United States The women’s national team kicked off their 2023 campaign with a 4-0 crushing win over New Zealand on Tuesday. The uneven four-goal win was a two-half mixed result as the USWNT scored all four goals in the second half of the game. The team will end the two-game series against New Zealand on Friday in Auckland at Eden Park.
The game showed some pre-season rust for the USWNT in the first half, but substitutions later in the game provided much-needed energy for the win. Let’s take a look at the biggest questions facing this team:
Will they be able to avoid slow starts?
Whether it’s not following through on a game plan, finding solutions for players in different positions on the pitch, or just plain off-season form, the team is not used to slow starts in 2022. The first game behind the net in 2023 was no exception. until strong individual performances broke the slow pace. The team’s individual talent continues to pave the way for important victories ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Unfortunately, the lack of sharpness in games has become a general trend for the team under head coach Vlatko Andonovski. The ubiquitous 4-3-3 formation often results in the USWNT taking time to develop a meaningful attack, and with New Zealand organized in a 4-4-2 formation, the team failed to achieve much in the middle even with most possession. . Fortunately, New Zealand’s mutual lack of attacking play prevented a goal in the first half.
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What can be done in the middle?
Trying to find solutions in the middle third, the coaching staff put Taylor Cornick in at fullback in the middle of the game against New Zealand. Andonowski cited substitution in pre-match segment with HBO MAXIMUM as “an opportunity for us to try something different”, though the concept of pinning your tallest player in that role isn’t exactly a unique response.
Trying to replace Julie Ertz, a former No. 6 who was out due to injury and then on maternity leave, had a long gaping hole in the system. The unanswered question has now leaked into the long absence of Sam Muis as No. 8 for the team. The constant rotation of the defensive midfield position also arguably does a disservice to those who have since been asked to fill the position. Andy Sullivan often played this role, but the coaching staff used Christy Mewis and Lindsey Horan, among others.
The strengths of Kornik are that it is valued higher on the field. We have seen the evolution of her departure from a lower role with Orlando Pride to attacking mid in head coach Casey Stoney’s system with San Diego Wave FC. An incoherent first half against New Zealand against organized opposition resulted in Cornick and Sullivan’s touch maps being very different.
Can a coach instill confidence in game changers?
Trinity Rodman has been linked to the senior national team pool since her NWSL rookie in 2021. The winger has been very slow to engage in matches and has mostly played a role off the bench, mostly when the team is in need of a spark. Opportunities were few and far between, with two goals in 11 matches with the team, but her presence often provided a fresh set of feet with quick touches at her feet. Her second-half substitution against New Zealand resulted in two assists on both the first and last goal of the game.
Ashley Sanchez, Rodman’s teammate with Washington Spirit, was also offered to the team as a late game option last year. Sanchez can be the link in strong counterpressing for a team that can break lines with the fastest touches. Both skills were an asset, but were rarely used for more than 90 minutes, so that may change for a team that has six months left to prepare for the World Cup.
If Rodman and Sanchez remain as off-bench options, they could be potential “castles” for the national team as they could be a game-changer ahead of the World Cup. As more players come back from injury, more players will be laid off, but Rodman and Sanchez will make growth decisions difficult due to their influence on games, especially if they continue on this current way.
The return of Lynn Williams to the team after a 10-month absence due to hamstring surgery is already an early example in 2023 of longtime players returning to their roles. Williams still needs time to get used to playing the full 90 minutes, but she’s on her way after scoring against New Zealand on Tuesday. With the SheBelieves Cup set to kick off in February, there’s a chance more injured players could return, making the overcrowded player pool narrower.