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What we learned from USWNT vs. Germany: Bench remains sidelined

Kristie Mewis, right, subs in for Andi Sullivan during Sunday's win against Germany. (Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team got back on track Sunday, closing out the calendar year with a much-needed win. Their 2-1 result over Germany came from a tale of two halves, with important steps forward countered by troubling steps back in other areas.

The USWNT’s journey in 2022 comes with plenty of issues to unpack, but let’s start by taking a look at one of the three biggest takeaways from a rollercoaster of a victory.

For more takeaways:

Bench players remain sidelined

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski has been criticized for both over and under-rotating his squads over the years, and it’s possible that the poor result Thursday forced his hand. But with January camp rapidly approaching, it appears his approach toward development at the fringes of the roster has all but ended.

Through injuries and absences, the famed depth of the U.S. bench already has been tested, with a number of players who are perhaps not as ready for a World Cup tapped for extended roles. However, on Sunday, the substitution patterns made little sense based on both adjustments and the state of the game.

The U.S. correctly made a midfield adjustment at halftime, though not with a substitution. Andonovski moved Lindsey Horan back to assist on defense and to allow Andi Sullivan to be a more aggressive ball-winner. That change altered the way the USWNT approached the attack, jumping off the front line’s work rate to send balls in behind and pull Germany’s defense out of shape.

Once Pugh put the U.S. ahead and starters’ legs began to tire, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to take total control by bringing in substitutes like Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman to create havoc in the attack. Instead, no subs were made until the 83rd minute, with Kristie Mewis coming on for Sullivan and Taylor Kornieck relieving Morgan.

The U.S. ultimately made just one other sub on the night, with Hailie Mace getting a run out in the attack for Smith in stoppage time. Rodman and Sanchez warmed up for more stoppage time entrances, but the game ended before they ever saw the pitch.

The USWNT put itself into a must-win drill in the second half of the game, and yet every substitute had the approach of garbage time minutes.

Sometimes teams are rewarded by tasking their starters with problem-solving, and it did give certain playmakers time to figure out what wasn’t working in the first half. But Andonovski has a tendency to freeze when he needs to put game-changers on, and the lack of urgency Sunday also cost young talent the opportunity to progress alongside the team’s starters.

We’re going to find out in January what players Andonovski sees carrying on with the team as others return. The November international window proved disappointing in providing much insight as to what those decisions might look like.