USWNT preparing for Olympics with Gold Cup

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Jenna Nighswonger and Abby Dahlkemper laid out their expectations for the Gold Cup.

CARSON, Calif. — The first Women’s Gold Cup is set to be a thrilling tournament as top teams from North America and guests from South America face off. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2023 World Cup, where they exited in the Round of 16. Other teams are vying to keep the United States off the throne, showing their talents on an international stage. 

However, the tournament serves many purposes for the United States. Aside from a chance to reestablish dominance, it is a tryout and practice for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which begins in late July. The Olympics are an opportunity for the United States to claim victory on a global stage after a disappointing World Cup. But with a roster of 18 players in the tournament, players are competing for a shot at being a part of such an effort in Feb. 

One of those players is defender Jenna Nighswonger, the 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year. She received her first USWNT cap in Dec. of 2023, and during her second straight camp, she is looking to prove herself. 

“It’s a great opportunity to get in with the team and show myself,” Nighswonger said about the Gold Cup. “It’s just great preparation for the Olympics. We are going after gold in this tournament, and every game is looking to help us for the Olympics.”

Nighswonger also won the NWSL Championship with Gotham FC in her rookie season. The 23-year-old displayed her talents through two-way play, scoring three goals as an outside back. She wants to stay true to her identity in the Gold Cup.

“I’m just trying to be myself,” Nighswonger said. “I play best when I’m just being myself, so I am going to try to do that in camp and have some fun.”

Nighswonger is one of many young players wanting to grow their role with the USWNT. There are two teenagers, Olivia Moultrie and Jaedyn Shaw, and multiple others who are younger than her on the 23-player Gold Cup roster. Additionally, some veterans want to solidify their role.

30-year-old defender Abby Dahlkemper is one of those players. After a back injury, she received her first USWNT cap in 599 days in Dec. of 2023. In Feb., she was called into her second straight camp. 

“You want to do your best every day, and trying to stay focused and present and controlling the things I can control is important,” Dahlkemper said. “I feel really good physically. I feel really good mentally. I am hopeful and excited for this year.”

Dahlkemper is teammates with Shaw on the San Diego Wave and has seen Shaw make her mark by scoring five goals in 2023. However, Dahlkemper recognizes all of the talent in the USWNT’s next generation.

“The younger girls coming in are so so talented, and they have such a bright future,” Dahlkemper said. “They bring creativity and flair on the field and are fearless, passionate, and fit in well with the group. It’s an exciting time for this team, seeing the progress younger players coming in. And they are really young.”

Dahlkemper is telling them to stay present and enjoy camp. She feels like careers go by quickly, so staying present is vital to finding success.

“Often, as humans and athletes, we always want the best, and we’re always looking forward,” Dahlkemper said. “It is important to be present and enjoy it. Be yourself and show why you are here and why you got invited.”

The USWNT will play its first Gold Cup game on Feb. 20, the first of three group-stage matches. But, their road to winning the tournament began in training on Wednesday, the first of many sessions serving multiple purposes.