The U.S. Women’s national team entered this international window following their worst performance in a World Cup cycle in history. After winning the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, the national team had a new coach to lead them, named Vlatko Andonovski. With world-class players, the team was eyeing a gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a historic three-peat in the World Cup, something that has never been achieved in both the Men’s and Women’s World Cup. This vision slowly started falling apart though.
When the U.S. began its gold medal campaign in the Olympics, it started off the group stage with a historic 3-0 loss to Sweden. They proceeded to finish as runner-ups in the group stage. Then, during the knockout stage, they were eliminated from gold medal contention by Canada in the semi-finals. However, the U.S. managed to secure a bronze medal after a close game against Australia. From that point on there was fear about the United States and competition around the world. Doubts about Andonovski’s ability to properly guide this U.S. team started to circulate, but many remained hopeful that a three-peat was still in view. Once the tournament started, it was clear the USWNT had not addressed their worries.
Their first game of the group stage resulted in a 3-0 win against Vietnam. While that sounds great, the USWNT was expected to win by a lot more and their performance could best be summarized as sloppy. Against the Netherlands, the Stars and Stripes managed to secure a 1-1 draw, after being down for a majority of the game. Worries worsened after they failed to score against Portugal, and if it wasn’t for the crossbar that barely deflected a shot from Portugal, the U.S. would have been eliminated from the World Cup in a group stage for the first time ever. As the U.S. barely progressed, they had a match against rival Sweden. After again being scoreless through 90 minutes and extra time, the game went to a penalty shootout where by just millimeters, the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup in the Round of 16. This not only marked the first time they were eliminated this early in a tournament but also served as the worst performance in their history. As a result, the U.S. fell to third in the FIFA World Rankings, the first time in its history, and they changed coaches after Andonovski announced he would depart from the team.
The USWNT now faces a new culture in the federation that has been viewed negatively and a playing field that has become intense with women’s sports, which is being invested in more and more around the globe. To say the Stars and Stripes have a lot to work on would be an understatement. Their work began with two international friendly matches against South Africa who were also eliminated in the Round of 16 in the previous World Cup. These two matches also marked the retirement of veterans Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe who were key figures for the U.S. during their successful 2015 and 2019 World Cup runs.
From the start of the first match-up, the U.S. was more spirited and that drive to win appeared again. From the opening minutes of the game, the USWNT carried out an onslaught of offensive attacks that overwhelmed the South African side. A U.S. goal was imminent as they came closer to the goal, and that’s exactly what happened in the 32nd minute as NJ/NY Gotham FC Star Lynn Williams scored a header, putting the U.S. in the lead. Just minutes later, Washington Spirit forward Trinity Rodman doubled the lead from a shot on target that was assisted by veteran Alex Morgan. To finish off the half in the 41st minute, Williams secured a brace after being assisted by Lindsey Horan. The USWNT dominance that was seen before the Andonovski-era was on full display in this game. In the second half, many players were substituted for newcomers, as an opportunity to increase competitive play for recent call-ups, which resulted in a quiet second half.
Entering the second game of the series, there was much optimism that the Stars and Stripes were returning to form, and the following game proves those beliefs right. Again, the U.S. offense that overwhelmed any defense was in full form here. In the 18th minute, Rodman scored with the help of the assist from Morgan. While no other goals were scored until the second half, the Stars and Stripes had the South African defense on high alert as the majority of the game took place on their side. The second half was a continuation of the U.S.’s great attacking effort, which resulted in a header by Emily Sonnett. While the scoreline was narrower than the last game, the U.S. dominated possession, having 62.7%. When it came to shots attempted, the Americans had 19 while South Africa had none.
While there are months to go until the Women’s Gold Cup and Summer Olympics, there is much optimism for this team. This young squad has plenty of potential, and with the right coach, they could return to the dominant play that we have gotten used to over the last two decades. Twila Kilgore, the current interim coach of the USWNT, will continue leading the U.S. in the next international window in October, where the U.S. will face Colombia in a two-game series.