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Where Vlatko Andonovski went wrong in USWNT-Netherlands draw

Vlatko Andonovski is coaching in his first World Cup with the USWNT. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

The USWNT drew the Netherlands 1-1 on Thursday in the second group-stage match of their World Cup campaign, a result that sets the team up to advance to the knockout rounds and also serves as something of a disappointment in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final.

The U.S. fell behind early and looked disjointed in the first half, needing a second-half equalizer from Lindsey Horan to salvage a point. The U.S. is still in a good position, leading Group E on goal differential, but they have work to do if they want to make a run to the World Cup final.

Here are three things that stood out from the USWNT’s comeback result.

Young USWNT has that storied grit

A frequent criticism of the new-look U.S. is that they don’t always show the never-say-die attitude of past generations. But if there’s an overarching theme to take away from Thursday’s draw, it’s that the U.S. might benefit from believing in themselves more.

The U.S. began the match on top, flying through passing and dribbling sequences in the Dutch penalty area with ease. But after the Netherlands’ first shot on goal — a low xG chance — ended in the back of the USWNT net, the team immediately seemed to lose confidence.

There are some natural explanations for the swing in momentum, but the team’s inability to turn the mental switch back on until the second half became overly physical is one to note for later rounds. The Netherlands’ first goal, as unlikely as it might have been, forced the U.S. into a mid-block that felt overly tentative.

Within that hesitation, the public saw newly-named captain Lindsey Horan work through the problem in real time. After taking a harsh challenge from club teammate Danielle van de Donk, Horan took over the game of her own volition for a brief moment, manifesting the equalizer with a towering header off a corner kick.

Horan’s success underscored the dichotomy of doubt in a young, inexperienced USWNT. They have the ability to turn a game on its head at any moment, but if they don’t believe in that possibility, they can also give the game back to their opponent.

Andonovski: coach or general manager?

The USWNT’s inability at times to adjust to their opponent’s approach faced criticism long before the World Cup began, much of which rests with their manager. For many, Vlatko Andonovski plays the public-facing role of both general manager and coach, despite the former position actually being held by former U.S. national team player Kate Markgraf.

Andonovski answers for decisions when a roster is named, including the changes between the 2019 World Cup-winning team and the squad that has started the first two World Cup games in 2023. But he was also hired to be a tactical manager based on his success as a championship-winning coach in the NWSL, overseeing the X’s and O’s to set the U.S. talent pool up to compete with the rest of the world.

That tactical flexibility was missing at the Tokyo Olympics, with the team over-relying on rotation and individual talent to gut out a bronze-medal performance. In 2023, under circumstances far friendlier than the pandemic hanging over the last major tournament, the U.S. still doesn’t look like a team guided by someone prepared to adjust tactics in high-pressure situations.

Against the Netherlands, the U.S. struggled to exploit obvious gaps. The Dutch play with a narrow three-back defense, and the U.S. still could not target wide areas to isolate Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman at angles that put them in good positions to take shots on goal. They similarly looked unprepared for numerical overloads in the midfield, despite extensive scouting that indicated the way the Netherlands wanted to progress the ball.

One of the requirements of the USWNT coaching job is the years-long process of determining a World Cup-ready starting XI, but it’s not the whole job. The U.S. still looks like a program unwilling to trust its players with a basic game plan, which places extra emphasis on coaching.

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Lynn Williams has yet to play for the USWNT at the 2023 World Cup. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Where is Lynn Williams?

Beyond the USWNT’s 4-3-3 formation appearing somewhat naive in the face of the way the Netherlands packed numbers into the midfield, the U.S. looked rigid when they needed to make necessary adjustments.

Andonovski used only one substitute out of an available five on Wednesday, bringing on veteran attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle after halftime to take over set-piece delivery and aid in the midfield’s creativity. That substitute paid off, as Lavelle provided the service that ended in Horan’s equalizer.

Andonovski forwent any other changes intentionally.

“The players played well. We were around the goal the whole time, and I just didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm at that point,” he told the media after the match.

Gotham FC forward Lynn Williams, despite possessing the qualities a game against the Netherlands begs for, has yet to see the field. Other substitutions, like that of Alyssa Thompson or Megan Rapinoe, might have also been the difference between settling for the draw and going for the win.

An approach that prioritizes consistency over dynamic changes might make sense for a squad given enough time to become the best version of themselves, but elimination tournaments don’t quite work that way. The Netherlands’ first goal resulted from an uncharacteristic slip by Crystal Dunn, which was almost the deciding factor between a draw and a loss. It’s always smart to adjust the margins in the long run, but Andonovski looked indecisive when given a chance to trust his bench.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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