Contact Form

    News Details

    Alexander: U.S. Women’s World Cup veterans welcome rookies onto their lawn
    • July 1, 2023

    Of the 23 women selected to represent the United States at this month’s Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, 14 will be making their World Cup debuts. Eight are 25 or younger.

    And on a roster with ages ranging from Megan Rapinoe, at 37 one of three players appearing in a fourth World Cup, to recent Harvard-Westlake graduate/current Angel City FC forward Alyssa Thompson, who is all of 18 … yeah, there is some cultural dissonance between the veterans and the kids.

    The soccer, and meshing youthful skill and exuberance with veteran savvy, might be the easy part. Some of the cultural touchstones of the older players’ era seem to be a little more difficult for the youngsters to understand.

    “They’ll (the veterans) talk about, like, the technology they had, like the CD, stuff that I don’t know,” said the Portland Thorns’ Sophia Smith, 22, at the USWNT’s media day last week in Carson.

    “And they’ll always make fun of us,” she added. “Like a song will come on, and Crystal (Dunn) will be like, ‘So, you know who sings this?’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ And it will be like Tupac, I guess, or like someone I’m supposed to know.

    “… Some of the songs they play, (that) they’re all listening to, I have no idea what they are. They sound like what my parents listened to.”

    You feel old yet?

    “And they had, like, websites that were like Google before Google,” she added, and hopefully nobody has told her about the floppy disk, or the difference between Betamax and VHS tapes, or the Walkman or the iPod. Those discoveries from the past might be head-spinning.

    But this works both ways.

    “Not all of us are doing TikToks like Trinity (Rodman),” Smith said. “I’m not doing TikToks.”

    Rodman, the 21-year-old from Laguna Niguel who plays for the Washington Spirit – and is the daughter of NBA rebounding legend Dennis Rodman – has other ways to pass her downtime besides creating TikTok videos, and she’s taken advice from the veterans about ways to avoid the noise and commotion that will surround the team.

    “Coloring,” she said. “Journaling, reading, Fortnite. I’m a little bit of a gamer, so that has definitely helped me. I think being able to just like relax for a little bit in little ways, like literally coloring in a coloring book (and) just not thinking about anything, is really important.”

    Midfielder Lindsey Horan, who will be playing in her second World Cup, learned about leadership from defender and national team captain (and former Portland teammate) Becky Sauerbrunn, who will miss this World Cup with a foot injury. Now a member of France’s Olympique Lyon, Horan is passing those lessons forward.

    “I want to be that type of role model for the young ones coming up and the new players here … just trying to be the best role model and a voice for these young players coming in, any time they need advice or questions or whatever,” she said.

    It takes various forms. For example: Thompson, who will be the first teenager to represent the U.S. at the World Cup since 1995, wasn’t sure just how she should pack for what could be as many as seven weeks on the road, should the U.S. get to the Aug. 20 championship match in Sydney, Australia.

    “Best phone call ever,” Horan said. “She wanted to know the essentials for packing for the World Cup. And I had no idea what to tell her, but it was so cute. And it was, ‘Yeah, (pack) everything. Pinoe’s got like four bags.’”

    Thompson said she just wanted to make sure she wouldn’t miss or forget anything. But she’s also asked the veterans questions of more substance, about what this experience is going to be like.

    “They said, just lean on them during the World Cup if there’s anything I need, because they don’t know what’s going to happen there, either,” she said. “Even though they’ve been, every World Cup’s different.”

    She’s had help in her adjustment to being a pro from Angel City FC teammates Julie Ertz (also a World Cup teammate) and Sydney Leroux (who returned to ACFC less than a month ago after missing nine months with ankle surgery and is not on this World Cup roster). But this experience is another step up.

    “When I walk into anything new, I’m very soft-spoken and I’m not really doing anything to step on anyone’s toes,” Thompson said. “And I’ve looked up to these players for such a long time. So in this environment, I’m a little bit nervous already, but it’s more exciting than nerve-wracking.”

    At one end of the spectrum, Thompson has had three national team caps. Savannah DeMelo, 25, who is from Bellflower and plays for Racing Louisville in the NWSL, has none yet. Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury, who is 31, has had one. Rodman has had 17, Smith 29, and 23-year-old defender Naomi Girma from San Diego Wave FC has had 15.

    At the other end, Rapinoe has 199, Alex Morgan 208 and Kelley O’Hara 157. All will be playing in their fourth World Cup. Ertz (118 caps) and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (90) will be appearing in their third.

    Rose Lavelle, who has 88 international caps at the age of 28 and will be in her second World Cup, noted that “it’s crazy, because last World Cup I was one of the most inexperienced players going into it, and now going into this World Cup I’m one of the more experienced players. … I think all of us who have been here before, definitely we can use that experience to help the new players know what to expect, and hopefully it’s not as much of a shock once we get there.”

    Said Smith: “It’s really not hard to be a young player on this team, because everyone’s so welcoming and people look past the age and respect you for what you can do on the field.”

    From the outside, such a dramatic infusion of youth seems to be a disadvantage. But head coach Vlatko Andonovski said he feels otherwise, especially knowing that Rapinoe, Morgan and Horan will be prepared to lead the youngsters.

    “I’m not worried about the inexperience, but in fact, I’m excited about the energy and enthusiasm that the young players bring, the intensity and the drive as well,” he said.

    And there’s this, too, with those young players:

    “They’re really freaking good,” Lavelle said.

    [email protected]

    ​ Orange County Register