The upcoming 2017 Portland Invitational tournament brings four excellent teams together. Of those, one is not preparing for the rapidly approaching NWSL season. The U-23 Women’s National Team has assembled some of the top college and youth players in the country to try their hand against some of the best teams in the NWSL, earning them valuable experience at that level of competition and the electric Portland atmosphere.
These games offer a great physical and mental test for the U-23 WNT. Unlike most scenarios involving US YNTs, they won’t be the fittest or most physical players on the field, and they have had precious little time to train together. Given those conditions, they won’t be expected to hold the majority of possession, so the games may come down to the strength of their forward line. The U-23s have excellent speed up top in Savannah McCaskill, Ashley Sanchez, and Sophia Smith. All three are classic harassers on defense, dynamic on the ball, and first-rate finishers, and are sure to cause problems for any defender that tries to play loose with the ball in a dangerous position.
Many of the players have experience together at youth world championships. Jaelin Howell, Brianna Pinto, Sophia Smith, and Ashley Sanchez all appeared in the U-17 World Cup under head coach B.J. Snow. Sanchez also played with Casey Murphy, Ellie Jean, and Kaleigh Riehl at the U-20 World Cup. These won’t be the first NWSL teams Jean and Riehl have played this year. They represented Penn State in a 0-3 loss to the Washington Spirit in the 1st week of NWSL preseason.
After electing not to send any players to the U-20 World Cup, the Cardinal have five players on the U-23 roster. That group, Alana Cook, Tegan McGrady, Tierna Davidson, Jordan DiBiasi, and Michelle Xiao, give the team a solid defensive and middle third and bring chemistry to a team that has never played together before.
Some other notable names are Taylor Racioppi and Simone Charley, who both made the team despite playing limited, or in Charley’s case, zero minutes during the 2016 college season. Racioppi opted out of the U-20 World Cup but the Duke sophomore was sidelined through much of the season with an injury. A multi-sport athlete, Charley took the soccer season off to focus on track, in which she is five-time All-American and the school record-holder in the triple jump.
The Big Show
This is the first and (probably) only time this group of players will be together. They have no past history to draw on, and no goal to build towards. This is all about players being tested, developing, and getting experience at the next level. A good showing here could ripple through future NWSL drafts and even open the door for a run-out with the full national team. Beyond that, it’s great exposure to the energy and environment of the NWSL and a great visual of the promise the NWSL offers these players in the league’s record fifth year.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Casey Murphy (Rutgers; Bridgewater, N.J.), Bella Geist (Oregon State; Milwaukie, Ore.)
DEFENDERS (7): Alana Cook (Stanford; Far Hills, N.J.), Taylor Isom (BYU; Provo, Utah), Ellie Jean (Penn State; Coventry, Conn.), Tegan McGrady (Stanford; San Jose, Calif.), Kaleigh Riehl (Penn State, Fairfax Station, Va.), Gabrielle Seiler (Florida; Peachtree City, Ga.), Alexis Warner (Michigan State; Ypsilanti, Mich.)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Tierna Davidson (Stanford; Menlo Park, Calif.), Jordan DiBiasi (Stanford; Littleton, Colo.), Jaelin Howell (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.), Brianna Pinto (CASL; Durham, N.C.), Taylor Racioppi (Duke; Ocean Township, N.J.), Michelle Xiao (Stanford; Omaha, Neb.), Sandra Yu (Notre Dame, Strongsville, Ohio)
FORWARDS (6): Simone Charley (Vanderbilt; Hoover, Ala.), Mallory Eubanks (Mississippi State; Lexington, Ky.), Tziarra King (N.C. State; Sicklerville, N.J.), Savannah McCaskill (South Carolina; Chapin, S.C.), Ashley Sanchez (SoCal Blues; Monrovia, Calif.), Sophia Smith (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.)