Taking over a youth national team is a challenge for any coach. There are a multitude of obstacles to clear to get a cohesive unit on the field.
For new U.S. U20 Women’s National Team head coach Michelle French, her introduction to the program came like a bucket of cold water dumped on her head. French’s debut came only two weeks after being introduced as the new leader of the program. Her squad faced Norway, Germany, and Sweden at the 12-Nations Tournament in La Manga, Spain.
The end result was two draws and a 3-0 loss to Germany. A month later, the U20 WNT held its second camp under French and then faced off against the U23 WNT at the Home Depot Center. The older squad won 5-0.
French, and in turn the squad, remained upbeat about the progress and the team was rewarded for its improvements a couple of weeks ago when it capped a trip to Sweden with a perfect 2-0 record.
The U20s beat Sweden’s U20 WNT 3-1 thanks to goals from Midge Purce, Lindsay Horan, and Makenzy Doniak - a clear advancement from the meeting in March when the teams played to a 0-0 draw. Two days later, the U20s beat Sweden’s U23 squad 1-0 with Horan scoring her second goal in as many games.
“They were coming off a camp where we worked primarily on defending, and I thought we defended really well in Sweden,” French told TopDrawerSoccer.com in a telephone interview this week. “Our focus evolved to attacking off the ball and finding the early option. They did a really good job – especially taking the concepts from training and applying them in the games.”
“I think that was the best camp we’ve seen from Doniak,” French said.
The jitter-bug winger was a late addition to the mix during the U20 cycle for the last World Cup in 2012, but an injury last summer in a scrimmage against the U23 WNT kept her out of the mix. The Southern California talent looks to be making up for lost time with this group.
Now that French has her feet wet with the coaching position and the team headed in a cohesive direction, she continues to build off what they showed in Sweden.
“We want to continue to work on those movements off the ball,” French said. “We want to develop those relationships on the field.”
Growing a bond between a team – especially one with players in the professional rank (Horan), collegiate game, and club level – takes time . . . a lot of time.
Luckily for the U20s, there is still 14 months to go before the World Cup in Canada and plenty of camps on the way before then.
French indicated that the team would be called into camp in July and then again in August in Southern California with a pair of friendlies against Japan on the schedule.
U-20 WNT Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (2) : Jane Campbell (Concorde Fire SC; Kennesaw, Ga.), Morgan Stearns (McLean Youth Soccer; San Antonio, Texas)
DEFENDERS (7): Mandy Freeman (Orlando City; Royal Palm Beach, Fla.), Hanna Gardner (North Carolina; Chapel Hill, N.C.), Laura Liedle (Stanford; San Diego, Calif.), Kayla Mills (Slammers FC; West Covina, Calif.), Karlie Mueller (Texas A&M; Sioux Falls, S.D.), Katie Naughton (Notre Dame; Arlington Heights, Ill.), Cari Roccaro (Notre Dame; East Islip, N.Y.)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Summer Green (North Carolina; Milford, Mich.), Rose Lavelle (Cincinnati United; Cincinnati, Ohio), Andi Sullivan (Bethesda SC; Lorton, Va.), Danielle Weatherholt (Santa Clara; Capistrano Beach, Calif.), Allison Wetherington (Concorde Fire SC; Acworth, Ga.)
FORWARDS (6): Janine Beckie (Real Colorado; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Makenzy Doniak (Virginia; Chino Hills, Calif.), Lindsey Horan (PSG; Golden, Colo.), Amber Munerlyn (So Cal Blues; Corona, Calif.), Toni Payne (Concorde Fire SC; Birmingham, Ala.), Margaret Purce (Freestate; Silver Springs, Md.)