USWNT starts the World Cup year on the right foot, but it’s still being worked out

Saturday’s warm-up did not go as planned for the US women’s team. Forward alex morgan she felt tightness in her lower leg and had to be removed from the starting lineup minutes before the first kickoff.

There’s nothing ideal about losing the team’s top active scorer for any sort of injury-related reason. This was, however, the kind of crisis management the United States could expect at the World Cup six months from now. Simulating a World Cup is the only reason they traveled to New Zealand, which will co-host the summer tournament with Australia.

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in step ashley hatchwho hadn’t been a starter in over six months and appeared to have slipped down the depth chart to the No. 9 third choice. With Morgan dropped from the lineup and sofia smiththe 2022 Women’s National Soccer League MVP, already at home due to a minor injury, Hatch was the next player to go up on Saturday.

Twenty-two minutes into the game, Hatch scored the opener of the USA’s 5-0 win over New Zealand (the second of two friendlies this week between the teams) and calmly finished off a fine sequence for the USA. which developed to the left of the team. side.

“It’s the opportunity that everybody wants, to start for this team,” Hatch said on the HBO Max halftime broadcast. “So, always ready and always prepared.”

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

Just 72 hours earlier, the US played a disjointed, boring, goalless first half against New Zealand, opting to back down their line of confrontation. Second-half turnarounds brought a big improvement and four goals scored, but Wednesday’s game continued the trend of incomplete performances, especially worrying against an outmatched New Zealand team that lost several starters because games fell outside a window of FIFA.

Saturday’s performance left a completely different feeling. The Americans were in control from the opening whistle and, for the first time in a long time, looked like the confident, pressing team that had won the last two World Cups. Remembering that identity is an important learning from this January trip, the US midfielder said. rose lavallewhich he scored in the 2019 World Cup final.

The United States scored on or before the 12th minute in every game except the 2019 World Cup final. The team’s high pressure stifled opponents early and gave the Americans advantages that allowed them to dictate matches. Much of the core of that team is missing from the current team, and that relentlessness is no longer a defining characteristic.

“One of the most important things is to start strong,” Lavelle said. “We got off to a slow start. [on Wednesday]. I think when we come out strong and play like this, I think it’s going to be more difficult. [for opponents] to keep up, so I think that’s the most important thing. When I think about what we did in 2019, I think a big part of it was that we got off to a very strong start and that we would score very early. I definitely think that’s an emphasis for us.”

Lavelle is now a veteran on this Team USA and a focal point of the offense. His role was significantly different on Saturday.

lindsey horan he played in the first match of the week before returning to his club Lyon as part of a deal with US Soccer, leaving a void for the US in the box-to-box midfielder role on Saturday. In a twist, Lavelle, who is the team’s creative midfielder and playmaker, returned to a more defensive role and played deeper than ever for the US, often picking up the ball from a center to turn and select a pass. Ashley Sanchez began in the regular role of Lavelle’s No. 10 on Saturday.

Sánchez and Lavelle have played doubles No. 10s in the past, but this was an entirely different look, one that saw Lavelle in a double-pivot role with andi sullivan. The changes appeared to bring out the best in the three individuals on the day and marked a vast improvement over Wednesday’s experimental midfield who pushed taylor kornieck in his first international title in an unknown position (defensive midfield).

“Having [Horan] here was important for the team, but also important for the player who will take on that role when she’s not here, just to see what the expectations are and what that player needs to do,” the US head coach told the media. ., Vlatko Andonovski, before Saturday’s game: “The way we see it, it’s just a chance for us to see someone else, but also a chance for someone else to show their skill and hopefully win a place for the next one.”

Lavelle often won’t play as deep as he did on Saturday, but Andonovski should feel confident he can deploy that midfield system when needed, possibly against weaker World Cup group stage opponents like Vietnam (and maybe with Catalina Macario playing alongside Lavelle once Macario returns this spring from a torn ACL). That Saturday’s midfield three looked so strong, period, is encouraging given the unit’s struggles at times last year.

Domestic victories will be the main on-field takeaways of this world trip for Andonovski and the American players. Yes, the United States was expected to beat the opponent, as they have now in 19 of 21 meetings. The United States outshot an outscored New Zealand team 22-0 on Saturday.

The purpose of the team’s trip to New Zealand was twofold: to provide a young and relatively inexperienced squad with simulations of the World Cup schedule in stadiums where they will play all their group matches, and to kick off the World Cup year with the right foot with a more cohesive game.

Wednesday’s effort was rusty, which is a January tradition even for games historically played at home. Saturday, however, brought encouragement, from Hatch and Lavelle in their roles, to Mallory Swanson (née Pugh) scoring again to continue his white-hot form. There was some mixed play in the build up to the goals, especially Hatch’s first goal, which had the US putting together sequences that have been lacking of late. crystal dunn Y trinity rodman combined on the left flank, finding central midfielders to form multiple passing triangles before Hatch’s finish.

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

“I think it was a good two games just to get out of the way,” the US defender. Sofia Huerta saying. “Some cobwebs, it’s the off-season and just get ready for the year.”

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