Should men’s and women’s national teams start playing “B” games?

Two bits of news, ICYMI:

  • CONCACAF will play along with the global effort to have a “Nations League,” a promotion/relegation competition that basically replaces friendly games.
  • The U.S. men played in Portugal with a bunch of young players, earning a 1-1 draw and stirring up a bit of optimism for the future.

Take the second part first because it applies to a long debate in women’s soccer. The U.S. women have long been accused of having a stale player pool, giving few opportunities for players to gain experience. (This topic was one of my first pieces for The Guardian.)

Things have changed a little bit. The new collective bargaining agreement isn’t public, but it’s apparent that some of the restrictions previous coaches faced in calling in new players have been eased.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a U.S. women’s team like the men’s team we saw in Portugal. Here’s a rough attempt to come up with such a roster. You’ll see the men’s players first, with their ages, clubs and number of caps (thank you, Soccer America), and then I’ll try to come up with their female analogues. Some of them are inexact (I really had to mix up specific midfield roles).

GK: Ethan Horvath (22, Club Brugge/BEL, 2). Jane Campbell (22, Houston, 2)

GK: Bill Hamid (26, FC Midtjylland/DEN, 3). Yes, two goalkeepers in one game. Hamid has just moved from D.C. United, where he came up through the academy.  Adrianna Franch (27, Portland, 0)

RB: DeAndre Yedlin (24, Newcastle United/ENG, 49). This is a tough one. Yedlin is well beyond the “prospect” stage, having already played in a World Cup. He’s not on the way out, like (don’t shoot the messenger) Ali Krieger. Let’s say Kelley O’Hara (29, Sky Blue, 104)

CB: Matt Miazga (22, Vitesse/NED, 4). Emily Sonnett (23, Portland, 12)

CB: John Brooks (24, Wolfsburg/GER, 33). Like Yedlin, he has already played in a World Cup, so this is a tough one. Since we went with an experienced right back, let’s take a less experienced center back who’s closer to Brooks’ age: Abby Dahlkemper (24, N.C. Courage, 13)

CB: Cameron Carter-Vickers (19, Sheffield United/ENG, 1). Tierna Davidson (19, Stanford, 0)

LB: Eric Lichaj (29, Nottingham Forest/ENG, 14). Jaelene Hinkle (24, N.C. Courage, 8)

LB: Jorge Villafana (28, Santos Laguna/MEX, 15). Lauren Barnes (28, Seattle, 0)

RM: Tyler Adams (18, New York Red Bulls, 1). Jaelin Howell (17, Real Colorado, 0)

DM: Danny Williams (28, Huddersfield Town/ENG, 23). Allie Long (30, Portland, 33)

LM: Kellyn Acosta (22, FC Dallas, 17). Lindsey Horan (23, Portland, 43)

LM: Lynden Gooch (21, Sunderland/ENG, 2). Christina Gibbons (22, Kansas … um … Utah?, 0)

AM: Weston McKennie (19, Schalke/GER, 1). Brianna Pinto (17, CASL Elite, 0)

AM: Alejandro Bedoya (30, Philadelphia, 66). Kristie Mewis (26, Houston, 15)

F: Juan Agudelo (24, New England, 27). Crystal Dunn (25, Chelsea/ENG, 57)

F: C.J. Sapong (28, Philadelphia, 3). Jessica McDonald (29, N.C. Courage, 1)

F: Dom Dwyer (27, Orlando, 4). Kealia Ohai (25, Houston, 3)

So that’s a WNT without Naeher, Sauerbrunn, Ertz, Lloyd, Morgan, Rapinoe, Heath, Leroux or Press. (Also, oddly, without Mallory Pugh or Andi Sullivan — I simply didn’t find the proper place for them, though I would fully expect to see them in a “youth movement” lineup.)

Would we like to see that? The U.S. women don’t play many friendlies like that. In fact, none.

But pretty soon, the U.S. men also might not have that chance. The Nations League may wipe out available slots for friendlies. Every game may count for something, so experiment at your own risk.

Incidentally, someone asked about a Nations League for women. Can you imagine the U.S. women going to play on a bumpy, overgrown field in Trinidad or the artificial turf in Saprissa? Those are the stadiums they roll out for men’s World Cup qualifiers — can you imagine where they might put a women’s Nations League game?

So how will the national teams develop players?

Perhaps it’s time to bring back an old idea — the national “B” team. The USA-Portugal game might be a great example, and if you can’t do it in a friendly ….

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