Boston Breakers center back Whitney Engen shared an emotional letter to her fans announcing the end of her time with the USWNT. Engen earned a roster spot on the Olympic roster in August and played well in her limited time in Brazil. Engen is also coming off of a good season on a horrible Boston team, for whom she serves as captain. Engen appears to be the most recent casualty of the need to infuse new players onto the national team roster.
While Coach Jill Ellis’s decision is hardly surprising given the emergence of both Julie Johnston and Emily Sonnett, as well as the continued presence of Becky Sauerbrunn, the timing, and nature, of the move is shocking. Since their World Cup win in 2015 the USWNT has seen the retirements of Lori Chalupny, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday, Abby Wambach, and Heather O’Reilly. Each of those players had a, well deserved, send off game. Only Hope Solo, who was removed from the team due to repeated off the field conduct, and Engen received no such sendoff. Chalupny, Boxx, Holiday, and Wambach each walked away for their own reasons - perhaps after a gentle nudge from Ellis - Solo and Engen did not and perhaps that is why their dismissals involve much less fanfare.
The NWSL is stocked with capable defenders that deserve an opportunity, though it is difficult to see any of them playing better for the next few seasons as Engen. Of course, the next few seasons are really not about anything other than preparing for 2019 and 2020. Gina Lewandowski, Jaelene Hinkle, and Lauren Barnes all received call ups last season and are all playing well in the NWSL. Each have done enough to earn another opportunity with the national team moving forward. And while it is difficult to imagine Ali Krieger sticking around as a contributor until 2019, she remains, quite possibly, the best defensive right back in the world, and will almost certainly be given an opportunity to play until someone surpasses her.
Moving forward Ellis faces several more difficult roster decisions. Christie Rampone is likely done with the team and one wonders where Amy Rodriguez, and even Sydney Leroux will fit in after coming back from pregnancies. Lynn Williams, Kealia Ohai, and Jessica MacDonald each deserve an opportunity on the national team, and Stephanie McCaffrey will also continue to get some looks now that she is healthy again. Allie Long is another candidate to be phased out over the next few seasons with Rose Lavelle, Danielle Colaprico, and Sarah Killion all playing well and possessing high upside.
Today, we fans, must mourn the loss of a great player, still in her prime. One thing is for sure, Engen is not the first player Ellis has nudged off this team, nor will she be the last. While it will be an adjustment for the fans, ultimately the USWNT will be better for it.