Three takeaways on the USWNT’s run through the CONCACAF W Championship

Digging into the USWNT’s performance in Mexico

The U.S. women’s national team did exactly what they meant to do at the CONCACAF W Championship, qualifying for the next World Cup and Olympic games.

They didn’t concede a single goal, extending a shutout streak in regional qualifying that goes back to 2010, and piled up chances on the attacking side in every game. In truth, outside of a rocky first half in their opener and some mild stress in the final 10 minutes of the final, it wasn’t a particularly difficult or dramatic tournament, which is frankly the expectation for the USWNT.

Here’s what we can take away from this return to big-tournament form:

Could’ve been easier

There’s certainly a strain of thought out there that disagrees with the idea that the USWNT had an easy time at the W Championship, and while there’s no 13-0 over Thailand to point to here, “easy” can still be applied in relative terms.

Let’s take the knockout games as an example. According to CBS soccer researcher Paul Carr, the USWNT’s knockout games against the defending gold medal winners (Canada) and a solid enough Costa Rica side saw those two teams create 0.61 expected goals over two games. That’s a smothering whole-team defensive effort, something that has been a hallmark of Vlatko Andonovski’s teams at the club level, and it was important here.

Why? Because the USWNT frankly left some goals on the table in almost every game (we have to say “almost” because, 2-0 up at halftime against Costa Rica, they focused on energy preservation against a foe that had effectively placed its bets on the third-place game before Ashley Sanchez expanded their lead in stoppage time).

The USWNT starting front line in this tournament features three players who have been on fire in NWSL play this season, and the only W Championship game that was played at an NWSL level by both teams was the final. With that in mind, you’d think the scorelines would be pretty wild, but Sophia Smith, Alex Morgan, and Mallory Pugh were all a bit less clinical than they are with their club teams.

That’s not to say they were poor; their movement and ability to generate big chances bought the USWNT plenty of space elsewhere, as most of their opponents dropped off either at kickoff or, in Canada’s case, as the game wore on. But if we’re seeing the Thorns/Wave/Red Stars version of this trio in CONCACAF, the story of this tournament would have ended up being “wow the U.S. really clobbered everyone,” rather than “well that was mostly good, could have been better.”

Generational shift in progress

Speaking of Pugh and Smith, they represent a much-discussed generational shift. Andonovski said he wasn’t going to bring Christen Press to this tournament even before her torn ACL, he didn’t call Tobin Heath in after a year spent largely dealing with injuries, and Megan Rapinoe only played 73 minutes in five games.

However, the generational shift is less clear in some other places, which is why it’s still very much ongoing rather than fully complete. Morgan held off Ashley Hatch’s challenge as the team’s No. 9 (though to keep the job once Catarina Macario recovers from a torn ACL of her own, she’s going to have to arguably take her play one step further), and in defensive positions there’s still very much a preference for some veterans.

In goal, Andonovski went back and forth between Casey Murphy and Alyssa Naeher, making the rare (at least for the USWNT) choice of continuing to toggle even when faced with a consequential game. It feels from the outside like Naeher is still first choice, but it also feels like there’s at least some thought to whether her name has gone from ink to pencil on the team sheet.

The USWNT also has Naomi Girma making an excellent case for a starting role, as the San Diego Wave rookie’s distribution and ability to read plays early solves so many problems for the team. Andonovski doesn’t appear quite ready to make that jump yet, though, with Girma only getting two starts and playing only 210 minutes. CONCACAF still named her to the tournament’s Best XI, but against Canada Andonovski preferred the experience and size advantage from Alana Cook and Becky Sauerbrunn.

We may see the shift continue in the future, but the veterans aren’t just going to hang it up. Press has time to recover before the World Cup, Heath is playing in NWSL, Abby Dahlkemper is back from an injury that kept her off the roster, and Crystal Dunn wasn’t in consideration for this tournament after giving birth.

In other words, getting into the USWNT is still women’s soccer’s biggest challenge. Same as it ever was.

What’s the plan at the six?

One thing the USWNT hasn’t quite shifted yet is what they want out of the defensive midfield position. Sullivan and the former incumbent, Julie Ertz, play this role very differently. Sullivan is a ball-dominant distributor and tempo-setter for the Washington Spirit, whether she drops deep alongside the center backs or not. She’s at her best controlling play and occupying spaces that make it harder to play through her entire team’s structure.

Ertz, meanwhile, has always had more freedom to barrel out of deeper positions to win the ball, and is arguably better at that than any USWNT player ever. It’s a more hands-on, direct style of defending in the midfield, and part of the exchange is that she doesn’t set the team’s tempo on the ball or play that many game-breaking diagonals. That task was left to center backs and the rest of the midfield.

One major issue for the USWNT at the Olympics last year was ultimately that Andonovski seemed to place his bets on asking Lindsey Horan to do an Ertz impersonation rather than adapt to Sullivan’s playing style, which did not work out. Sullivan was left home, and the U.S. never looked like themselves in Tokyo, even when Ertz did return from a knee injury to play.

Fast forward a year, and things are better for sure, but it does still feel like the USWNT wants anyone playing the No. 6 to do their best Ertz impression. Sullivan sees less of the ball with the USWNT, which leads to things like Cook completing 102 passes (almost all sideways rather than forward) against Haiti. Even when the USWNT gave Sullivan a rest and deployed Horan or Kristie Mewis in defensive midfield, there are seemingly explicit instructions to send the other two midfielders further forward, which means a lone defensive midfielder gets into all-or-nothing tackles on a more regular basis.

That’s Ertz’s game, and it feels like this is a big next step for the USWNT. Do they want to keep the system that worked for one unique player in place, or do they want to start to adapt to the players that are available? It’s not like Sullivan’s skill set is inapplicable to the USWNT’s needs, what with how often they’re facing low blocks, how much possession they have.

The coaching staff needs to seriously consider whether it wants to remain in a system built for Ertz (who in the Covid-19 era has played just 629 minutes of NWSL and national team soccer), or if they want to tailor the approach for Sullivan. From the outside, it seems like it’s been time to make that latter adjustment for a good while now.

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The USWNT fit an ‘estimated 20 margaritas’ in the CONCACAF W Championship trophy

Some important scientific research was conducted on Monday night in Mexico

The U.S. women’s national team conducted some important scientific research after winning the CONCACAF W Championship on Monday night, ultimately coming to the conclusion that the regional trophy fit an “estimated 20 margaritas.”

There was reason to celebrate after the USWNT defeated Canada 1-0 in the regional title game, qualifying for the Olympics in the process. Alex Morgan’s second-half penalty stood up as the game’s only goal.

Amid the team’s celebrations Morgan posted a response on Twitter to golfer Cam Smith, who said he’d aim to find out how many beers fit in the claret jug after his British Open win over the weekend.

Naturally, with the USWNT celebrating its title in Mexico, it conducted a similar experiment but used margaritas as its medium of choice.

This brings us to our lesson of the day: trophies that can be used as receptacles for beverages are always better than those that can’t.

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USWNT ‘proud…not satisfied’ after taking CONCACAF W Championship title via Canada win

“It has to be the real deal, and this was the real deal.”

The Olympics were the reward as the U.S. women’s national team regained regional bragging rights Monday night, downing Canada 1-0 on an Alex Morgan penalty kick to win the CONCACAF W Championship.

While the post-game data underlined the fact that the USWNT left some big chances on the table, and saw others somehow saved by Canada’s Kailen Sheridan, they were able to brush the misses aside and work towards a win, playing around Canada’s midfield diamond and restricting the Olympic champions to few chances.

In the end, it took nerves of steel from the spot in the 78th minute, as Morgan fired the winner past her San Diego Wave FC teammate Sheridan after Rose Lavelle was clipped by substitute Allysha Chapman.

“It just always feels good to be called a champion,” Morgan told the CBS Sports Network’s postgame show. “Canada, they gave us they gave us a run for our money, but we prevailed and feel good about the performance.”

Morgan expanded on how important the challenge the USWNT got in the W Championship, which required seeing their way through some late pressure with a narrow lead.

“You just can’t replicate that with friendlies or (the SheBelieves Cup) or anything. It has to be the real deal, and this was the real deal,” said Morgan. “These players are making a name for themselves at such a young age. It’s incredible. We had Naomi (Girma), we had Taylor Kornieck, Trinity Rodman, come into the game to close out an important game like this. (The) experience is gonna go huge, and it’s gonna go a long way for them when we look at the next two years.”

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski praised Morgan, saying she’s improved as a player even after being away from the team for a spell after giving birth and regaining fitness.

“That’s what makes her special, that she doesn’t want to stop growing,” Andonovski said of Morgan, who was given the W Championship’s Golden Ball award after the game. “She doesn’t want to stop developing, she wants to sophisticate her game in any way possible. And she has been doing that day in and day out.”

The USWNT’s handling of the penalty kick came with some modern touches, with both Andi Sullivan and Lindsey Horan holding the ball for a spell as Canada’s protests died down and referee Katia García cleared the penalty area. However, once it came time to take the penalty, Horan handed Morgan the ball, and the veteran striker sent Sheridan the wrong way with a textbook spot kick.

“We knew that Alex was gonna take the PK, and actually all along in the tournament, she was the penalty taker,” Andonovski said, after previously demurring over who his top choice was earlier in the tournament.

“Before the final, I did speak to Alex about how she feels about taking the penalty, because obviously she’s going against her club teammate (Sheridan). But one thing I can say, she wanted to take it, and her answer was with confidence, which gave me confidence as well,” explained Andonovski. “But also, Alex is a big player, and big players are born for big moments.”

Like Morgan, Andonovski highlighted the youth movement within the USWNT, who took some criticism for being too veteran-heavy at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“It is very obvious that the team is significantly younger than the previous time we played Canada. Obviously they came with pretty much the same team from the Olympics, and we changed five players in the starting lineup,” said Andonovski, adding with a grin that players like Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith, Andi Sullivan, and Emily Fox “are gonna be here for at least three, maybe four World Cups. So, get used to them.”

While the mood was good, the USWNT still shifted focus towards the future. Andonovski even went so far as to admit that, due to a granular focus on just beating Canada and the broader creation of a plan for the next year’s build towards the 2023 World Cup, he forgot something rather important about the final of the W Championship.

“One other thing that I was just reminded a minute ago that I totally forgot about, was that we qualified for the Olympics,” said Andonovski, getting a big laugh from reporters in person at Estadio BBVA.

Speaking on CBS Sports Network’s postgame show, defender Alana Cook said the focus shifts towards some hyper-specific details.

“Vlatko said earlier this tournament: we’re not quite ready yet, and I think it’s just it’s those little details. It’s set piece things, it’s throw-ins, it’s our tactical ability, learning, switching on the fly,” said Cook before summing up the team’s mental state.

“We came here with few objectives: win this tournament, qualify for World Cup, qualify for the Olympics and we’ve done all of it. So we’re proud. We’re not satisfied.”

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USWNT exorcises Olympic demons, beats Canada in CONCACAF title game

An Alex Morgan penalty gave the U.S. revenge after a stunning loss last summer

The U.S. women’s national team got the Olympic revenge it so desperately wanted in Monday’s CONCACAF W Championship final, defeating Canada 1-0 in a game that could’ve been much more lopsided in the Americans’ favor.

USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski insisted prior to the final that there wasn’t much his side could learn from last summer’s Olympic semifinal, a stunning 1-0 loss that marked Canada’s first win over its rival to the south in 20 years.

On Monday, the USWNT made sure it would be an entirely different match to last year’s disappointing defeat in Japan.

Whereas the U.S. failed to generate much offense against a stout Canadian defense last summer, Andonovski’s team opened Canada up again and again in the CONCACAF final.

In an ironic reversal, the USWNT got the game’s only goal on Monday by earning a penalty kick with 15 minutes to go after Allysha Chapman clipped Rose Lavelle’s legs in the box when the U.S. midfielder didn’t have a whole lot on.

It was a mirror image of last summer in Tokyo, when Tierna Davidson fouled Deanne Rose in an innocuous situation, leading to Jessie Fleming’s game-winning penalty in the 75th minute.

This time, Alex Morgan’s game-winning spot kick came in the 78th minute. But unlike Fleming’s goal last summer, the USWNT’s opener looked like it had been coming all game long.

For the U.S. the chances kept coming. And coming. And coming.

There was Mallory Pugh and Morgan nearly scoring in the first five minutes. There were more first-half chances from Pugh and Sophia Smith that would have gone in on a different night, or against a different goalkeeper. Kailen Sheridan produced a heroic display to keep Canada in the match on several occasions.

And still there were more chances. Smith missed an open net after rounding Sheridan, then couldn’t finish when open at the back post. Somehow, as the game entered its final 15 minutes, it was still scoreless.

But the U.S. got the break it needed when Lavelle had her legs clipped by Chapman in the box. Morgan stepped up from the spot and made no mistake. It was all the U.S. would need.

The USWNT ended the game with a xG edge of 3.14 to .53 according to TruMedia, a more accurate reflection of its superiority than the 1-0 final score.

For Andonovski, it was vindication after a disappointing tournament debut last summer. The USWNT boss has turned over his squad considerably since the Olympics. Some changes have been forced by injuries and pregnancies, and others were simply a matter of young players being too good to ignore.

The CONCACAF W Championship was far from a flawless tournament for the U.S. but the tournament saw the team clinch a World Cup and Olympic berth, and was capped off with a dominant display against its biggest rival.

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USWNT qualifies for 2024 Olympics by winning CONCACAF W Championship

The USWNT is going to Paris!

The U.S. women’s national team clinched qualification for the 2024 Olympics Monday night by virtue of a 1-0 victory over Canada in the CONCACAF W Championship final.

The W Championship serves as CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament for both the 2023 World Cup and the Paris Olympics the following year. The USWNT clinched a place at the World Cup by advancing out of Group A last week, and assured themselves of being in their eighth straight Olympiad by beating the defending gold medalists at Estadio BBVA thanks to a 78th minute penalty kick from Alex Morgan and a largely dominant defensive performance that restricted Canada to very few truly dangerous looks.

For the USWNT, a return to the Olympics will mean pursuit of a fifth gold medal for the team, who finished with a disappointing bronze in the Tokyo games played in 2021 after being delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They previously won gold in 1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012, but haven’t been to the final in either of the last two tournaments (they lost in the quarterfinal round of the 2016 Olympics).

Canada, meanwhile, will go into a playoff for CONCACAF’s second Olympic berth scheduled for September 2023. They will face Jamaica, who a few hours before the W Championship final defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in extra time to take third place. Further details about that playoff have not yet been announced.

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USWNT isn’t talking about Olympic loss to Canada – but it looms large ahead of CONCACAF final

The U.S. is seeking revenge after losing to Canada for the first time in 20 years

Vlatko Andonovski is trying to let the past stay the past.

In last summer’s Olympics, his major tournament debut as U.S. women’s national team head coach, Andonovski saw his team consistently fail to reach its best. The denouement came in a 1-0 defeat to Canada in the semifinal, the first time in 20 years the USWNT had lost to its northern rival.

One year later, the USWNT and Canada will meet again. This time the CONCACAF W Championship, and an automatic berth in the 2024 Olympics, is on the line.

Ahead of the rematch, one may think Andonovski and his players are feverishly reviewing the film from last summer to study what went wrong.

Instead, the USWNT boss has decided the best way to exorcise the demons of 2021 is to focus only on the present.

“We haven’t really talked about it a lot,”Andonovski told the media on Sunday when asked about the Olympic semifinal. “Probably one of the reasons why is if you look at the group of players, I don’t know if there’s more than four, five players that were on the field.”

Andonovski does have a point. Of the 15 players who saw the field against Canada in the Olympics, only six (Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe, Kelley O’Hara) appear likely to play Monday night in Mexico.

But even though the USWNT brings a host of new faces to the rematch, some of the same issues from the Olympics have cropped up at this tournament as well.

MONTERREY, MEXICO – JULY 11: Players of USA pose prior the match between United States and Mexico as part of the 2022 Concacaf W Championship at Universitario Stadium on July 11, 2022 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) 

Yes, the USWNT has won all four of its games and outscored opponents 12-0, but Andonovski’s team has been sluggish in attack for long stretches – particularly against Mexico – and has looked vulnerable defensively, especially in the opener against Haiti.

It goes without saying, but the U.S. has not yet faced nearly the caliber of opponent at this tournament that it will in Monday’s final. Mistakes that didn’t kill the U.S. against Haiti and Mexico could be ruthlessly punished by Canada.

For the USWNT, defeat to Canada wouldn’t end its Olympic dream. It would instead send them into a playoff against the winner of the third-place game between Costa Rica and Jamaica – a match the U.S. would be heavily favored to win.

But Monday’s final is about more than simply qualifying for the Paris Olympics. For Andonovski, it’s about proving he can win a major final and bring the best out of his team when it counts the most. For the USWNT as a whole, it’s about righting the wrongs of last summer and proving that they are still the alpha in CONCACAF.

“It’s extremely important for us to win CONCACAF just given the expectations this team has for itself,” U.S. midfielder Andi Sullivan told Pro Soccer Wire last month. “First place is the only acceptable outcome.”

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USWNT pleased with Costa Rica win, focused on getting sharper in CONCACAF W Championship final

It was an easy USWNT win, but the team sees room for improvement

What could have been a potentially difficult night ended up being rather pedestrian for the U.S. women’s national team, who had little to worry about in a 3-0 win over Costa Rica that sent them to Thursday’s CONCACAF W Championship final.

Goals from Emily Sonnett and Mallory Pugh late in the first half, after some big misses and a shot off the post from Alex Morgan, allowed the USWNT to preserve some energy in the second half, with Ashley Sanchez firing home a third just before the final whistle to put an exclamation point on the victory.

Despite the ease of the win, though, post-game reactions were a bit reserved, as the team expressed a focus on wanting to cut down on mistakes.

“I feel like we made too many technical mistakes that are a byproduct of our mental preparation,” Vlatko Andonovski said bluntly on the CBS Sports Network’s broadcast of the game.

In the press conference following the match, Andonovski expanded on that assertion. “I thought that we made too many technical errors. Too many for the players that were on the field, because we know that they’re technical,” said the USWNT head coach. “We know they can settle the ball and pass and execute different technical demands, even under a lot more pressure in pressing moments. But today, for some reason, we made like I said, a little too many (mistakes), and that’s something that we’re gonna look into, to see what it is.”

That’s not to say that the USWNT’s performance was poor, with a relentless counter-press effectively rendering the first half an offense vs. defense exercise. Getting into halftime with a two-goal advantage gave them a vital advantage going into the final: a less demanding second half.

“We went with the game plan from the defensive standpoint that I thought that we executed well when it comes down to reading the moments, and when we want to press and when we want to drop off a little bit and allow them to connect (a) few passes,” said Andonovski. “So as we’re playing this game, where the result goes in our way, we actually started changing a little bit on how we defend, and allowed them just slightly more touches on the ball, which was for us moreso ‘let’s not waste any any extra energy that we have to to win the ball back.'”

Facing an unfamiliar Costa Rica, who came out having rotated key starters in Raquel Rodríguez and Melissa Herrera and playing a 5-4-1 formation, Andonovski detailed aspects of his game plan that helped the U.S. make the game easier on themselves.

“We knew that we’re going to have to, per se, ‘borrow’ a player from the back to overload their backline, and we knew that it’s not going to be easy to execute, because we haven’t had an opportunity to work on that,” said Andonovski, alluding to a back four that saw Sofia Huerta often joining the attack while Sonnett stayed home. “We offset the build up a little bit, with the fullbacks, and build a little different way. But overall, I still think it worked well, because especially early on, we were able to create opportunities, we were able to score goals.”

Andonovski credited that back four—who helped keep Casey Murphy from facing any shots on goal, and only one shot at all—for remaining focused throughout, even as their job largely became about possession and tempo-setting with the ball.

“(Costa Rica) were playing so low and because they were bringing numbers a lot centrally, it was hard for them to transition out,” explained Andonovski. “It looked a little bit easy for our backline, but sometimes this is even a little bit harder, because they were only called out to defend in two or three instances. So they have to maintain 100% focus throughout the whole game, and I think that they executed defensively everything well.”

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Costa Rica punts and USWNT cruises into CONCACAF W Championship final

The U.S. easily defeated a weakened Ticas side to reach Monday’s final

The U.S. women’s national team would’ve been heavily favored against Costa Rica on Thursday evening no matter the circumstances, but the Ticas essentially conceded the CONCACAF W Championship semifinal before it even started.

It wasn’t necessarily a terrible strategy from Costa Rica boss Amelia Valverde, but it did take a lot of the mystery, and fun, out of a game that theoretically should have been a major occasion.

In his press conference ahead of the match, USWNT boss Vlatko Andonovski spotlighted four Ticas players his team needed to deal with: Raquel Rodríguez, Melissa Herrera, Shirley Cruz, and María Paula Salas.

Three of those players were benched. Cruz, who hadn’t started in the tournament before Thursday, was the only exception. Valverde even benched goalkeeper Daniela Solera, who started all three group-stage games.

Valverde essentially punted on the semifinal, assuming her side would’ve lost to the USWNT anyway, and saved some of her stars for the third-place game and an alternative route to Olympic qualification.

Given the USWNT has won all 16 games against Costa Rica all time, scoring 87 and conceding two, Valverde may not have been wrong to punt on Thursday’s game. But it did give it an air of inevitability as a sparse crowd in Monterrey watched the USWNT win 3-0.

Despite a temperature hovering in the 90s all game, the USWNT pressed hard in the first half, and was rewarded particularly on Mallory Pugh’s goal, which followed a forced turnover and eye-catching backheel by Rose Lavelle.

With a two-goal lead going into halftime, the USWNT was able to ease off in the second half as it looks ahead to Monday’s final against either Jamaica or Canada.

The winner of this tournament automatically reaches the 2024 Olympics, while the loser of the final will face the winner of the third-place game for a second CONCACAF berth in Paris.

Costa Rica can now aim its focus on that third-place game. In truth, its focus was already on that game before Thursday’s game even started.

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Young USWNT readies for Costa Rica challenge at CONCACAF W Championship

Vlatko Andonovski and Andi Sullivan say the USWNT is ready for Costa Rica

The U.S. women’s national team, having won their CONCACAF W Championship group without conceding a goal, is completing their preparations to face Costa Rica on Thursday (7:00pm Eastern, CBS Sports Network and Paramount +) in a match that has major Olympic qualifying implications.

With the W Championship’s structure, winning your semifinal means a shot at an automatic berth in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, while the defeated team will play in Monday’s third-place game needing to win just to maintain hope of qualifying via a playoff over a year from now.

The USWNT has not conceded a goal in the tournament, and has historically bossed matches against Costa Rica, but speaking to media today in a pre-match press conference, head coach Vlatko Andonovski and midfielder Andi Sullivan had nothing but respect for Amelia Valverde’s side.

On the top of their list? A focus on reducing the impact of Portland Thorns midfielder Raquel Rodríguez.

Sullivan said she’s “looking forward to that matchup,” one that will be pretty common throughout given Rodríguez’s status as Costa Rica’s creative hub and Sullivan being the USWNT’s starting defensive midfielder in 2022. “I play against Rocky in the league a lot, and she’s a fantastic player.”

Andonovski also highlighted Rodríguez, but had a long list of players he’s concerned about. Bordeaux winger Melissa Herrera, veteran midfielder Shirley Cruz, and young striker María Paula Salas were all emphasized.

“They do have some weapons that they can hurt teams, and this is something that we’re very well aware of, and we’re very familiar with,” said Andonovski. “Now, it’s up to us to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

While he was willing to discuss the difficulties of playing one of CONCACAF’s top teams, Andonovski was less ready to tip his hand as far as the USWNT’s goalkeeping situation. Alyssa Naeher, the longtime No. 1, only played in the 5-0 win over Jamaica, while Casey Murphy started the USWNT’s first match of the tournament. After saying the coaching staff would discuss the situation going into the Mexico game, Murphy somewhat surprisingly got the nod.

Still, Andonovski indicated that the position is not a settled issue.

“It is a little bit up in the air,” said Andonovski. “As a staff, we’ve talked a lot about it and who’s going to be in the goal in the next game, and also how we want to approach hopefully the following game. But I’m not at liberty to discuss that right now.”

Youth movement

His choice in goal may remain a secret for another day, but Andonovski was up for talking about how this much younger version of the USWNT is handling the responsibility that comes with being on a team where the standard is to win every game.

Coming off of an Olympic tournament that saw the team lean heavily towards one more go for the generation that won the 2019 World Cup only to come home with a bronze medal, there has been a pronounced shift. Murphy is the youngest goalkeeper in camp, while the team’s two best performers in the group stage were arguably 21-year-old forward Sophia Smith and NWSL rookie Naomi Girma.

There’s a generational shift elsewhere, with Sullivan and Mallory Pugh more firmly ensconced in the squad than ever, and Emily Fox (whose status after being placed in Covid-19 protocols remains unclear) the only natural left back on the roster.

“We trust these young players a lot, and we’re very happy with where they’re at in the development stage of their career,” said Andonovski. “It was good for them to also learn some things on their own. I mean, the game against Mexico was tremendous… It was a little bit stressful. It was a little hostile. The team that we faced was a good team, very well-coached. And they were motivated. They were intense, all together. It was a great opportunity.”

The change in tournament phases has come with a roster adjustment, and the USWNT continued their youth movement. Ashley Hatch’s injury against Jamaica required a replacement being added to the team, but rather than bring another striker in, or call up a veteran, Andonovski went with yet another younger player in uncapped defensive midfielder Sam Coffey.

“We did go a little bit unbalanced in this tournament in terms of how many forwards and how many midfielders we had, but we did that with a plan in mind,” said Andonovski. “When Ashley got injured, we felt like it was a good moment to balance the team back again, and bring Sam in,” before adding that he didn’t want to go outside of the group called in for pre-tournament preparation matches in order to preserve the environment and camaraderie built over the last three weeks.

Sullivan said that on a team where the hunger to win every game is heightened no matter the competition, there’s no real adjustment to make going from the group stage’s World Cup qualification aspect over to the knockout rounds and the built-in pressure of Olympic places being up for grabs.

“We take every game so seriously,” explained Sullivan. “I don’t think it’s that much of (an) adjustment to focus now more specifically on winning the tournament and qualifying for the Olympics.”

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USWNT grateful for a test in 1-0 CONCACAF W Championship win over Mexico

“We really wanted some adversity, and we got it.”

The U.S. women’s national team completed an unblemished run through the CONCACAF W Championship’s group stage, defeating a hard-working Mexico side 1-0 on a late Kristie Mewis goal.

Heading into the game, the USWNT made plenty about wanting this particular game, with a larger and louder crowd on hand to back Mexico, to be a good test of the team’s mentality. While the performance—largely untroubled at the back, but also impatient and predictable going forward—left something to be desired, the theme of the night for the team was that the test will help going forward.

“We knew that if we don’t score early in in the first quarter of the game, that the game will be difficult and we saw at the end, it became a really good atmosphere,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski explained to reporters after the game. “I was coaching a big part of the game with a smile on my face, because to some degree we want that. We wanted to see that.”

“We really wanted some adversity, and we got it,” team captain Becky Sauerbrunn told the Paramount + broadcast after the match. “It’s not very often we get to play in front of a crowd like this. They really came out to support the home (team), and so it was good. It was adversity.”

The crowd at Estadio Universitario did bring the noise, booing USWNT corner kicks and roaring Mexican attacks. While the pattern of play meant many more boos than cheers on a night where the home team was credited with just three shot attempts, Andonovski did admit that the crowd eventually threw the USWNT out of their rhythm.

“As the atmosphere was getting fired up, our team started losing the focus of the tempo. We actually had very good control of the tempo until the atmosphere started getting rattled a little bit, and then our players started starting falling into the trap,” said Andonovski.

That trap was a too-direct approach on the ball that seemed destined to see the U.S., even playing with a numerical advantage after Jacqueline Ovalle was given a 73rd minute red card, end the night with a frustrating scoreless draw against the sort of conservative tactical approach they have spent plenty of time working on breaking down.

However, a moment of inspiration from an old hand changed the game, with Megan Rapinoe’s quickly-taken short corner kick catching Mexico off guard, and eventually ending in a scramble that Kristie Mewis bundled over the line in the 89th minute.

The goal survived a VAR check after some still angles raised major questions over whether Emily Sonnett had been offside before heading on goal moments before Mewis finished the play, but for a younger group learning some old-school USWNT resourcefulness, there’s value in finally breaking through in gritty fashion.

Sauerbrunn, who has seen plenty of big USWNT wins come via that sort of scrappy play, underlined the benefit of a new group showing that trait. “I think that’s what makes the U.S. really special, is that identity of relentlessness, never say die, really will (a goal) in.”

“I was very happy to see at the end that we still found a way,” said Andonovski. “It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t nice, but in order to win big tournaments, we know that sometimes you’re just gonna have to find a way, and we were able to do that.”

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