The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) will play two friendlies against Australia just before the World Cup. We provide a quick stock update and analysis after their most recent games.
The “uswnt next game” is a stock watch for the USWNT after their recent friendlies against Australia. The team went 3-0 in the series, with wins against Australia, Brazil and China.
It now seems like the US women’s national team has entered a new era. With icon Carli Lloyd’s retirement completed with last month’s games, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski sent a youthful side to Australia for a two-game series that ended Tuesday, with five USWNT players earning their maiden caps.
The Matildas may not have supplied the sting the Americans may have needed in the long run, with a 3-0 triumph on Saturday and a 1-1 tie on Tuesday, but the games did signal a complete 180 from the summer’s 2020 Olympics, in which the US finished third. The trip abroad was a good test for an American team that is very much in transition after failing to meet expectations in Japan. With an average age of 26 and a dozen players with single-digit (or fewer) caps, the trip abroad was a good test for an American team that is very much in transition after failing to meet expectations in Japan.
The Matildas are, of course, a team in change as well. Because of a new combination — 17-year-old rookie Jessika Nash and 19-year-old Courtney Nevin — who were tested together in the first game, their weakest area, center defense, became even more susceptible. Tony Gustavsson, the Matildas’ coach, had no option but to tinker and attempt to strengthen up an Australian defense that had allowed 36 goals in 15 games. That may have been a little flattering to the USWNT, but there’s no doubting that they were the superior team in the first game, and they also appeared set for another victory in the second until conceding a late equalizer.
The Americans moved to a back-five defense in a new configuration at one point, indicating that Andonovski was experimenting not just with new players but also with tactics. But, despite the tiny sample size, playing on “enemy” ground in front of a record-breaking crowd in Australia is as good a test as any of these women will receive for a long time — after all, the USWNT doesn’t go overseas for friendly very frequently.
So, who stepped up to the plate and improved their standing in the USWNT pool?
GK Murphy, Casey
Lindsay Horan, MF
Horan had the most touches on the ball of any American in both games, and she was a force in the center of the field, posing a threat and maintaining possession. That was notably true in the first game, when she danced her way past yellow shirts and, after threatening all day, scored the game’s third goal, albeit on a penalty kick.
Horan’s success, though, comes as no surprise. She was the greatest player in the NWSL in 2018, and she deservedly won the league’s MVP award, a run of form that helped her cement her status on the USWNT. Horan wasn’t just brilliant; she was consistent, which is the toughest part — so much so that Samantha Mewis usurped her place at the 2019 World Cup, and Horan has been involved in a positioning war ever since.
Horan must answer this question: can she consistently perform at a high level in every game? Horan may have advanced even deeper if he had been more consistent in both games.
Horan led the way in the first game against Australia, with the highest passing accuracy (79%) of any American starter other than Emily Fox (83%) — but the second game was more difficult. Although the Portland Thorns midfielder had lots of touches, she only completed 66% of her passes and was less efficient in assisting the USWNT in moving the ball. When a player’s potential is as high as Horan’s, the stakes are raised even higher.
Horan did, however, wear the captain’s armband for both games, and she did lead the team in predicted assists in both games. Horan continues to play an important role in Andonovski’s ambitions, even though she hasn’t yet clinched a starting place (Andi Sullivan is an excellent prospective rival, as is Mewis). Horan is a player to keep an eye on.
DF Emily Fox is a writer who lives in New York
With the announcement that attacker-turned-defender Crystal Dunn is expecting a child, the left-back place is free for grabs, at least for the time being, and Emily Fox did not miss out. To be clear, although Dunn has been the USWNT’s best left-back option, she is a fine option everywhere on the pitch, and there’s reason to assume she would be placed elsewhere if a better left-back had emerged. Due to a lack of acceptable choices in recent years, this hasn’t occurred, but Fox seems to be changing that.
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With the tough job of containing fast forward Hayley Raso and even faster fullback Ellie Carpenter’s overlapping runs, Fox seldom put a foot wrong, engaging in much-needed one-on-one fights and shutting down space. She also seemed to be at ease playing under duress and posed a danger up the field.
Mallory Pugh, Trinity Rodman, Mallory Pugh, Mallory Pugh, Mallory Pugh, Mallory Pugh
Pugh and Rodman are two guys that are not in this camp. Both were called in, according to Andonovski, but both declined. Neither Andonovski nor the players have said why they declined. Pugh missed a NWSL playoff game due to a COVID-related absence only days after the USWNT team was released. All players were required to get vaccinated as a condition of entry into Australia for the friendly, according to an Australian government mandate, according to Andonovoski.
Whatever the reason for their exclusion, it was a wasted chance for Pugh, who was seeking to re-establish herself with the national team after falling out, and Rodman, a rookie player searching for her maiden USWNT debut.
“We thought we wanted to raise the competitiveness — and not only the competition, but the whole experience of the players,” Andonovski said of the young players he brought in. “So we have to offer them games like this in challenging conditions like this.” “We need to figure out where they are.”
The Australian forwards were mostly up to the challenge, and unfortunately for Pugh and Rodman, the fresher call-ups — Morgan Weaver, Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch, and others — didn’t leave any visible flaws. While Hatch led the way with two goals in two games, all of the attackers earned additional time with the USWNT to compete for a position against established veterans like Alex Morgan and Christen Press, who were not at the camp.
Nonetheless, the Australia friendlies were only one of many opportunities that will present itself between now and the start of 2023 World Cup qualification, which is expected to begin in January 2023, and Andonovski predicted Pugh and Rodman will get another shot shortly.
“All of these guys have the January window open,” he added. “And, as I previously said, guys like Mal and Trinity are really talented young players who are likely among the most entertaining in the league this season. We’re looking forward to having them at the next camp.”
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