Former NWSL player is first woman to coach men’s soccer team to NCAA title
Julianne Sitch played for the Chicago Red Stars.
The main message coming out of the U.S. national team’s 2022 debut is that the “new kids” are going to be alright.
Fielding the youngest starting lineup since 2018, the squad recorded a 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic in their first game of the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday.
There is still a ways to go in the process of building an effective 2023 FIFA World Cup roster, but coach Vlatko Andonovski said he’s happy with where the young team’s level is currently at.
The players showed flashes of chemistry on Thursday, especially between Catarina Macario and Rose Lavelle, and the quality of play will only get sharper as the team continues to train and play together. The NWSL starting in March will also be a game changer, as every player except Macario is only two weeks into preseason, with fitness levels nowhere near game ready.
Read on for the takeaways from game one of the SheBelieves Cup.
The backline was an interesting but effective mix. Center backs Alana Cook and Tierna Davidson provided a steady, calm presence while the fullbacks were free to run wild. Somehow, at one point, right back and team captain Kelley O’Hara ended up in the left corner of the attacking third.
O’Hara, starting left back Emily Fox and second-half sub Emily Sonnett demonstrated an impressive level of comfort in carrying the ball through opponents, sending crosses and starting plays in Czech’s half.
In the center, Cook and Davidson held the composure, producing 90 and 85 percent passing completions, respectively. Andonovski says he expects them to play together a few more times, at least, going forward.
Veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, who came on in the second half for her 200th cap on Thursday, will be subbed with Davidson throughout the tournament. Sauerbrunn has a limit of 95 minutes of playing time in the SheBelieves Cup.
The 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year made her long-awaited USWNT debut, subbing on for Mallory Pugh in the 61st minute. Right away, she added energy to the pitch and threatened the backline after getting an early chance on goal.
Rodman is already known as one of the best playmakers in the NWSL. Against Czech Republic, she sent a familiar ball into the 18-yard box for her Washington Spirit teammate Kelley O’Hara, almost identical to the game-winning play that the two made in the league championship in November when O’Hara buried a header goal off a long lob from Rodman.
The 19-year-old has strong work ethic and natural talent, and as Becky Sauerbrunn says, “Anyone with eyeballs can see that.” But it’s clear Rodman will need at least a couple more matches with the national team to really settle into her groove and do the damage everyone in the NWSL knows she’s capable of.
“I was excited to see her,” Andonovski said of Rodman against Czech Republic. “I know the players around her were excited to see her there. I just think this is the first of many for her, so she definitely needs more minutes, more caps, more games and I have no doubt that she’s going to perform even better.”
While Catarina Macario and Woman of the Match Rose Lavelle had the most impact in the attacking third, Sophia Smith and Kristie Mewis also made a difference in energy and creating opportunities.
The first 21st-century-born player to be named to a USWNT roster, Smith made her 11th cap on Thursday. She impressed with her hunger and ability to create goal-scoring opportunities for herself, even though she often hung back to complement O’Hara’s forward runs.
Subbing on for Morgan Gautrat at the start of the second half, Mewis made creative plays almost at the level of the Lavelle-Macario duo. Her passes should become more effective once the other midfielders and forwards have had more games together and time to get on the same page.
In the USWNT’s next game on Sunday against New Zealand, it would be good to see Aubrey Bledsoe, Ashley Hatch and Sofia Huerta get some playing time, and to see the midfielders sharpen their positioning to be more dangerous and to create more opportunities for themselves and teammates.
Bledsoe, the 2021 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, is the only player on the roster without an international cap. Casey Murphy played in goal on Thursday and, as she has in all three of her caps, impressed everyone. At this point, it’s clear she can handle the high-pressure environment of the world stage. Now it’s Bledsoe’s turn.
With the US having a tough time breaking down Czech Republic’s low block, it might be worth giving Hatch a turn in the nine or a forward position, considering she’s the reigning NWSL Golden Boot champion and third-fastest goal scorer in USWNT history after scoring in 24 seconds against Australia in November.
Sofia Huerta fits seamlessly into the USWNT’s fullback style of pushing up the field and contributing crosses.
Next up: the USWNT plays New Zealand at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. The game will be televised on ABC.
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