The U.S. women’s national team kicked off their October friendly series on Thursday with a choppy 0-0 draw with 2023 World Cup quarterfinalists Colombia. The two-game series will likely serve as the final international break before U.S. Soccer names a permanent coach after the departure of Vlatko Andonovski in August.
If the USWNT’s September games against South Africa were the closing of one chapter in the team’s history, Thursday’s game suggested a reluctance to begin writing a new era. The balance between steady cohesion and progress from a disappointing 2023 World Cup could be tipping too far in one direction, which is both understandable and worrying with limited time to regroup for the 2024 Olympics.
Fans looking for greater freedom of movement from the team’s veterans were disappointed this week. And while the U.S. ably contained Colombia superstar Linda Caicedo, their emphasis on defense over exciting attacking interplay made them look like a team that’s treading water before their real boss arrives in December.
The U.S. walked away with a result on Thursday night in Utah, but they still don’t look like the world-beaters they’d like to become once again. So, where do the biggest issues lie?
The USWNT’s starting XI against Colombia was completely made up of players from the 2023 World Cup roster, with only two changes from the team’s Round of 16 match to replace the departed Julie Ertz and the recovering Sophia Smith. Despite bringing in new faces in September and October, interim manager Twila Kilgore seemed more interested in continuing to build chemistry with the veterans than taking the risk of implementing new personnel.
Eighteen-year-old midfielder Olivia Moultrie did not dress for the match, and teenage compatriot Jaedyn Shaw was only given three minutes in regulation in her USWNT debut. The team’s first substitute was 38-year-old Becky Sauerbrunn at halftime, followed by longtime bubble defender Casey Krueger.
Savannah DeMelo replaced Andi Sullivan in the second half, which gave the U.S. more of an attacking outlook for the rest of the match, but once again they took a pragmatic approach to player development. Defensive midfielder Sam Coffey again sat out the entirety of the match, and Ashley Sanchez has struggled to see the field after Andonovski dropped her down the depth chart at the World Cup.
There’s something to be said about letting this group of USWNT veterans find their way without Rapinoe and Ertz, and they have work to do before any prospective coach can even begin to blow up the current project. There were also positives: Lynn Williams and Trinity Rodman brought defensive tenacity and danger on the dribble from the wings, and the team’s defense-by-committee approach rendered Colombia’s attack largely inert in the second half.
a lil bit of Trin Trickery 🪄 pic.twitter.com/DPcwhhAEMh— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) October 27, 2023
a lil bit of Trin Trickery 🪄 pic.twitter.com/DPcwhhAEMh
But for a team that increasingly feels like it has nothing to lose by trying out a few new faces in the well-worn system, the U.S. played to get a result instead of allowing Colombia to force the next generation of players to sink or swim. The USWNT has acknowledged it will take bravery to keep up with the rest of the world, and the pragmatic approach left something to be desired.
For the fourth game in a row, the USWNT lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders and Lindsey Horan in the most attacking midfield role. Sullivan and Emily Sonnett again sat in a double-pivot, maintaining the strategy that helped the team look their best in their World Cup exit.
The double-pivot started as an antidote to many of the team’s problems at the end of the Andonovski era, but there’s mounting evidence that it is now their poison. The U.S. didn’t have many creative playmakers on the field at any given time, sitting off the ball in the first half to contain Colombia’s explosive attack and move in quick transition after forcing turnovers.
The approach almost paid off in the first half, when a quick turnover forced by Williams turned into a scoring chance for Alex Morgan, who sent it right to the goalkeeper. But it also meant that the USWNT spent much of the first half chasing the game. Disconnected passing through the midfield yielded poor turnovers. And while the defense recovered well to snuff out the Colombia attack, the U.S. was not fully in control of the game, outside of a period of momentum in the second half after the attacking-minded DeMelo came on for Sullivan.
In short, the USWNT’s performance felt reminiscent of the way they played under Andonovski. Kilgore has espoused the importance of building off the team’s performance against Sweden in the World Cup Round of 16, but that performance similarly resulted in a 0-0 draw. A number of the team’s creative players have been relegated to the bench, with an overemphasis on progressing the ball up the wings to send it into the penalty area.
Not unlike during the World Cup, better finishing would have papered over other issues, but U.S. players have not shaken off their inconsistency in front of goal. Morgan’s scoreless stretch for the USWNT has now reached a 10th game, punctuated by a penalty miss in the first half. A number of other players settled for shots into traffic from distance late in the game rather than remaining patient in possession.
Alex Morgan is denied from the spot by the post ❌Watch USA vs. Colombia live on TBS or Max 📺 pic.twitter.com/9iWydIIanN— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 27, 2023
Alex Morgan is denied from the spot by the post ❌Watch USA vs. Colombia live on TBS or Max 📺 pic.twitter.com/9iWydIIanN
There are logical reasons for many of the USWNT’s struggles: They haven’t had much of a break since the World Cup, they don’t have a permanent coach, and many of them are in the middle of playoffs with their club teams. But with the Gold Cup and the Olympics looming, a match without new ideas against a quality opponent feels like a wasted opportunity.
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.