It finally looks like the new era for the US women’s team has begun. With legend Carli Lloyd retiring with games last month, USA coach Vlatko Andonovsky brought a youth team to Australia for a two-game series that ended on Tuesday, including five USWNT players making their international debuts.
With Saturday’s 3-0 win for the USWNT followed by a 1-1 draw on Tuesday, the Matildas may not have provided the sting the Americans might need in the long run, but the games were a full page turn of the summer. The 2020 Olympics, which saw the United States take the bronze. With an average age of 26 and dozens of single-digit players (or less), the trip abroad was a fine test for an American team in transition after failing to meet expectations in Japan.
Of course, Matilda is a team in transition too. The weakest point in the center of the defense was even more vulnerable thanks to the new duo – 17-year-old Jessica Nash and 19-year-old Courtney Niven – who were tested together in the first match. Matildas coach, Tony Gustafson, had no choice but to mess around and try to bolster the Australian defense line that conceded 36 goals in 15 games. This may have impressed the USWNT a bit, but there’s no denying that the USWNT was the better team in the first game, and also looked destined for another win until giving up a late tie in the second.
Obviously, Andonovsky was testing not only new players, but also tactics, as the Americans switched to a five-back defense in a new formation at one point. But with a sample size as small as a pair of games, playing on “enemy” ground in front of a record-sized audience in Australia is as good a test as any of those players might get for some time — after all, the USWNT usually doesn’t travel overseas for friendlies in many ways. often.
So who rose to the challenge and raised their inventory within the USWNT pool?
J Casey Murphy
In her first two USWNT games, Casey Murphy quickly showed that the USWNT might have found the next starting goalkeeper after Alyssa Naher. That’s no small revelation given that 33-year-old Naeher remains a potential candidate to lead the United States to the 2023 World Cup. After Hope Solo’s unchallenged dominance on goal for so long, as well as the sudden change that put Naeher in her place, the USWNT has yet to put up a fight A true central goalkeeper for at least a decade.
Murphy can change that. In both games, the NC Courage guard had 10 shots on target, and scored nine saves—some tricky that showed her impressive wing span to extend the ball. The 6-foot-1 goalkeeper has had her share of quick reflexes, control of the penalty area and good communication with defenders, which may only improve if she gets more reps. It also outperformed the expected goals received – an advanced metric that predicted two goals for Australia, even though Murphy only received one goal in aberration.
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Although USWNT’s 3-0 win over the first game looked like a runaway on paper, Australia made its way back into the game, forcing several key balls from Murphy.
“In the last 10 minutes of the first half, we basically relied on Casey,” Andonovsky said. “We needed it there, and when we needed it most it was great. I thought it worked for her. She gained a lot of confidence.”
Ashley Hatch, Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan netted in the USWNT’s 3-0 win over Matildas.
MF Lindsay Horan
Horan had the most touches to the ball of any American in both games and was a midfield drive, creating hazard and possession. This was especially true in the first game where she danced in yellow jerseys, and after threatening all day, she eventually scored the third goal, albeit with a penalty kick.
Having said that, it is not surprising to see Horan doing so well. In 2018, she was the NWSL Most Valuable Player, and rightly earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award that season, a level streak that helped her cement her place in the USWNT. Not only was Horan good, but consistent, consistency being the hardest part – so much so that during the 2019 World Cup, Samantha Moyes took her place and Horan has been locked in a positioning battle ever since.
That’s Horan’s question: Can she keep moving forward in every game? More consistent presentation across both games may increase Horan’s jump.
In the first game against Australia, Horan had the best passing accuracy (79%) than any American player other than Emily Fox (83%) – but the second game was even more difficult. The Portland Thorns midfielder still gets a lot of touchdowns, but he completed only 66% of her passes and was less effective in helping the USWNT move the ball. When a player has a ceiling as high as Horan’s, the expectations become much higher.
However, it is notable that Horan has been wearing the captain’s armband in both matches, and has led the way in the expected assists for both matches. While she may not have necessarily plotted a springboard – Andy Sullivan is an impressive potential contender, along with Mewis – it’s clear that Horan continues to think about Andonovski’s plans in a big way. Horan is a player worth watching.
DF Emily Fox
With the news that striker-turned-defender Crystal Dunn is pregnant, the left-back position is open to being taken, at least for a while, and Emily Fox hasn’t missed her chance. To be clear, although Dunn was the USWNT’s best choice at left-back, Dunn is a good choice anywhere on the field; If a better left-back emerges, there is reason to believe Dunn will spread elsewhere. This hasn’t happened for the past several years due to a dearth of viable options, but now Fox appears to be changing that.
With the unenviable task of trying to contain fast striker Haile Raso and the crossover from faster defender Eli Carpenter, Fox rarely misses out on much-needed one-on-one fights and locks up space. She also seemed comfortable playing through the pressure, and was a threat on the court as well.
Mallory Pugh, striker, Trinity Rodman
Two of the players not in this camp are Pugh and Rodman. Andonovsky said both were called up, but both chose not to participate, and Andonovsky didn’t say why they were chosen, neither did the players. Days after the USWNT roster was announced, Pugh missed an NWSL playoff in a COVID-related absence. Andonovsky noted that as per a mandate from the Australian government, all players must be vaccinated as a condition to be allowed into the country for friendlies.
Regardless of why the duo ultimately lost out, it was a missed opportunity for Pugh, a player trying to re-establish herself with the national team after his exit from the team, and Rodman, a young player looking for her first USWNT hat.
“Front position is an area where we felt we needed to increase the competition – not just the competition, but the overall experience of the players, so we have to give them matches like this in challenging environments like this,” Andonovsky said. From the young players he brought. “We have to see where they are.”
Australia’s crop of strikers has largely looked ahead to the task, and unfortunately for Pugh and Rodman, the roster of new call-ups – including Morgan Weaver, Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch and others have left no visible shortcomings. In fact, while Hatch led the way with two goals in two games, all the attackers gained more time with the USWNT to fight for a place against veterans like Alex Morgan and Christen Press, who weren’t part of that camp.
However, friendlies with Australia were a window of the many matches to come between now and the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, which likely won’t start until January 2023, and Andonovsky said Pugh and Rodman will have another chance soon.
“The January window is open to all of these players,” he said. “And like I said, someone like Mal and Trinity, super players, very good guys, probably one of the most exciting players in the league this year. We’re excited to have them in the next camp.”