U.S. Soccer’s announcement came right before our long weekends, when many of us were already transitioning into our full Thanksgiving rituals, but the news was important all the same. For the second straight camp, Midge Purce has been called into the United States women’s national team, and while the selection the team’s new head coach, Vlatko Andonovski, has brought in is being billed as a “identification” camp, Purce’s place among its 24 names still carried a number of importance inferences.
This will make the fourth time the Portland Thorns FC attacker has been called into a senior camp – the third time since she was selected by Portland in a dispersal draft just under two years ago. As of last month, that path includes her first ever appearance for the senior team: a start at right back against Costa Rica; one that, although the score went down as an own goal, saw her play dictate one of her team’s six goals.
November’s camp included a full allotment of U.S. players. This one, scheduled to take place from December 9 through 14 in Bradenton, Florida, won’t. Instead, one of its main goals appears to be giving more opportunity to players like Purce.
“One of our main goals heading into 2020 is to expand the player pool,” Andonovski said, in a statement distributed by U.S. Soccer, “but with Olympic Qualifying coming up soon, we don’t have much time to do that, so this camp is a great opportunity for the players and the coaches.”
No players in active European leagues will take part in the camp. W-League-based players in Australia are out, too, as are the team’s knowns: players like Thorns Adrianna Franch, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett, who are already part of the player pool.
Instead, between the college and professional talents being brought in, Andonovski’s latest camp has only 29 international appearances between them. Sonnett has 32 by herself.
“For the players, it’s a chance to try to earn invitations to future camps so we can evaluate them against the veteran players,” Andonovski explained, “and for the coaches, it’s a very valuable few days to try to add depth to positions where we may need it.”
This camp is going to be about the Danielle Colapricos and the Vanessa DiBernardos – the perpetually overlooked and undervalued linchpins of the NWSL. It’s going to be about the Kristie Mewises and Ashley Hatches – players who had gotten chances, before. And it’s going to be about Midge Purce – a player whose ascent is demanding attention beyond her NWSL club.
Read between the lines, and you see that, from her breakout 2019, her time with the national team in November, to somebody who Andonovski must have been intrigued by even before the 2019 season, Purce has given her new national team boss a number of reasons to be excited about her future. Though the eight times she scored in 2019 cast her, per the league’s goal-scoring charts, as one of the NWSL’s most productive forwards, Andonovski seems to have kept visions of 2018 in his head, when Purce’s play at right-wing and right back earned her a call-up from the new coach’s predecessor.
In kind, Purce is listed as a defender on the roster U.S. Soccer distributed last week, rekindling a debate which, alive since her NWSL debut, seemed to be settled during 2019. Apparently not. Though she thrived as an attacking player during her collegiate career at Harvard, Purce made her NWSL debut in 2017 with the Boston Breakers as a right back. For most of her rookie season, Purce returned to the attack, but each successive coach after the Breakers’ Matt Beard has harbored hopes of her dominating from defense. First it was Thorns head coach Mark Parsons, last season. Then, Jill Ellis. Now, Andonovski.
The returns from last month’s debut against Costa Rica warrant a deeper look, and not only because of her performance. As shown in the careers of the national team’s current first-choice fullbacks, Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara, standout scorers don’t always find their national team success at their natural position. There are only so many spaces in each squad for forwards, and while not every player can make the conversation to a fullback’s role, Purce is one of the “identification” camp players who has that potential.
In fact, potential might not be a fair way to describe it. Although Purce excelled as a number nine for the Thorns last year, she broke out in a wide role the year before. To the extent she still has potential there, that word also tends to overshadow what she’s accomplished. At one point in 2018, she was Portland’s starter on the right side of defense. She earned a national-team look with her performance. As more talent was acquired through the 2018 season, Purce continued to fight for time in the spot, and in 2019, her time at forward corresponded to a mass exodus of talent at the position for the World Cup. Through that lens, you could say Purce has performed in whatever role has been asked of her over the last two seasons, and while more growth may come at either when, or if, she’s given time to master one spot, her contributions shouldn’t be diminished by only thinking of her potential.
Still, potential is what next week will be about, with Andonovski and his staff’s questions likely to take three forms: Can Purce contribute at the senior national team level? What position will be her strongest? And when will she be ready to make that contribution?
She’s getting another look from new eyes. And quickly. It’s entirely possible that the answer to that final question will be “sooner, nor later.” Because over the last two years, as Purce has continued to show, she’s capable of rising to the challenge.