The U.S. Women’s National Team finished up a pair of friendlies against the Republic of Ireland at St. Louis’ new CityPark with a 1-0 win thanks to Alana Cook’s best birthday gift yet — her first international goal.
The group also played in Austin, Texas on April 8 and came away with a 2-0 win with goals from Emily Fox and Lindsey Horan.
Fox’s goal was also her first international goal with the team. The moment came in the 28th minute when she received a ball outside the box and landed a right-footed shot into the lower left-hand corner of the goal. Horan later converted a penalty kick in the 80th minute.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the match was when Mallory Swanson went down with an injury right before halftime. The striker has been on fire, scoring 11 goals in 17 matches last year for the U.S. She will likely miss the World Cup after the injury was confirmed to be a torn left patella tendon. Angel City F.C. forward Alyssa Thomspon immediately flew to St. Louis to replace Swanson.
“I was on my way home from practice, and my mom packed my bags and we headed straight for the airport,” Thompson said. “There was lots of traffic going there and I was the last person on the plane. There was a lot of stress for a couple of hours.”
There was one hopeful goal in the first match that didn’t end up coming to fruition. Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski told the press after the game that the team had designed a special play for Becky Sauerbrunn to score, as the veteran center-back has yet to tally an international goal.
And that she almost did — but in her hometown of St. Louis, instead.
In just the third minute, Sauerbrunn got on the end of a corner that was blocked by the underside of the crossbar. CityPark erupted in excitement over the hometown hero’s near success.
“I pretty much blacked out, I don’t really know what happened,” Sauerbrunn said. “My teammates were stoked for me— some of them were about to run on the field. It’s been a running joke that I’ve played 200-plus caps and I don’t have a goal.”
Aside from Sauerbrunn’s chance, Ireland appeared to have several solid opportunities in the first 25 minutes in which they appeared to dominate the attack. In the eighth minute, Katie McCabe took a low, driven shot just outside the box, but it was easily scooped up by Casey Murphy. In the 20th minute, Lucy Quinn forced Murphy to make a save when she drove down the right wing and made a cross. And again in the 24th minute, Kyra Carusa’s header was just tipped over the bar.
Cook’s winning goal in the 43rd minute was what made the difference. On what may have been a ball intended for Horan, the defender placed a kick from closer to midfield that found its way past Brosnan’s outstretched hands.
Scoring her first goal with the U.S. on her 26th birthday, Cook joked that this birthday now ranks high when compared to her 25 others.
“This is probably up there, this might be the best,” she said. “I spent my last three birthdays in camp, but this may have been the best one so far.”
The match was the last opportunity for players to make an impact before Andonovski names his 23-player World Cup roster.
With Swanson now an unlikely pick, the U.S. will be looking to fill a wing forward role, and Lynn Williams, Trinity Rodman, Midge Purce, Alyssa Thompson, and Megan Rapinoe are likely contenders.
“Once we lost the Mal in the last game, we knew that it may be a long-term injury,” Andonovski said. “We wanted to explore every possible option before we make a final decision, and one of those was Alyssa Thompson because before that, our forwards have had a chance to start in different games. From Trinity to Lynn, Midge, and Pinoe, every forward or wide forward had an opportunity to start a game.”
For Andonovski, this decision — or any other roster decision — isn’t finalized. However, he said he feels confident with a core group of players and the phase the team is in right now.
“I feel very comfortable with where we’re at as a team and from a decision-making standpoint, there's a group of players that we're very comfortable with and we can make decisions tonight,” Andonovski said. “But also, there is a group of players that we're comfortable with where they're at, but they're still going to have to fight.”
While this was the last camp for players to be evaluated for roster spots, U.S. Soccer announced before the match in St. Louis that the team will be playing in a send-off game on July 9 against Wales in San Jose, California. The finalized 23-player roster will have the opportunity to work out any weaknesses during this final friendly before the World Cup kicks off on July 20.