Vlatko Andonovski wanted three things for the USWNT during their friendly in England on Friday.
Take on a good opponent. Check.
Experience adversity. Check.
Experience a hostile environment. Check.
His checklist didn’t include a goal being called back by a controversial VAR call, but Andonovski got that, too, in his team’s 2-1 loss to England in front of 76,893 fans at Wembley Stadium.
Down 2-1 in the first half, Sophia Smith fielded a pass up the right wing. With her signature bubble braid swinging behind her, Smith took her touches carefully as Millie Bright stayed in stride to defend the dangerous goal scorer.
As Smith approached the box, Trinity Rodman sprinted from the right side of the field, well behind Smith, across the middle and into the left half of the box.
Smith threaded a pass between two England defenders to Megan Rapinoe, who heel-flicked the ball to the foot of a streaking Rodman.
The 20-year-old fired with her right foot and, as the ball hit the back of the net, commenced celebrating with an open-mouthed smile.
Rodman leapt into the arms of Lindsey Horan, and their U.S. teammates joined one by one for a massive group hug.
What could have been 😭This Trinity Rodman goal was disallowed by VAR pic.twitter.com/JemzMWDCQD— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 7, 2022
What could have been 😭This Trinity Rodman goal was disallowed by VAR pic.twitter.com/JemzMWDCQD
But moments later, the goal was being reviewed due to VAR, a type of technology used for the first time in a women’s soccer match in a 2019 World Cup match between France and South Korea. In that game, a goal scored by Griedge Mbock Bathy France in the 26th minute was called back after VAR showed she was offside.
VAR was used the same way in Friday’s friendly. The review, according to the referees, showed that Smith was offside, overturning what would have been the game-tying goal.
But VAR, which the NWSL plans to introduce in 2023, may have gotten it wrong.
Several soccer stars took to Twitter to express their dismay at the call.
Alex Morgan, who didn’t make the trip to England with the USWNT due to a knee injury, was less than convinced by the replay.
“I can’t see any offside in that play,” she wrote. “And the ref didn’t even check the video herself. Anyone else wondering why exactly the goal was called back?”
The "offside" call......... pic.twitter.com/rOywlghNcp— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) October 7, 2022
The "offside" call......... pic.twitter.com/rOywlghNcp
By definition, VAR is a fifth official who watches the game via video and is able to access various angles while also slowing down the play. Essentially, it is a tool to ensure correct calls are being made on the field.
Morgan wasn’t the only player at home who was confused by the call. OL Reign forward Bethany Balcer expressed her skepticism as well.
“That VAR line didn’t help the case at all,” she tweeted. “looks more onside every time i watch it.”
VAR was used three times in the game, and all three instances negatively impacted the U.S.
The first use came at the 32-minute mark, when Hailie Mace appeared to kick Lucy Bronze in the head. After a review, England was given a penalty kick, which Georgia Stanway converted to give her squad the 2-1 lead that would hold for the final score.
A penalty was given to England after a VAR review of this sequence pic.twitter.com/YicGKAm6ev— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 7, 2022
A penalty was given to England after a VAR review of this sequence pic.twitter.com/YicGKAm6ev
Lauren Hemp also scored for England, and Smith was responsible for the USWNT’s lone goal.
VAR made its third appearance midway through the second half when Rose Lavelle fired a shot that looked at first to have hit off an England player’s arm. Upon review, the call, which would have given the U.S. a penalty kick of its own, was overturned.
Despite the overall chaos of the match and the one-goal defeat, Andonovski was pleased with his team’s efforts against the reigning Euro champions.
His squad, he said, got everything it needed to out of the contest.
“We pretty much saw they were very well organized or physical, and obviously well coached. So that’s why we came here to experience that,” Andonovski said. “We needed to go through those tough moments, and hopefully learn from it.”
The purpose of this friendly, and next week’s match against Spain, is for the USWNT to prepare for the 2023 World Cup.
“There’s a reason why we wanted to play this far away from the World Cup,” Andonovski said. “Just because we wanted to have enough time to fix the things that get exposed or the areas that we get exploited. And we have a good learning opportunity.”
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer for Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.