Following the team’s early exit from the 2016 Olympics Games, U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis is making good on her promise of testing out new talent — bringing in 11 uncapped players for the next two matches against Switzerland on Oct. 19 and Oct. 23, including Seattle Reign FC’s Merritt Mathias.
Mathias, 26, played in 19 of the 20 games during the 2016 season for Reign FC, starting 17, and logged 1,420 minutes. She made the switch from forward to right back late in the season, and had mixed results. Mathias was one of the best players in Seattle’s 3-1 win over the Portland Thorns in August, but she also gave up two penalties in subsequent matches.
At forward, Mathias was asked to play a big role in Laura Harvey’s “defend from the front” style of play. She was constantly putting pressure on the opposition’s back line so that Seattle could keep the ball in its own half. Mathias ended the season with one goal.
In addition to Mathias, defenders Arin Gilliland and Casey Short — the outside duo for the Chicago Red Stars — received their first call-ups. Chicago combined for eight shutouts in the NWSL this season, tied for most in the league with Seattle Reign FC.
“Right now, we are in a phase where we want to try to expand the player pool, look at a number of players and start the long process to qualifying for the next World Cup,” Ellis said. “In order to see if these players can contribute, we need to get them into a National Team training environment and in games.”
Ellis will name 18 players to suit up for each match, so fans will have to wait and see if Mathias gets a look. With Kelley O’Hara being the only capped outside back, however, Mathias has a chance. Her attack-minded approach to the outside back position, combined with her ability to close down quickly on defense, aligns with what Ellis has said she wants in defenders.
It’s also possible Ellis could use Mathias as a flexible bench option. Given that she’s split time between defense and forward, Mathias can be deployed in a variety of ways — and that could be the appeal for Ellis.
Like the other 11 new USWNT players, Mathias has extensive experience at the youth national team levels, having played on the U-15, U-16, U-17, and U-23 teams.
Ellis is also giving forwards Shea Groom, Lynn Williams, and Kealia Ohai a look — three players who led their NWSL teams in scoring this season. Having Mathias and Groom on the same roster could get interesting, as Mathias earned a one-game suspension after getting into a scuffle with Groom this season.
The call-up is an exciting one for Mathias, although there are certainly a few other Reign names who should be on this list — including NWSL Defender of the Year Lauren Barnes and goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer. But if Ellis is at all serious about evaluating promising talent over the next year, there’s still plenty of opportunities to see a few Reign faces on the national team.
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Stanford), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (Western New York Flash), Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Andi Sullivan (Stanford)
FORWARDS (6): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Shea Groom (FC Kansas City), Ashley Hatch (BYU), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (Western New York Flash)