US U-23 Women's National Team goes 2-1 in La Manga Tournament

The United States U-23 Women’s National Team just completed the La Manga Tournament in Spain. The squad of 22 consisted of 16 NWSL players - 11 of which were selected in the 2017 NWSL College Draft, and they were coached by Seattle Reign head coach and general manager Laura Harvey. The team returns home with two wins and one loss, scoring a total of three goals in the tournament and having one goal scored against them.

Starting out strong against Japan

The US U-23s were able to start on a strong and convincing note when they opened tournament play against Japan. Seven NWSL players started, along with six coming on as substitutions throughout the match. It was the first U-23 appearance for Portland ThornsCeleste Boureille, Boston Breakers midfielder Morgan Andrews, North Carolina Courage forward Ashley Hatch (who also earned a senior USWNT cap in October), Orlando Pride midfielder Dani Weatherholt and Washington Spirit’s Arielle Ship.

It was University of South Carolina’s Savannah McCaskill who put the U.S. on the board in the 18th minute, racing past a Japanese defender one-on-one before slotting her shot low into the left corner past the goalkeeper. This is McCaskill’s first goal at the U-23 level as well as her first appearance for the U-23s. She was also one of the players USWNT head coach Jill Ellis invited to train with the full team in January.

Margaret Purce (left) played a part in multiple goals for the US this past week. | Source: fotopress via Getty Images

Breakers’ player Margaret Purce received a perfectly weighted pass from high school senior Ashley Sanchez and had time to calmly slot her shot into the left corner past the diving goalkeeper to add an insurance goal for the United States. Goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who also trained with the full team in January, earned her a shutout in the match.

Struggles against England

Despite the great start against Japan, the U.S. U-23s fell to England two days later. FC Kansas City draft pick Christina Gibbons captained the American side and started along with six other NWSL players and four came on throughout the match as substitutions.

The United States ended up outshooting England 11-7, but they were unable to find the back of the net. England scored twice in the first half to seal the deal. A header in the 27th minute and a low shot in the right corner in the 44th both got past Murphy in goal. Not only did the U.S. outshoot England, but they also had the advantage on shots on goal with 8-5 and corners 4-0.

Finishing on a high note

The U-23s were able to bounce back in their last match of the tournament against Norway. In a match with ten NWSL players starting - Weatherholt as captain and Seattle Reign’s newest goalkeeper Madalyn Schiffel getting the nod in goal - and two coming off the bench.

Breakers midfielder and number three overall draft pick Morgan Andrews scored the game-winner for the United States in the 34th minute, assisted by Portland Thorns’ draft pick Tyler Lussi. It started from Purce’s cleared out free kick, when Weatherholt was able to get ahold of the cleared ball and play it to Lussi. Lussi was able to send it in, but Hatch’s volley return to the other forward. Lussi headed the ball back to the middle of the goal, but Norway was unable to properly clear it as it fell to Andrews, who was able to smack a left-footed shot into the net.

What’s next for U-23s

As they return to the States, the NWSL players will report to their respective clubs for preseason next week. Head coach Laura Harvey will return to Seattle to coach the Reign, which includes two U-23 players in Schiffel and Kristen McNabb.

Next up for the U-23s is the Portland Invitational Tournament at the end of the month. Although this squad featured plenty of professional players, the remainder of the year will see more college-aged players in the mix due to NWSL being in season.