USWNT rounding into World Cup form, but work still needs to be done

FRISCO, Texas – The United States Women’s National Team swept their competition to win their sixth SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday night. The tournament featured three challenging opponents in Canada, Japan and Brazil, all of whom are ranked in the top 11 in the world and have qualified for the World Cup.

The USWNT has just three more games before heading to New Zealand and Australia, meaning coach Vlatko Andonovski will have to make a decision early on which 23 players he wants in his squad.

How does the U.S. fare against the toughest competition it will see before the summer tournament? Who defended playing time and who did not? How does Andonovski rate the three performances? Here are five things we learned from the SheBelieves Cup:

The initial alignment is focused

Replace Trinity Rodman with a healthy Sophia Smith on the wing and the line-up Andonovski fielded against Brazil on Wednesday night could very well be the headliners we see in New Zealand.

The lineup was as follows: Alyssa Naeher in goal, Emily Fox, Becky Sauerbrunn, Naomi Girma and Crystal Dunn in the backline, Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle as a midfield trio, and Rodman, Alex Morgan and Mallory Swanson on top. .

It is a strong group that could and should win many games. Smith (foot) and Catarina Macario (ACL) should be available for the next FIFA window in April, when the U.S. hosts the Republic of Ireland in Austin on April 8 and again in St. Louis on April 11. Getting these two back with the national team will be incredibly important as Smith should start and Macario will fight for a starting spot in midfield.

Andonovski won’t start the same 11 in every World Cup game, and based on his substitution habits, we saw other players who can play valuable minutes. Kristie Mewis earned a good amount of playing time, including playing a total of 90 against Japan. Emily Sonnett, Alana Cook, Ashley Sanchez and Lynn Williams also saw valuable time in the outfield, while Taylor Kornieck, Ashley Hatch and Sofia Huerta are still on the bubble.

Mallory Swanson will be a force

Swanson won the MVP after becoming the first player to score in all three SheBelieves Cup games. Swanson scored four goals in three games, and has seven goals in five games played so far this year. And it’s only February.

It’s incredibly clear what the future holds for the 24-year-old forward. He exudes confidence on and off the field. When asked what has been going into his scoring frenzy lately, Swanson just shrugs and says he just wants to play fast and keep the intensity high.

One of the best quotes about Swanson this past week came from Andonovski after the U.S. beat Japan 1-0 in Game 2. Swanson scored the only goal, probably the best of the four she scored, and Andonovski was asked how important it is to have her in this kind of form as the team prepares for the World Cup.

“I mean, it definitely makes my life a little bit easier,” Andonovski said.

He added: “The speed she has helps, but she controlled the ball and juggled two touches in the air at full speed. That’s technicality. She’s a very skilled player. With pressure at her back in a 1 – In a one-on-one situation, when that goal ended, it looked like the game had stopped for her so she could finish the final touch. She’s obviously in great shape and we’re happy and we’re supporting her in every way we can.”

All this is just preparation for the World Cup

The U.S. needed to win the SheBelieves Cup to instill confidence and reduce any panic that might have set in after the team dropped three straight games to England, Spain and Germany at the end of 2022. It was the first time since 1993 that the USWNT was losing. three games in a row.

Overall performances were mixed, but the Americans were tested and came away with three wins. The most important thing for Andonovski was that his team had a couple of weeks together to continue preparing for this summer.

“While we were in the camp we were talking about, it’s not about this tournament, it’s about the preparation for the World Cup,” Andonovski said. “And the fact that we were able to do well against such great rivals motivates us to keep going because we believe that we still have some things to fix and improve.”

It was also an opportunity for the young players to get to know the rhythm of a World Cup. The SheBelieves Cup intentionally mimics a World Cup group stage, playing three matches in seven days. USA made sure to cover everything they could for the team, right down to games, practices, meals, travel, bus schedules, media opportunities, staying at different hotels and more.

The players noted over the last week that it was very beneficial to have that experience, in addition to going to New Zealand last month and feeling what it’s like to make that long flight and play in the actual stadiums he will be playing in this summer.

USA needs better goal celebrations

Megan Rapinoe was so sure Swanson was going to score in the second half Wednesday night that she raised her hand and called it before Swanson even touched the ball. As soon as Swanson scored, lifting the U.S. to a 2-0 lead, she ran to the sideline and hugged Rapinoe. This was their version of a goal celebration. She later told reporters that Rapinoe had informed her that the USWNT needed better goal celebrations, so that’s what she came up with at the time.

Rapinoe, of course, is the queen of goal celebrations. His famous 2019 World Cup Pose took on a viral life of its own and he hopes his teammates will maintain that standard.

“It’s an area that we really have to focus on, and I think it’s something that you have to take seriously going into a World Cup,” Rapinoe said, trying not to laugh at herself. “It hasn’t been good enough.

“I’m going to need people to come to the corner flag and get the glory. I mean that’s literally the goal of the game. . . . Alex always has good ones. He’s always thinking. You know I should get used to it. , it’s been like a year on the heating.”

It’s a good thing Rapinoe will be on the roster this summer to keep her teammates in line.

April will be a very important window

The U.S. has one more FIFA window this April when it hosts the Republic of Ireland, who will make their World Cup debut this summer.

Who Andonovski calls into this camp will be important, as it could be the last group to board the plane below.

It’s safe to assume Smith and Macario will be on the April roster. What about other previously injured players who are working their way back to full recovery? Names to think about are Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press and Tobin Heath, all of whom have World Cup experience and know what to expect on the world’s biggest stage. There’s also Tierna Davidson, who was in training camp with the USWNT in Orlando, but didn’t play in a game.

The SheBelieves Cup squad was a younger and less experienced squad with 11 of the 23 players under 30 caps. Despite so much budding talent, will Andonovski include more veterans on his final roster like former coach Jill Ellis did four years ago when she brought back Ali Krieger?

Whoever calls Andonovski in April will say so.

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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