In their opening World Cup match against Vietnam, the United States came away with a 3-0 victory. There were high points and low points and everything in between. Sophia Smith became the second USWNT player to net two goals and log an assist in her World Cup debut, with the first being Sam Mewis in 2019. Smith is clearly on the way to becoming a legend as she showed up big time on the world stage. But another World Cup debutante also had an incredible game, even if she doesn’t have any goals to show for it. Andi Sullivan controlled the tempo in the midfield, keeping the pacing consistent while the team struggled with a new formation.
A Calming Presence
The United States was looking to make a statement with this match, and they were tasked with doing so in an unfamiliar formation. Nerves were running high, the pressure was on, and the players looked unsettled on the field. But Sullivan looked confident, her calming presence easing a nervous midfield that included brand new Savannah DeMelo, and Lindsey Horan who is still settling into the role of captain. Sullivan sat back to control the flow of the game, with every touch carefully executed. Even though this was her first World Cup game, you wouldn’t know it with the confidence she showed on the ball.
Defensive Questions Answered
The midfield has been a talking point for the United States ever since Sam Mewis and Julie Ertz stepped away from the team due to injury and pregnancy respectively. The consistent starting midfield trio has been Sullivan, Horan, and Lavelle for a long time, and there were constant concerns about the defensive quality of that trio. But with Sullivan sitting back, Horan and in this case DeMelo, were able to push forward to create chances. With aggressive attacks from Emily Fox and Ertz during the run of the game, the U.S. was often playing with what felt like a three back, including Sullivan, Naomi Girma, and Crystal Dunn.
While there are clearly still defensive question marks regarding the centerback pairing, Sullivan handled a large amount of defensive work this game. She brought down Vietnam’s long balls and redistributed them to the front line, she won back turnovers in the midfield when the forwards stumbled, and she cleared rebounds with ease. Girma, Dunn, and Alyssa Naeher didn't have much to do in this game, in large part to Sullivan shutting down the attack before the ball had a chance to make it to the box.
An Ever-Shifting Formation
With confidence, no one could’ve predicted the starting line up for this match. Between DeMelo earning her first national team start in her World Cup debut to the surprise return of Ertz at centerback, there were lots of interesting choices made. The U.S. felt the effect of those choices, looking a bit lost on the field. Sullivan’s confidence allowed her teammates to get settled. With players in unfamiliar spots, Sullivan played a very controlled game so other players could feel out their new positions. Ertz in particular went forward a lot, but it wasn’t a vulnerability for the States because Sullivan fell back to cover her absence.
Stats Don’t Lie
The possession was skewed towards the U.S., who held 66% of possession to Vietnam's 34%. Credit to Smith of course, as she ended up the highest-rated player of the match with a 9.5 rating. The second best was Lindsey Horan, who scored a goal to earn a rating of 9.0. But the third-best player: Andi Sullivan with a rating of 8.4. There were several factors that contributed to her rating, an impressive feat considering she didn’t score or assist; her contributions were much more subtle but not any less important. Sullivan had the most recoveries for the team over the course of the game with 12, as well as two interceptions. She also created the most chances of any player with a total of four.
As this team settles into this tournament with the eyes of the whole world on them, consistency is going to become invaluable. Sullivan delivers that every time, playing the ball forward offensively and falling back to recover defensively. She might not be scoring disrespectful bangers like her attacking teammates, but there’s no denying that Sullivan is vital to this team, and her World Cup debut proved as much.
*All statistics from FotMob*