For Christen Press and Tobin Heath, the lackluster performance of the U.S. women’s national team so far at the World Cup is a symptom of larger issues plaguing head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s system.
The USWNT failed to make any tactical adjustments in its group-stage matches, Press pointed out to Heath on their World Cup podcast “The RE-CAP Show.”
“It wasn’t that we didn’t put players into the match, right? That’s what everybody was emotional about,” added Heath, who herself had commented on the USWNT’s lack of substitutes. “But the point was the team didn’t structurally change to win that game (against Portugal).”
Press called Tuesday’s scoreless draw with Portugal a “micro moment” that is reflective of the “macro moment” for the USWNT. Andonovski failed to make adjustments not only in that match but in all of 2023.
“Have we seen any tactical adjustments in the last year?” Press asked. “Have we seen any different formations tried? Have we seen any adjustments to the way that we’re pressing? We’ve seen the team come out for the last year in the same general shape in the same general pressing structure.
“And the question I have is, now we’re in this tournament and we’re saying, ‘OK we’re not super happy with the first three performances, but we’re going to grow, and we’re growing into this tournament.
“But if we haven’t seen growth in the last year, then how can we expect growth now to happen over the next seven days?”
The World Cup may have exacerbated the USWNT’s problems, but those problems didn’t happen overnight, as both Press and Heath argue. For Heath, the problem started in roster construction: Rather than opening up the player pool and looking at all the pieces available and how they could work together, the USWNT got lost in the details.
“I think we never generalized, we went straight specifics,” Heath said. “We went straight to: this player is playing really really well. This player is the best in their position, this player, this player, this player. And for me there was never this idea of a team.”
Take Crystal Dunn as an example. While Heath took issue with Alexi Lalas reducing Dunn to a player that looked like she had never played soccer before, calling the comment “really harsh,” she pointed out the kernel of truth within the criticism. It boils down to the system
How does a world-class player like Dunn “become nothing?” Heath asked. And the answer boils down to the system, which is not working for her or for the team as a whole.
“Right now, our most effective players not only aren’t effective for themselves, they’re not being effective for others,” Heath said.