Friday, December 2 2022

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Football Writer

In their first game since qualifying for the 2023 FIFA World Cup and the 2024 Olympics in July, the top-ranked United States Women’s National Team beat Nigeria 4-0 on Saturday during a friendly game at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Striker Sophia Smith scored her eighth and ninth goals of the season, kicking off the rout in the 14th minute:

Smith added her second of the game after Lindsey Horan doubled the American advantage, and Alex Morgan completed the scoring from the penalty spot early in the second period.

The USWNT will face the 46th-ranked Super Falcons again on Tuesday in Washington in the second of their two exhibitions this month.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s lopsided victory:

Sophia Smith looks the part

When Catarina Macario suffered a torn ACL in June while playing for French club Lyon, it meant American coach Vlatko Andonovski would be without his best striker in Mexico for the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in July. which also serves as the region’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

The United States still clinched their ticket to Australia/New Zealand 2023 (and, beating Canada in the final, the next Summer Games in Paris), scoring mostly by committee. But if the Americans are to successfully defend their 2019 title and become the first team in history, male or female, to win three consecutive World Cups, they will need as many proven finishers as possible.

Smith is definitely that. The 22-year-old leads all USWNT players in goals in 2022, and Saturday was her third multi-goal game this year. The Stanford University product was replaced by Midge Purce in an expected 64th-minute substitution, but with nine goals in nine games in 2022, she’s doing everything she can to prevent Andonovski from taking her out ground when it counts – even after Macaire returns.

Attack Chemistry Full Screen

During an interview with the FOX broadcast team shortly before kick-off on Saturday, Andonovski explained what he was looking for in both this game and in the 320 days remaining before the start of the FIFA Cup. world 2023.

“We want to see how Lindsay and Rose [Lavelle] are going to connect with our strikers, how the strikers are going to trade each other and get scared away,” the coach said. “There are certain groups of players who want to see how they are going to interact on the pitch. “

It must have been a nice watch.

In addition to growing chemistry, the United States has displayed the equally important courage that, in addition to its perpetual embarrassment of talent, has been the hallmark of the USWNT program since its inception. Outside back Sofia Huerta earned a header that started the game that led to Smith’s opener. Greater tenacity led to the second goal, which Horan calmly netted home with his left foot after faking Nigerian defender Christy Ucheibe out of his Nikes:

The Americans’ third strike, however, was as beautiful a team goal as you will ever see. First, veteran forward Morgan ducked deep into midfield to collect the ball while left-back Emily Fox sped out. Morgan released her with a clever pass, and Fox quickly played a perfect cross behind the visitors’ back line towards Smith, who held off her defender long enough to head the ball past helpless Nigeria keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.

For an American team transitioning from one generation of stars to the next, still without the services of veteran fullback Crystal Dunn (maternity leave) and midfielder Julie Ertz (ditto), that kind of cohesion is extremely encouraging. sign before the next two pivotal years.

Decent preparation, but a much bigger test looms

With their place now secured in the next two major tournaments, it’s important that this evolving team face as many non-CONCACAF teams as possible to prepare them for the different styles they will face on the world stage.

These two games against Nigeria serve that purpose. Andonovski will learn about his players this month. But with all due respect to the Super Falcons program which has qualified for all nine Women’s World Cups, they are far from peers with the sport’s standard bearer.

The USWNT won’t have to wait long for a tougher test. After Tuesday’s tilt at Audi Field in the nation’s capital, all attention will turn to next month’s marquee encounter between the World Cup and European champions in London.

England – who beat Austria earlier on Saturday to qualify for the 2023 World Cup – were the toughest of all the opponents the United States faced last. If not for goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher’s penalty save on Lionesses’ Steph Houghton in the semi-finals in France in 2019, they might not have rehearsed at all.

Just over three years later, the United States will send a younger and far less experienced side to a sold-out Wembley Stadium for a friendly on October 7 against the Euro 2022 winner. will say a lot more about where this new look of the USWNT stands with the next World Cup less than a year away.

Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Prior to joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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