‘It’s Cutthroat’: For U.S. Women, Toughest Battle Is to Stay

“It’s emotionally a lot, for each of these players,” she added. “If you’re playing and starting, it’s perfect. If you’re scratching and clawing to get into this roster, or get into the lineup, it’s a grind.”

Wagner and current players described the atmosphere of constant competition as a battle not of player against player, but of player against “their best self.” But yes, Wagner said, there were also hard fouls and kicks in training, and sideways glances in the locker room. Every player does it at some point, she said, and then sets it aside.

“That’s how you navigate this environment,” Wagner said. “If you start to think about you vs. someone else, that is septic. It’s not good for you as a player, and it’s not good for the group.”

Instead, players try to sharpen their focus on things they can control. Midfielder Sam Mewis said Andonovski had worked with her on improving even a single kind of pass each time. Williams has been instructed to “do right now what nobody else can do, and use your speed and be dynamic.”

“So that’s what I’m doing,” she said. “Hopefully he likes it. Hopefully it continues.”

But in the end, Williams said, whether she stays with the team for the coming SheBelieves Cup in March, or a set of April friendlies, or even the Olympics, “is not my decision.”

So she will keep trying to get behind defenders. And Christen Press will keep trying to score every time she’s on the field. And Emily Sonnett — who played multiple positions in recent games — will continue to show value in her versatility.

“One step is just getting in the door,” Williams said. “And then the next step is hopefully getting on the field.”