang again. A call-up for a pair of friendlies last November resulted in Hatch’s first two international starts and her first two international goals, earning her an invitation to join the team for the SheBelieves Cup, which kicks off Thursday at Dignity Health Sports Park.

Iceland faces New Zealand in the tournament opener, followed by the U.S.vs. the Czech Republic.

For Hatch, a forward, the SheBelieves audition marks her first real chance to win a recurring role with the national team. Missing from the roster are the four most experienced U.S. forwards — Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Christen Press — making the weeklong competition something of a tryout for Sophia Smith, Margaret Purce, Trinity Rodman and Hatch.

The four missing women average 178 games and 69 goals for the national team. The four vying to replace them have 23 appearances and five goals combined.

“Changing of the guard is probably not the right term. But I would say we’re in the middle of a process and the process is refreshing the team, the process is making the team better,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “If that means these four young players are all ready and able to perform and make this team better, then that’s the direction that we’re going to take. But if we believe that any of those players that are not here can help us, then we’re willing to bring [them in].

“Ultimately, the goal is to make this team better.”

When Mia Fishel left school after her junior year to turn pro, everyone assumed she was going to the NWSL. She chose Mexico’s Liga MX Femenil instead.

Feb. 15, 2022

None of the four forwards who are missing are younger than 32. The oldest of the four auditioners is Hatch, who is 26. And the added maturity, she said, has made her a different player than the one who made her international debut at 21.

“The timing is good for me,” said Hatch, who scored a team-high 11 goals for the NWSL-champion Washington Spirit last season. “Everyone’s journey is different. Being a little bit older and getting some quality experience now with the national team, I just feel a lot more composed, a lot more confident in myself as a player.


“I definitely think that this path has helped.”

Speaking of paths, the one the national team is on is a challenging one, with the CONCACAF W Championship, scheduled for July in Monterrey, Mexico, serving as the qualifier for both the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Paris Olympics. And Andonovski is beginning preparations for that without a huge chunk of his first-team roster.

United States forward Sophia Smith controls the ball as South Korea midfielder Selgi Jang holds her.
United States forward Sophia Smith controls the ball as South Korea midfielder Selgi Jang holds her the first half of a friendly match against South Korea on Oct. 26, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn.
(Andy Clayton-King / Associated Press)

In addition to his four leading scorers, he’s also missing defender Abby Dahlkemper and midfielders Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan, who are injured; outside back Crystal Dunn, who is pregnant; and midfielder Julie Ertz, who is out for undisclosed reasons. Add in Carli Lloyd, who retired last fall, and Andonovski is without nine players he used in his team’s last competitive game in the Tokyo Olympics, where the U.S. had the tournament’s oldest roster.

Compare that to SheBelieves team, which has a dozen players who have played 12 or fewer games with the U.S. and 14 who are 26 or younger. For Andonovski, that’s a blessing in disguise.

“We do have players that we want to see,” he said.

One of them is Hatch, who was born in San Dimas but moved to Arizona when she was 12. The two SheBelieves games in Carson — the U.S. plays New Zealand on Sunday — will be her first in Southern California as a professional.

Fatma Al-Nuaimi, the executive communications director of the Organizing Committee of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, talks about the tournament.

Feb. 15, 2022

“It’s a chance to prove ourselves, especially with the other players not there,” she said. “We are going to get all the attention, all the critique, all the feedback. And I welcome all of it because being in this environment is the only way to get better.”

A chance, after all, was all she ever wanted.

“I feel like if I give it my all and play the soccer that I know how to play, my chances of being on the team are really high,” she said. “If for some reason it’s not my time and they tell me no, I’ll be able to live with that.

“I’m still going to continue to work for the next time. That’s how I’ve been living my career ever since that first call: always being ready and always hoping that that opportunity comes. I feel like it’s now finally coming around.”