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Vlatko Andonovski answers to USWNT’s back-to-back losses

Megan Rapinoe reacts after a goal during Spain's 2-0 win over the USWNT in October 2022. (Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

It takes extensive back-scrolling on the U.S. women’s national team schedule to find the last time the squad lost consecutive matches.

Until Tuesday, the reigning World Champions hadn’t dropped back-to-back games since March 2017, when they lost 1-0 to England and then 3-0 to France in the group stage of the SheBelieves Cup.

That five-year-and-seven-month streak came to an end as the USWNT fell 2-0 to hosts Spain in a friendly match on Tuesday. The defeat came less than a week after the team lost to England 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.

It also came in the midst of the fallout from the Sally Yates report, which uncovered systemic abuse within the NWSL and has weighed heavily on the players in the days since its release.

Still, the loss was unexpected.

“We have a winning mentality, and when we don’t win, it hurts,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “It hurts all of us. It is a tough moment for us as a team.”

The four-time World Cup champion USWNT has established a culture of winning over decades. Since those consecutive losses in 2017, the club had lost only four other times.

“We knew these were going to be two tough opponents, two tough games, “Andonovski said. “That’s why we came here, to learn more about us before the World Cup and to get prepared better for the World Cup.”

The World Cup is eight months away, and the USWNT will play plenty of matches between now and then, starting with two against Germany on Nov. 10 and 13 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, and Harrison, N.J. The U.S. remains FIFA’s top-ranked team, while Germany is No. 2.

Andonovski will be tasked with finding the right players to take to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup next summer. Against England and Spain, the squad was missing several key players who will certainly make the trip in June, most notably Alex Morgan (injury) and Mallory Pugh (family commitment).

“We have 15 players who aren’t available for selection because of injury,” Andonovski said on Monday prior to the Spain game. “From every line, we are missing very important players.”

Spain, meanwhile, was missing its entire first unit, after 15 players sent emails to the Spanish soccer federation on Sept. 23 asking not to be summoned to the team until concerns regarding their “health and well-being were addressed.” Those players later denied the federation’s portrayal that they had “resigned” from the team and expressed their frustration that the correspondence went public.

But the players who took the field for Spain on Tuesday made their presence felt in the 2-0 win.

“They were a better squad tonight,” Andonovski said.

Laia Codina, who plays for FC Barcelona, scored the first goal of the match off a corner kick at the 39-minute mark. The ball bounced around in front of the net, but the U.S. defense couldn’t clear it and Codina was able to finish from seven yards away. It was her senior national team debut.

Esther Gonzalez then put the game out of reach for the U.S. with a spectacular volley goal in the 72nd minute.

The USWNT had limited opportunities, taking 10 shots, only two of which were on target.

Andonovski shuffled his lineup drastically in the second half, starting by subbing in Ashley Hatch for Trinity Rodman at the break.

Rodman made her second start in a row after impressing in the game against England – though her goal was called back after a controversial VAR call determined Sophia Smith was offside in the build-up. Leading up to the friendly against Spain, Smith — who scored the lone goal for the U.S. against England — praised the young forward.

“I love playing with Trinity,” she said. “That last game was kind of the first time we’ve got a lot of minutes to play together. But I think you can already tell there’s something special there. I think we read each other pretty well.”

Andonovski later subbed in Crystal Dunn for Carson Pickett, who replaced Emily Fox on the roster Saturday after Fox left the game against England to be evaluated for a concussion. Sam Coffey, Sofia Huerta, Ashley Sanchez and 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson (in her second cap) also came in during the second half. None of those changes ignited the squad, though, and the U.S. never threatened.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer for Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.