Williams, 28, was part of an inexperienced squad that traveled to Australia for two friendly games against the Matildas in November; the side featuring an average age of 26 and a dozen players that had single-digit senior internal caps (including five eventual debutants).
Nonetheless, the reigning world champions proved far too strong for their hosts — themselves undergoing a period of experimentation and reformation under new coach Tony Gustavsson — in a 3-0 win in the opening fixture of the two-game series in Sydney and were unlucky to concede a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw in Newcastle.
Combined with the continued strengthening of women’s football across Europe and the retirement of Carli Lloyd, the series carried an overarching air that the USWNT was truly beginning to properly enter into a new era, and Williams believes that the spirit of competition for a space in Andonovski’s plans can only strengthen the team.
“I think we’re in a great spot,” she said. “The stressful but amazing thing about the U.S. is that the player pool is so deep, so every day you have to be on your A-game. There’s always somebody there who is willing to do the work and put in the effort, so it only pushes you to be that much better if you want it.
“I think that people have been saying that [the U.S. is poised to be deposed atop the women’s footballing world] a lot of years. And until it happens I don’t know; people can say it all they want but we are back-to-back world champions.
“That’s not to discredit how great soccer has become in Europe, Australia and all around the world. In my time of playing, which honestly isn’t that long, I’ve seen the game grow exponentially. I can imagine it’s going to continue to grow.”
Williams remained in Australia after the USWNT and secured a short-term loan with defending A-League Women‘s champions Melbourne Victory. Though under no illusions that she will have to earn her playing time in an attack that started the season with a bang, the 45-time American international believes her coming sojourn will allow her to continue to improve during her nominal offseason.
“I was the one who pursued this opportunity,” she explained. “I think [the USWNT staff] were like ‘you should probably take your offseason and rest’ but I wanted to come here. I wanted to continue to play, sharpen some things that I think I need to work on — finishing and being more dynamic, hopefully taking players on.”
The attacker, however, also believes that the coming month Down Under will provide an important mental refresher after what has been a challenging NWSL season and a long time spent away from her Australia-based partner due to the COVID-pandemic — a chance to “fall in love” with football once again.
Williams’ coach at North Carolina Courage, Paul Riley, was one of five male NWSL coaches fired or forced to resign during the season; the 58-year-old dismissed in the wake of allegations of sexual coercion and predatory behaviour towards players during his time as coach of Portland Thorns. Elsewhere, Richie Burke was banned by the NWSL after allegations surrounding abusive behavior at Washington Spirit, OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti was ousted after allegations of inappropriate comments from players, Christy Holly was sacked from Racing Louisville, and, just days after coaching the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL championship game, Rory Dames resigned ahead of the publication of a report by The Washington Post that detailed allegations of harassment and emotional abuse.
“In the NWSL, I think it was a tough year, I think, for everybody,” said Williams. “Not just on the field but mentally, what was going on with all the sexual assault. I think coming here is just going to be an exciting time and a time to just fall in love with the game again. So that’s what I want to do.
“Melbourne, I feel, is like home to me. My partner [Dandenong Rangers basketballer Marley Biyendolo] is from here so I definitely feel like it is a second home to me. It was important, because of the pandemic, for me to come back here so we can spend time together.”