After a scoreless first half against the 2023 World Cup co-hosts in Wellington, the U.S. got a pair of second half goals from Mallory Swanson (née Pugh) plus strikes by Alex Morgan and Lynn Williams in a 4-0 victory for the defending world champions.
The Americans will try to become the first team, men’s or women’s, to win three straight world titles when this year’s event kicks off in Australia and New Zealand in July.
Here are three thoughts on Tuesday’s win.
Swanson makes a name for herself …
Playing her first match since marrying Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson last month, Swanson did her best to cement her spot on the field come this summer with fellow forwards Megan Rapinoe and 2022 USWNT player of the year Sophia Smith missing this month because of minor injuries. The second-youngest member of the member of the trophy-winning squad at 2019, Swanson has been in the form of her career over the last 12 months. That brilliant play continued in this year’s opener.
There was little apparent rust on the winger compared to most of her teammates — the January games aren’t usually pretty following the long NWSL offseason. Swanson looked sharp dangerous throughout the match, and she took her pair of goals ruthlessly. The first came on a pinpoint header, the second following a run in behind the Kiwis’ back line:
If Swanson is to start Down Under this summer, it will probably be alongside Smith and Alex Morgan, if they’re healthy. That would leave Midge Purce (who started Tuesday and showed well enough in 45 minutes of action) and Williams (who deserved her tally after an injury ravaged 2022) poised for roles off the bench alongside the subject of the next section, who helped her cause considerably on Tuesday.
… as does Trinity Rodman
With two assists off the bench, the 20-year-old Rodman produced her best performance for her county in her 10th international appearance. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Rodman is a special talent; it’s not her ability, but rather the USWNT’s absurd forward depth that has prevented Rodman from filling a bigger role to date.
But World Cups also have a habit of making young stars, and Rodman seems to have a knack for taking advantage of her opportunities, like her helper on Williams header that completed the rout:
While the logjam up top makes a starring role at Australia/New Zealand 2023 seem unlikely now, a lot can change in six months. Morgan will be 34 when the World Cup kicks off. Rapinoe will be 38. Injuries happen, even to youngsters like the 22-year-old Smith. Just one or two could open the door for Rodman, who feels destined to make her mark on the biggest stage one way or another this year.
Other World Cup lineup clues
An hour before the friendly game — which along with Friday’s rematch was arranged as a vital part of the holders’ World Cup preparation — started U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski provided some insight into the pre-competition pecking order among the national team’s personnel.
There’s plenty of time for Andonovski’s opinions to change over the next six months, of course — that’s one of the main points of this camp, plus next month’s three SheBelieves Cup contests versus Brazil, Canada, and Japan. But the coach’s first lineup of 2023 did make a few things clearer.
It looks like veteran keeper Alyssa Naeher’s job to lose in net. Crystal Dunn, who returned from maternity leave last October, is probably the first choice left back, with Emily Fox left to battle Emily Sonnett (and maybe still Kelley O’Hara) on the right.
It was telling that in her maiden U.S. start defensive midfielder Taylor Kornieck got the nod in the role Julie Ertz, still out after giving birth to her first child last August, has occupied during most of Andonovski’s tenure. The coach kept Lindsey Horan in a more of an attacking role alongside Rose Lavelle, with Sullivan replaced Kornieck at the break.
Some rotations are surely planned for Friday, and that match will no doubt tell us more about where the U.S. is. How much? While the U.S. may have avoided the sort of World Cup-year-opening defeat that they suffered to France in both 2015 and ’19, Tuesday’s encounter suggested that they still have plenty of work to do. FIFA’s No. 24-ranked Football Ferns aren’t Les Bleus, and the performance by the Americans wasn’t overly convincing despite the lopsided final score. They’ll be looking to put that right when these teams meet again in three days.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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