This week has been a busy one for U.S. women’s national team fullbacks, with Emily Fox and Casey Kruger joining Arsenal and the Washington Spirit, respectively. Both were eligible for NWSL free agency this winter and Krueger opted to exercise that option on Wednesday, when she swapped the Spirit for her longtime club, the Chicago Red Stars. Fox, meanwhile, had the opportunity to move overseas with the expiration of her contract with the North Carolina Courage and officially signed for the WSL’s Arsenal on Thursday.
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Though the pair made contrasting moves in terms of geography, they are both embarking on ambitious projects that should bolster their case to make Emma Hayes’ roster for the Olympics in six months’ time. Here’s a closer look at Fox and Krueger’s transfers and what it means for the national team.
Arsenal’s title push
At roughly the halfway point of the WSL season, Arsenal sit just three points behind first place Chelsea and the 25-year-old Fox is a nice addition to a team that could set their sights on ending the Blues’ four-year championship winning streak. She answers a crucial need for the Gunners, who have been missing a natural right back since Laura Wienroithe tore her ACL last May. Left back Katie McCabe has been filling in, but Fox’s arrival means she might be able to play right away.
She is poised to be an active part of Arsenal’s attack, which will come in handy if McCabe’s performances are anything to go by — she already has three goals and one assist in three games this season. Fox’s skillset makes her a good fit, especially considering her performances in the NWSL last year. She ranked seventh overall in the league for touches and boasted a passing accuracy of 80.6%, and her role for the national team seems to be evolving in recognition of her attacking abilities.
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Though this may not have factored into her decision, the temporary proximity to Hayes cant hurt. The incoming USWNT head coach is finishing up her spell as the Chelsea manager, and Fox will have the chance to audition directly in front of her on March 17, when Arsenal play the Blues.
Spirit’s ambitious rebuild
Krueger moves to the Spirit during a fascinating period for the club. A day before her arrival was confirmed, the D.C.-based club officially hired outgoing Barcelona coach Jonatan Giraldez. He will not join the squad until his duties with the Catalan club end in May but is expected to build another attack-first, passing-oriented team when he finally arrives in the States.
It lines up well with Krueger’s own tactical evolution. The 33-year-old has built a reputation for being a defensively-minded outside back but had a successful trial run in a more offensive role during the USWNT’s wins over China in December. With four months to go before Giraldez’s arrival, it’s naturally still unclear what he plans for Krueger but her growing versatility could be an asset on a truncated Olympics roster.
The USWNT picture
Though Hayes is flexible in terms of formations, a trademark of her teams is having attack-minded players on the wings. The incoming coach’s tactical preference is an argument in Fox’s favor, but does not necessarily indicate that there is only room for one of them. Both of them started the team’s 3-0 win over China on Dec. 2, when Fox played on the left side of a back three and Krueger worked on the right wing. Krueger’s versatility might also be a selling point — Hayes’ pragmatism means she is unafraid to switch to a more defensive approach if the game calls for it.
The player pool for wide spots on the USWNT is becoming crowded, though. The team’s longtime left back Crystal Dunn is the most notable of the bunch, but her unrivaled versatility means she could slot in at a number of positions. Veteran defender Kelley O’Hara also remains in the mix and so does the versatile Midge Purce, while NWSL rookie of the year Jenna Nighswonger and Angel City standout M.A. Vignola are new additions to the group as the coaching staff explores their options. That’s without including the out-and-out attacking players like Trinity Rodman and Lynn Williams who have played wide roles in recent games, giving Hayes a lot of moving parts to work with in the run-up to Paris.
As for the long-term impact for this week’s news, it seems like one of Hayes’ recommendations has been heard. Months before she took on the USWNT job, she advocated for more players to play overseas to ensure the talent pool would be exposed to more tactical ideas. The roster is still NWSL-heavy and will likely be that way for the foreseeable future, but Fox is now one of a few USWNT players who play outside the domestic league. Captain Lindsey Horan has been with Lyon since 2022, while Chelsea’s Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel plus Paris Saint-Germain’s Korbin Albert have never played in the NWSL.
That’s not necessarily bad news for Krueger, though. The growing globalization of the women’s game means the NWSL is starting to benefit from differing tactical ideologies, and Giraldez is probably the primary example of that. When he finally arrives, he will be one of three Spanish coaches in the league — the other two are reigning coach of the year, NJ/NY Gotham FC’s Juan Carlos Amoros, and the Houston Dash’s recently hired Fran Alonso. The trio are expected to introduce some styles of play that are newer to the league, which will give the NWSL a fascinating tactical profile in 2024 and beyond.