In their game against the Netherlands, the United States proved that sending out eleven players on the field under the same crest doesn’t automatically make them a team. The USWNT settled for a one-to-one draw on Wednesday against their 2019 World Cup final opponents. But, generously, they were lucky to get away with a point.
After winning their first group stage match three to zero against Vietnam, the United States went into their toughest group game with three points and only left with four when they would’ve preferred to clinch the win and hold firmly their top of Group E spot. They’re still sitting at the top of the group on goal differential, but their performance on Wednesday caused significant concern for fans, and rightly so. Let’s break down why that is before they take on Portugal on Tuesday.
Cohesion and Chemistry
Before the first whistle even blew, there was already a surprise from the United States. The lineup that dropped was the same as their starting lineup against Vietnam, making this the first time since 1999 that they had repeated a starting lineup in the group stage of a World Cup. This meant the Dutch knew exactly what they were walking into, and when they got on the field it was clear that they had done their homework. They overwhelmed the States in the midfield and cut off passing channels to their dangerous front line, never letting Rodman, Morgan, or Smith get significant time with the ball. The Netherlands were well organized, and it was clear from the get-go that the United States were not.
They couldn’t find each other on the field to make anything happen even with all their quality individually, they looked disconnected. Instead of working under the pressure to regain possession and adjust to the Dutch’s aggressive press, they crumbled underneath it. This disconnection would cost them early when Jill Roord would put the Netherlands up one in the 17th minute. The first goal came from confusion in the box, where the States couldn’t figure out where to be to stop the Dutch’s press. As a result, they put themselves in the way of Alyssa Naeher, who was unable to save the shot. The USWNT went into the half down by one, trailing for the first time in this tournament.
A second half of more questions than answers
There was a feeling of hope for those watching when it was reported that Rose Lavelle would be coming on for the second half, warming up on the sidelines. Lavelle hadn’t played for the States since April, coming off an injury that’s kept her sidelined for both club and country. Andonovski had said she was cleared to play for this game, and many were disappointed not to see her start. But she played the entire second half and had an immediate impact. The bigger question was why didn’t anyone else sub in? With another match on Tuesday and hopefully more to follow, the States will need to be rotating players and resting legs if they’re going to get further in this tournament. But Andonovski didn’t make any other subs which is odd considering the talent on his bench. The internet was vocal about the lack of Lynn Williams, who has yet to see minutes in this tournament where her team is struggling to score goals. After ninety minutes of chasing after the Dutch, the United States looked exhausted, and there’s no telling what kind of impact fresh legs might’ve had in a match like this one.
After the match, Andonovski justified his lack of substitutions by saying he didn’t want to disturb the rhythm his team had built up in the second half. But one has to wonder if his lack of subs is a lack of confidence in his bench to finish out a game strong. When you’ve got world-class players like Lynn Williams, Alana Cook, Kristie Mewis, and Ashley Sanchez on your bench, it’s a wild notion to not feel comfortable using them. Furthermore, fans were concerned that Andonovski felt that they dominated this match when in reality they had less passing accuracy and less possession than the Dutch. The players, however, communicated in the post-game press that they weren’t happy with the result. Only time will tell what mentality wins out in their next matchup.
Not all is lost
As with every United States match, even a bad game can’t stifle moments of individual brilliance. After a scuffle with her Olympique Lyonnais teammate Daniëlle Van de Donk, captain Lindsey Horan equalized this game with a header in the 62nd minute. It came as a result of masterful corner kick service from Lavelle and had a clear impact on the mentality going forward. With better energy, the United States would score again five minutes later, but Morgan wouldn’t get on the scoresheet due to being in an offside position. The second half was better overall for the US, they looked more sure of themselves and took the field with more determination to get on the board. Naomi Girma also had an excellent game, continuing to prove her worth as a young center-back that fans should be excited to watch for many years to come. But it still wouldn’t be enough to get them the win.
With the draw, the United States has to win their next game against Portugal, which will take place on Tuesday at 3 AM EST. To put themselves in the best position possible, they should aim to win that match with significant goals scored to end up on top of the group like they were hoping. Will Andonovski use the same lineup for the third time in a row? Will Lynn Williams ever get minutes on the field? Will Ertz and Girma be the starting center-backs for the rest of the tournament? It’s all a toss-up at this point in the tournament as the United States have to re-evaluate their quest to win a fifth World Cup title.