The USWNT is starting the World Cup year on the right foot, but still thinks of itself

Saturday’s preparations didn’t go as planned for the United States Women’s National Team. straight ahead Alex Morgan She felt tightness in her lower leg and had to be removed from the starting line-up minutes before the first kick.

There is nothing ideal about losing the team’s top scorer due to any reason related to injury. However, this was the kind of crisis management the United States might have to expect at the World Cup in six months’ time. The World Cup simulation is the whole reason they made the trip to New Zealand, which will host the summer tournament along with Australia.

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in stepped Ashley Hatchwho had not started in over six months and appeared to have slipped down the depth chart to third choice No. 9. With Morgan dropping out of the line-up and Sophia Smiththe 2022 National Women’s Soccer League MVP who was already at home with a minor injury, Hatch was the next player on Saturday.

After 22 minutes into the match, Hatch scored the opening goal in the USA’s 5-0 victory over New Zealand (the second of two friendlies this week between the sides) to quietly cap off a fine run as the USA developed down the left side of the team. side.

“It’s the opportunity everyone wants, to get started for this team,” Hatch told the HBO Max broadcast at halftime. “So, just always ready and always ready.”

Hatch’s goal was personally significant for the 27-year-old in her quest to make her first World Cup roster, and was one of many positive developments on Saturday for a US team still trying to discover the best version of itself.

Just 72 hours earlier, the USA had played a disjointed, dull and scoreless first half against New Zealand, choosing to step back from the front line. Changes in the second half brought significant improvements and he scored four goals, but Wednesday’s match continued the trend of patchy performances, especially troubling against a match-winning New Zealand side that lost several key players as matches fell outside the FIFA window.

Saturday’s performance left a completely different feeling. The Americans dominated from the whistle and for the first time in a long time sounded like the confident, high-pressing team that won two World Cups. The USA midfielder said reminding themselves of this identity is an important takeaway from the January trip Rose LavelleWho scored in the 2019 World Cup final.

The USA have scored in the 12th minute or earlier in every match except the 2019 World Cup final. The high pressure on the team stifled opponents early on and gave the Americans a lead that allowed them to dictate matches. Much of the core of this team is missing from the current team, and this rigor is no longer a defining characteristic.

“One of the biggest things is starting strong,” said Lavelle. “It was a slow start [on Wednesday]. I think when we come out strong and play like that, I think it will be harder [for opponents] To keep up, I think that’s the most important thing. When I think about what we did in 2019, I think a lot of it was we had a really strong start and we were scoring really early. I definitely think that’s the focus for us.”

Lavelle is now a veteran of this American team and a focal point in offense. Her role was dramatically different on Saturday.

Lindsey Horan She played in the first game of the week before returning to her club, Lyon, as part of an agreement with US Soccer, leaving a void for the United States in the midfield role on Saturday. In a twist, Lavelle – a creative midfielder and playmaker for the team – returned to a more defensive role and played a deeper role than she ever had for the United States, often collecting the ball from the centre-back to pick it up and catch it. pass. Ashley Sanchez Lavelle’s regular #10 role started on Saturday.

Sanchez and Lavelle have played No. 10 in the past, but this was a very different look, seeing Lavelle in a dual pivot role with Andy Sullivan. The changes seemed to bring the best out of all three individuals on the day and marked a huge improvement over Wednesday’s Test midfield that pushed Taylor Cornick On her international debut in an unfamiliar position (defensive midfield).

We take [Horan] Here he was important for the team, but also important for the player who will step into that role when you’re not here, just to see what the expectations are and what that player has to do.” Saturday’s game. “The way we see it, it’s just an opportunity for us to see someone else, but it’s also An opportunity for someone else to show her ability and hopefully she can get a place in the next game.”

Lavelle won’t often play as deep as she did on Saturday, but Andonovski should come away feeling confident he can deploy this midfield system when needed, possibly against weaker World Cup opponents in the group stage like Vietnam (and possibly with Catherine Macario He plays next to Lavelle, once Macario returns this spring from a torn ACL). Saturday’s midfield three looked very solid, period, which is encouraging given the unit’s struggles at times over the past year.

Home victories will be the main on-field highlights of this journey across the world for Andonovsky and the United States players. Yes, the opponent was expected to be beaten by the United States, as it has now in 19 of the 21 meetings. The United States edged out New Zealand 22-0 on Saturday.

The purpose of the team’s short trip to New Zealand was twofold: to provide a young and relatively inexperienced roster simulation for the World Cup scheduling in stadiums where they would play all their group matches and get the World Cup on the right foot with more cohesive play.

Wednesday’s effort was rusty, which is a January tradition even for games historically played on home soil. Saturday, however, brought encouragement, from Hatch and Lavelle in their roles, to Mallory Swanson (née Pugh) scores again to continue her flamboyant brilliance. There was team play in the build-up to the goals – especially Hatch’s opener – that saw the US piece together sequences that had been missing lately. Crystal Dunn And Trinity Rodman Combined on the left flank, finding the midfielders to form multiple passing triangles before the end of Hatch.

No, New Zealand is not England, Spain or Germany, all of which have exposed US weaknesses in recent victories. January of the World Cup year is all about fixing problems when it matters in the summer, no matter the opponent. Tougher tests await next month against Brazil, Canada and Japan – three of the world’s top 11 teams. Saturday’s performance was a step in the right direction for the United States

“I think they were two good games just to get out of the way,” said the USA defender Sofia Huerta He said. “Some cobwebs, it’s off-season, and get ready for this year.”

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