all scores

What we learned from USWNT vs. Germany: Young core steps up

Naomi Girma anchored the USWNT's defensive effort in Sunday's win. (Howard Smith/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:

With their mentality questioned, young core steps up

The USWNT’s three-game losing streak over the last two international windows drew attention from one of the most positive storylines to come from the team this year: Sophia Smith is more than ready for primetime.

The 2022 NWSL MVP had four of her most assured performances on the international stage to close out the calendar year, and in Sunday’s second half, she and Mallory Pugh stepped up to wrest victory from the jaws of defeat.

The USWNT came out of half-time in an ultra-high press, meaning that in order to grab control of the game, the front three would need to completely empty the tank for the next 45 minutes. Smith, Pugh and Alex Morgan were all committed to the task.

And when asked to be everywhere all at once, Smith and Pugh almost grew in their powers to influence the match. Their defensive work rate helped shore up gaps in other areas of the pitch while disrupting the Germany backline — and they still made the final runs on goal to chase the scoreline.

Smith’s goal was a work of beauty in first touch, dribbling ability, balance and power. Pugh’s game-winner showcased a vision in positioning that allowed the striker to split Germany’s center-back pairing in two.

And while asking two of your best playmakers to compensate for the system behind them does not reflect well on the issues with the team’s formation, their ability and willingness to do so should put to rest any idea that they are not all-in on the team’s success — a notion raised by USWNT legend Carli Lloyd after Thursday’s loss.

The U.S. also likely would not have won Sunday without center-back Naomi Girma, who seemed like the only player on the home team ready to compete from the opening whistle. She paired well with Becky Sauerbrunn, putting out fires and limiting individual mistakes while dealing with waves of pressure caused by turnovers further up the pitch.

While many questions remain about the team’s trajectory, the USWNT’s struggles are not based on a talent gap. The focus should now be on empowering the talent the team has rather than pushing them into roles that don’t make sense.