Three days after thrashing New Zealand 4-0 in their first game of the year, the United States women’s national team led the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup with an even more lopsided scoreline on Friday.
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 tune-ups. Under 5-0.
Here are three thoughts on the USWNT’s latest win, the tour overall, and what’s next.
Questions remain despite another big win
As expected, USA coach Vlatko Andonovski rotated his starting line-up heavily after Tuesday’s triumph, making five changes from what was presumably his first-choice squad. In goal, Casey Murphy came in for Alyssa Naeher. On defense, Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta replaced Sauerbrunn and Emily Fox. Midfielders Andi Sullivan and Ashley Sanchez spelled Kornieck and Lindsey Horan, who returned to his French club Lyon ahead of the return leg, and Hatch took Morgan’s place after the striker limped off in the warm-up.
Some of the changes were certainly planned in advance, but Andonovski also rewarded the subs for their contribution from the bench after a dismal, 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 Friday, a strike highlighted by Rodman curling, perfectly weighted cross:
It was also interesting that Sauerbrunn, the USWNT’s 37-year-old captain, was the center back who made way, with youngster Naomi Girma remaining in the coach’s XI. What does that mean? Six months away from the World Cup, and against – no offense to the Football Ferns – far inferior competition, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions.
Hatch took full advantage of the opportunity, but that doesn’t mean she’s locked down the job as Morgan’s understudy at center forward just yet. Rodman and Sanchez both boosted 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, central midfielder remains behind Horan and Lavelle, who was perhaps the sharpest American in both exhibitions.
However, let’s not get carried away by the performance. Friday marked the sixth consecutive 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 hugely important year with two clean sheets, and on Friday the USA even managed a four-match first-half scoring drought. 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 journey for the United States
This month’s tour wasn’t just about preparing the Americans for what’s to come on the field later this year, of course. It was just as much – or perhaps more – about understanding what kind of environment it is outside the pitch during the World Cup.
Friday’s contest was played at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand’s national stadium and the venue for the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup opener against Vietnam, plus its first-round final against either Cameroon, Portugal or Thailand. Tuesday’s win over those same soccer ferns took place at Sky Stadium in Wellington, the site of the Americans’ much-anticipated second group game against the Netherlands — a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final.
In addition to the facilities, the USA stayed in the same hotel in Auckland and trained on the same training fields it will use again this summer. Not everything will be the same — the Americans didn’t visit Australia this month, and the temperature at kickoff on Friday was just below 80 degrees; in July, Southern Hemisphere winter, peaks in the 50s – but it was invaluable experience, even if the opposition from FIFA’s 24th-ranked nation left a lot 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 for this winter’s tournament, which runs from 16-22. February 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 losing finalist). four years later).
All three will test the United States in ways the Kiwis were unable to, and all three will have access to their full compliment of players because the competition takes place during a designated FIFA window for international games.
Just like in the main event, the defense will be tight and mistakes will be ruthlessly punished the next time Andonovski’s team gathers. It will be a welcome challenge for a needy U.S. team — one still searching for answers as the World Cup quickly approaches.
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and he 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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