Heather O’Reilly knows the U.S. women’s national team needs to make some changes in order to succeed at the 2023 World Cup. But will head coach Vlatko Andonovski make those changes? The World Cup champion turned Fox Sports analyst isn’t so sure.
The USWNT advanced to the Round of 16 by the grace of a goalpost, which preserved a scoreless draw with Portugal to close out the group stage. The defending champions will face Sweden, and they’ll do so without Rose Lavelle, who must sit after picking up two yellow cards in the past two games.
Andonovski has faced his fair share of criticism for USWNT’s poor performance relative to its usual World Cup results. And for O’Reilly, who won three Olympic gold medals and a World Cup during her 14-year career with the team, those results will not come without tactical changes.
“We would all be naive if we thought we could win this World Cup with the way that we look right now,” O’Reilly said after Tuesday’s draw with Portugal. “So there needs to be changes. And there needs to be big changes. Whether or not Vlatko Andonovski is going to make the changes, well, that’s another story.”
What are the changes O’Reilly suggests? For one, move Julie Ertz back to the midfield, which has sorely missed her absence as she spent the group stage at center-back. In her place, start Alana Cook on the backline.
“I want to see Julie Ertz in the midfield, OK?” O’Reilly said. “We don’t have Rose Lavelle. This is exactly what happened in 2015. Lauren Cheney got a yellow card, that forced Carli Lloyd up the field, and we all know what happened. Maybe Rose Lavelle getting yanked because of the yellow card situation is the exact catalyst that we need to spice it up, to have a new look.”
If, by some miracle, Andonovski does decide to switch up his formation in any way, shape or form, O’Reilly promises to go cage diving with sharks, per a bet she made with her fellow Fox Sports analysts.
“I think we could take this conversation two different ways: what would I do, and what do I think Vlatko Andonovski (is going to do),” she said when asked about whether or not Crystal Dunn should shift from the defense to the midfield.
“Because there’s no way that Vlatko Andonovski is going to change his defensive shape at this point,” she continued. “I would be shocked… I will shark dive if Vlatko Andonovski changes his backline for this game — shape or personnel… He ain’t doing it.”
When asked about her suggestion to shift Ertz back to the midfield in the absence of Lavelle, with Alana Cook as Ertz’s replacement center-back, she conceded the point.
“Well, we’ve got to make some change in the midfield, so that’s a decent bet,” she said. “So I guess I’d be swimming with the fishes.”
Ertz could play the role of “an enforcer” in the midfield — and the USWNT might not have any other choice, without Lavelle in the mix. The team needs something – anything, really – to spark some life.
“It’s a trade-off,” O’Reilly said. “[Ertz in the midfield] is going to be an enforcer. She’s going to make things happen. She might even get on the end of a cross. You have to. The chips are all in.
“There’s no way we are going to win the World Cup in the state that we are right now. I really do think Vlatko Andonovski knows that. I think he’s happy about a couple things, not conceding any goals, but he’s not an idiot. He’s got four more games to plod through.”