USWNT defense closed, scored twice against Colombia

By Laken Litman
Writer Football Sports FOX

SANDY, Utah – And now into qualifying.

On Tuesday, US Women’s National Team beat Colombia 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium, sweeping these two friendlies. Now the team will go to CONCACAF W . Championship tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, which doubles as a qualifier for the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.

Both of Tuesday night’s winning goals came from USWNT right-backs. In the 22nd minute, Sofia Huerta forced an own goal when her cross — aimed for Megan Rapinoe — was directed into the back of the net by Colombia’s Manuela Vanegas.

The US didn’t score again until after a late weather delay when Kelley O’Hara stepped up and fired a rocket in the 77th minute. This was the third goal of O’Hara’s career for the national team. The first came during the 2015 World Cup semi-final against Germany and the latest until Tuesday was in the 2016 Olympic qualifying match.

Before O’Hara clinched victory, the US let Colombia hold on. So much so that early in the second half, they had some good performances in the box, forcing goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher into a critical save.

While things were almost getting a little too spicy for the US, coach Vlatko Andonovski found the positives in his team’s performance.

“The biggest takeaway is that we have a very good team and we found a way to score goals in a different way,” Andonovski said. “Although today I would say it wasn’t our best performance, we still managed to score goals and come off the pitch successfully.”

Here are three takeaways from the match.

Questions about finishing?

Heading into this match, Andonovski said his team’s main focus was to attack in the final third, find space and execute. In Saturday’s 3-0 win over Colombia, the US started slowly, but scored three goals in the second half. Tuesday, a similar theme unfolded and finally, two goals came from two defenders, Huerta and O’Hara.

Given the amount of talent battling for playing time ahead, should the US be concerned about their lack of finishing during these friendlies?

“I love defender goals,” joked Alex Morgan after the game. “More than my own goal.”

Morgan, who leads the NWSL with 11 goals in 10 games, had several chances, including in the last game of the first half when he tried to finish in a beautiful cross from Huerta. He managed to control the ball, but the ball hit the crossbar.

“We just missed the last few passes, the last few touches on goal,” said Morgan. “It will come.

“Otherwise I feel we crushed them sometimes and we were crushed sometimes, but we never felt out of control of the game. So I think that’s the most important thing and I think we developed a little bit more. and have to deal with different things because they have five defenders or sweepers or really come to the ball with a lot of points. Being able to break it on the pitch without water breaks or halftime is important for this group.”

With qualification drawing near, Andonovski gave Sophia Smith the night off after she scored twice and played the full 90 minutes on Saturday. Morgan, Rapinoe and Margaret Purce started in top spot while Mallory Pugh, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch came off the bench.

Andonovski does not care about the lack of goals from his attackers. At least not yet. This is a new group that is still gelling.

“In a game like this when the striker is surrounded by four or five players at once, it’s hard to find them,” Andonovski said. “The fact that Alex had a good scoring opportunity and played a good ball for Sophia [in the first game] for the first goal, I mean it’s positive. It’s the little things we look at — individual performances in certain situations.

“It’s hard to evaluate [a player] in 90 minutes. We have to look at the specific moments and how we can replicate those moments in the next game.”

Handling physical will only help in CONCACAF

Andonovski said one of the most valuable things from these two games against Colombia was his physique. This is the type of style the US would see from a CONCACAF opponent, so scheduling Colombia right before the tournament was the best thing they could do.

“It was an excellent learning opportunity for us,” Andonovski said.

After the game, Andonovski spoke with some of the players one-on-one to quickly get their thoughts on how it happened. He spent at least 10 minutes on the pitch with Rapinoe, talking X and O. Andonovski has repeatedly said how important Rapinoe is to this team and that he enjoys bringing ideas out of him.

“It seems we all agree that this is the kind of game we might face at CONCACAF,” Andonovski said. “It’s great for us to see what we can do differently and what we can do that will make our success easier. That’s why we chose this opponent, because we felt it would present a picture of what we are doing. We’ll see and we can’t be frustrated because we know what we’re getting into when we face it.

“Every game is a learning opportunity until we go to tournaments, and then in tournaments, it has to be won.”

Things got a little chipped on Tuesday on a few different occasions. In the first half, Morgan was pushed into the box but the referee didn’t mention a foul, then at the end of the game, a fight almost broke out between some of the Colombian players and Ashley Hatch and Kristie Mewis.

“It was physical and very, very tight,” Andonovski said. “And it’s good we prepare for it.”

What’s next?

The US will head straight to Monterrey on Wednesday and begin preparing for the CONCACAF W Championship, which runs from July 4-18. Andonovski said on Tuesday that he knew quite well who the starting XI was during the tournament.

“It’s not hard to predict who will be on the pitch,” he said.

Here’s all that’s at stake:

The tournament serves as an automatic qualifier for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the 2024 Paris Olympics and the inaugural CONCACAF W 2024 Gold Cup.

The USWNT are the reigning champions and are drawn into Group A. They face Haiti on Monday, July 4 at 7 p.m. ET, Jamaica on Thursday, July 6 at 7 p.m. ET and Mexico on Monday, July 11 at 10 p.m. ET. On the other side of the bracket in Group B are Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

The top two teams from each group after the round-robin matches will advance to the semifinals and earn a place in the World Cup. The third place winners in each group will play in a 10-team inter-confederation playoff tournament in February 2023 and the top three teams from there will qualify for the recently expanded 32-team World Cup.

The winners of the Concacaf W Championship will also automatically qualify for the 2024 Olympics and the 2024 Gold Cup, while the second and third places will advance to the playoffs in September 2023 for places in both tournaments.

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered college football, college basketball, the US Women’s National Soccer Team and the Olympics in Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. Her first book, written in partnership with Rizzoli and Sports Illustrated and titled “Strong Like a Woman,” was published in the spring of 2022 marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

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USWNT defense closed, scored twice against Colombia

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