The FIFA top-ranked U.S. women’s national team lost two games for the first time this year, against No. 4 England and No. 6 Spain in October. On Thursday and Sunday, they’re in for an even bigger test when they face No. 3 Germany in Florida and New Jersey.
The games will be the USWNT’s first two meetings with the 2022 Euro Cup finalists since the 2018 SheBelieves Cup, when the U.S. defeated Germany 1-0 in the tournament opener.
The U.S. has undergone significant change since then, rotating in many new players while awaiting the returns of others from injury. Facing arguably their toughest competition of 2022 in friendlies against England and Spain in October, the USWNT was exposed in multiple areas on the field while dealing with heavy emotions off of it. They played the games days after U.S. Soccer released the findings of the Sally Yates report on coaching abuse in the NWSL, leaving the players in a tough balancing act.
With the World Cup just over eight months away, the squad is about to enter crunch time. Here is what head coach Vlatko Andonovski is looking for in the matches against Germany.
The USWNT’s lack of aggressiveness on defense was an ongoing issue in the October matches, eventually leading to a goal conceded when the U.S. was caught flat-footed during a Spain corner kick. Both on set pieces and in open-field play, the team was slow to organize its defensive structure and have somebody ready to step up and challenge when an opponent had the ball. As a unit, the U.S. needs to show far more urgency when shifting or closing down Germany’s attackers.
In October, the USWNT registered their worst possession numbers of the year — 31 percent against England and 48 against Spain. While dominating possession isn’t at the top of the Americans’ priority list at the moment, they do want to make sure they’re taking full advantage of their offensive opportunities to create scoring chances and combination plays without turning the ball over. Germany, and their strong midfield play, will give the U.S. another big challenge.
Though dominant throughout the year, the starting midfield trio of Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Andi Sullivan were unable to control the middle third against England and Spain. They left too much space for their opponents to create dangerous attacking build-ups, raising questions about the 4-3-3 formation and whether it should be adjusted to include more support in the midfield.
After the USWNT won the Concacaf W Championship in July, the plan was to give Lavelle, Horan and Sullivan more playing time with certain players they have chemistry with. In Europe, where the U.S. was dealing with injured or absent players and those on minutes restrictions, Andonovski felt it was difficult for the midfield to establish a flow. Now that a handful of those players are back and playing against Germany (Emily Fox, Sofia Huerta, Kelley O’Hara, Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan), this week will be the true test for the midfield.
Sometimes improvement is as simple as fine-tuning the details. This was the first thing that came to Andonovki’s mind when asked what the team could do better since the England and Spain games. After getting 20 percent of their shots on goal in those matches, the U.S. is aiming to be more precise with their shots and final passes in front of goal against Germany.
“We were able to combine and do well up to the final third, and then when we had to get the final test,” Andonovski said. “Whether it was a final test for a shot or final test for an assist, that was the area that we have to be better at.”
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.