CHESTER, Pa. — Typically speaking, Americans abroad on a U.S. women's national team roster make for a rare sighting.
With the NWSL kicking off its fifth season this spring, the league has developed into a stable environment for Jill Ellis' pool to stay sharp. While the NWSL worked with the national team to make players available for any and every camp ahead of the 2015 Women's World Cup and 2016 Olympics, European clubs were less willing to release players on non-FIFA dates.
But with the U.S. now more than two years away from its next major event, there are three foreign-based players on Ellis' squad for the SheBelieves Cup: Manchester City's Carli Lloyd, Lyon's Alex Morgan and Chelsea's Crystal Dunn, all of whom have departed the NWSL — at least temporarily — to sign with European clubs this winter.
"We were committed to the NWSL for the first three years," Lloyd said. "Obviously with the World Cup and Olympics it's very tough to get away because Jill's calling us in outside of FIFA dates. So it just made sense — all of the pieces kind of fit together."
The U.S. kicks off the SheBelieves Cup against Germany on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium. While last year's tournament served as a key Olympic tune-up, the 23-woman squad for this edition features six players with fewer than five caps.
As the U.S. builds for future, with the 2019 World Cup in France a distant goal, Lloyd, Morgan and Dunn are using the opportunity to stray from their comfort zones.
"We're playing on FIFA dates," Ellis said. "So that obviously puts everybody in the same category, whether you're playing domestically or overseas."
While Dunn, a 24-year-old rising star, has signed an 18-month contract with Chelsea, U.S. stalwarts Morgan and Lloyd plan to return this summer to the Orlando Pride and Houston Dash, respectively.
With 73 goals in 120 caps, Morgan brought another lethal weapon to a Lyon side that landed 11 names on the 55-player shortlist for the 2016 FIFPro World XI. Although an illness has limited Morgan in recent weeks, the 27-year-old still has embraced the opportunity to grow her game since debuting for the club in mid-January.
"I just think that I've gained a different style, learning to play a different way," Morgan said. "In France, with Lyon especially, it's more of the technical side and coming back for the ball and making your runs more sophisticated."
Lloyd, on the other hand, has not yet started her three-month stint at City. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year plans to travel to England after the SheBelieves Cup concludes Tuesday in Washington and link up with her new teammates, who find themselves in the UEFA Women's Champions League quarterfinals and the FA Women's Cup round of 16.
During that time frame, the U.S. plays just two games: friendlies against Russia in Frisco, Texas, on April 6 and Houston on April 9.
"I'm able to return to the Dash and take part in the NWSL, which is very important to me still," Lloyd said. "I get to take an opportunity to play in Champions League, the FA Cup, the Spring Series. And it's an off-year. There will be one camp within that window in Texas that I'll have to fly home for and that's really about it."
Although Ellis may prefer to see her players in the NWSL during the buildup to major tournaments, the three-year gap between the Olympics and World Cup provides flexibility to tackle fresh challenges.
With an eye already turned to 2019, Ellis is pleased to see established stars push themselves in new ways.
"It's a great opportunity for them to experience high-level teams or slightly different things," Ellis said. "Every environment you go to that you can take away something I think is going to benefit us here in the long run."