Three days after defeating New Zealand 4-0 in their first match of the year, the United States women’s national team defeated the co-hosts of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on Friday by a score still more unequal
The Americans got goals from Ashley Hatch, Mallory Swanson, Taylor Kornieck and two from Rose Lavelle, who served as captain with fellow veterans Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan on the bench, to win in the second of their two pre-tournament adjustments. Less than 5-0.
Here are three thoughts on the USWNT’s latest win, the overall trip and what’s next.
Questions remain despite another big win
As expected, American coach Vlatko Andonovski rotated his starting line-up heavily after Tuesday’s triumph, making five changes from what was presumably his first-choice group. In goal, Casey Murphy replaced Alyssa Naeher. On defense, Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta replaced Sauerbrunn and Emily Fox. Midfielders Andi Sullivan and Ashley Sanchez wrote Kornieck and Lindsey Horan, who returned to their French club Lyon before the restart, and Hatch took Morgan’s place after the striker limped off in the warm-up.
Some of the changes were surely planned in advance, but Andonovski also rewarded his substitutes for their contributions from the bench after a goalless first half in Wellington. Sanchez was excellent in the first game, as was Trinity Rodman, who had two assists off the bench. The pair quickly set up Hatch’s opener for the Americans on Friday, a strike highlighted by Rodman’s curling, perfectly weighted cross:
It was also interesting that Sauerbrunn, the 37-year-old USWNT captain, was the centre-back who made way, with youngster Naomi Girma remaining in the coach’s XI. What means? Six months out from the World Cup, and against, no offense to the Football Ferns, a far inferior competition, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions.
Hatch made the most of his opportunity, but that doesn’t mean he’s locked down the job as Morgan’s understudy at center forward just yet. Rodman and Sanchez raised their stocks, but the former will likely compete for World Cup minutes with the injured trio of Cat Macario, Sophia Smith and Megan Rapinoe. Meanwhile, the central midfielder trails behind Horan and Lavelle, who was perhaps the sharpest American in both displays.
Let’s not get carried away by the performance, though. Friday marked the sixth straight time the United States has beaten New Zealand by four or more goals. They now lead the all-time series 19-1-1. This was a good preseason exercise for the Americans. It was good to start a big year with two clean sheets, and on Friday the USA even snapped their four-game scoring drought in the first half. Still, as far as the World Cup goes, the truth is that these two games probably didn’t reveal much.
Off the field, an invaluable trip for the USA
This month’s trip wasn’t just about preparing Americans for what’s to come on the field later this year, of course. It was as much, if not more, about understanding what kind of environment there was off the pitch during the World Cup.
Friday’s contest was played at Auckland’s Eden Park, New Zealand’s national stadium and the venue for the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup opener against Vietnam, as well as the final of the first round against Cameroon, Portugal or Thailand. Tuesday’s win over those same Football Ferns took place at Wellington’s Sky Stadium, the site of the Americans’ much-anticipated second group-stage game against the Netherlands, a rematch of the Cup final of the World 2019.
In addition to the facilities, the USA stayed at the same hotel in Auckland and trained on the same practice fields it will use again this summer. It won’t all be the same: The Americans haven’t visited Australia this month, and the temperature on Friday’s opener was just below 80 degrees; in July, the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, highs topped the 50s, but it was an invaluable experience, although the resilience provided by FIFA’s No. 24 nation left much to be desired.
A much tougher test awaits the Americans in February
Competition won’t be an issue when the USWNT returns home to host the annual SheBelieves Cup next month. Brazil, Canada and Japan are the opponents in this winter’s tournament, which will take place from February 16-22 in Orlando, Nashville and Dallas.
All three are capable of making a deep run at Australia/New Zealand 2023, if not winning it all: Brazil is a former World Cup runner-up, Canada is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and Japan the 2011 champion (and the losing finalist). four years later).
All three will test the United States in a way the Kiwis were unable to, and all three will have access to their full complement of players because the competition takes place during a designated FIFA window for international games.
Just like in the main event, defenses will be tight and mistakes will be punished mercilessly the next time Andonovski’s squad is called up. It will be a welcome challenge for an American team in need, one that is still searching for answers with the World Cup fast approaching.
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.
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