U-18s In La Manga, Spain

In the 10 Nations Under-19 Tournament La Manga, Spain , the US Under-18 Women’s Nation Team – playing up a year up in age group – came away with one draw and two losses, earning just a single point in their group.

In their first international match as a team, the US  drew Sweden 3-3, after being down 3-0 in the 63rd minute. Sweden highlights. Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius scored in the 15th minute, then again in the 55th. Lina Hurtig appeared to have sealed the win in 63rd minute before the US started their come-back.  All three US goalscorers were subs: Rasmussen came in to start the second half and scored 20 minutes later; Capuzzo came in at minute 75 and scored just a minute later (!); while Dorsey subbed in at the 66th minute, and scored her goal 20 minutes later. Sweden made three substitutions in the 62th minute (the goal-scorer Blackstenius and two midfielders), just before their third goal, one more in the 76th minute (another midfielder), and their final sub in the 86th minute (a defender). While the comeback makes head coach April Heinrich look like a tactical genius, it is not so flattering to Sweden’s head coach.

Next, they faced Norway, and lost 1-0, on a goal scored in the 47th minute. The US actually came away with more shots (11-8) and shots on goal (7-6), but couldn’t put one away. With a total of 19 fouls called, it sounds like it was a bit combative.

And in their final match, they lost to France 1-0. The lone goal was scored in the 35th minute, on a penalty kick (no details on that were given by US Soccer). This was the one match where the US was out-shot, 4 to France’s 10, with shots on goal 2-4 in France’s favor. France is the reigning European U-19 champions – 8 of the players the US faced were on that team, including the goal scorer, Aminata Diallo – as well as the 2012 U-17 Women’s World Cup champions – 7 players were on that team; 4 were on both. Fouls were also 10-5, titled France’s way, so it appears to have been a bit physical as well.

And with that the US U-18s were done.

Aside from the results, it was not a bad trip. The U-18s are three years out from their U-20 World Cup. Not only had these U-18s had never before played an international match together as a team, but most of the players on the roster had never played in an international match at all before. Facing three very good teams, all a year older and with more experience, the tournament could be considered, while not a success, certainly not a failure, for the US.

Just US four players did have international experience: two 19-year-olds from the U-20s, Darian Jenkins and Amber Munerlyn; a call-up from the U-17s, Ellie Jean; and Katie Cousins, who was actually in her second trip to the La Manga, as she went with the U-20s in 2013 with Jenkins and Munerlyn, in her one call-up with that team. She spent the rest of last year with the U-18s.

Note that Niki Romero from UNC was originally named to the roster, but was replaced by Ellie Jean, who was a regular starter on the U-17 team that just recently played their last matches of the cycle after failing to qualify for the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup. She had never before trained with the U-18s, but played in all three matches, starting the final two and playing the full 90 in the second one. She has, in a sense, already made the transition from this U-17 cycle to the next U-20 cycle.

For Munerlyn, this was the third La Manga tournament she’s played in, after going with the U-20s in 2012 and 2013, and in 2010, when she was 15, she went to the U-16 Nordic Cup in Denmark. An old pro that this travel tournament thing.

Every player appeared in at least one match. 14 of the 20 were in all three matches, but just three started all three matches: forward Jenkins and midfielders Jordan DiBiasi and Jessica Vigna. Vigna has the distinction of being the only player to have played every minute of the current U-18 cycle (all three matches of it). All five forwards on the roster played in all three matches, but Jenkins is the one who started all three. Rebecca Rasmussen, however, has totaled more minutes, having played two full matches, while Jenkins has subbed out in each of her three.

The two goalkeepers, Rose Chandler and Casey Murphy, split matches but did not sub out; Chandler in the first and last match, Murphy taking the middle one.

Interestingly, there is only one player who played in all three matches but did not start a single one: forward Kayla Cappuzzo. She also has the distinction of being the player with the most points so far: one goal and one assist puts her ahead of her teammates. And she did it in just 16 minutes in the first match. (Curious that her performance in the closing minutes of the first match did not earn her a start in either of the two later matches…)

Two players – Darian Jenkins and Amber Munerlyn – were playing for a bit more than just time on the field: as they’re both 19 years old, they won’t be age-eligible to play with the U-20s in the next cycle like the rest of their teammates. They could instead hope that a good showing at La Manga would put them back in the pool for the current U-20s – they both just missed the cut-off when the team was selected for World Cup Qualifying back in January. They’ll find out in mid-April, when the U-20s will have a camp in Chula Vista, CA.

The U-18s will have their next camp in mid-May.