USWNT vs. Nigeria: What we learned about the U.S.
The U.S. Women’s National Team finished up a two-game friendly series Tuesday against Nigeria, coming away with two wins, but also with much to work on.
The squad defeated Nigeria 4-0 in Kansas City, Sept. 3, and 2-1 in Washington D.C., Sept. 6. Sophia Smith had two goals and an assist in the first match for the U.S., continuing her impressive goalscoring run this year. Lindsey Horan and Alex Morgan added to the score sheet as well, with Morgan finishing yet another penalty kick and defining herself as a reliable penalty converter for the team.
In the second game, Nigeria ended their 20-year long scoreless streak against the U.S. with a fantastic far upper-corner finish from Uchenna Kanu in the 50th minute. The U.S.’s first tally came from a low driven ball into the box by Mallory Pugh that forced an own goal. Rose Lavelle scored the winning goal off a header on a cross by Megan Rapinoe.
After having some time to digest the match, it’s safe to say the U.S. has much to improve on before they take on Euros Champions England at Wembley Stadium, Oct. 7. Here are just a few areas they could seek to improve:
Get the nine more involved
Morgan earned the most playing time at center forward and started in both matches. However, offensive opportunities were heavily propelled by the wings. The U.S. does seem to intentionally drive their attack through their wing forwards, and it’s a positive sign that Pugh and Smith are finding success out wide—Smith leads the team in 2022 with nine goals and Pugh leads in assists with seven. However, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of the center forward combining with wingers or being creative up top. While there were moments where the trio demonstrated solid chemistry, we could certainly see more from whoever is playing at the nine, Ashley Hatch included.
Individual exceptionalism won’t be enough
Elaborating on the last point, Smith and Pugh have each had moments of individual brilliance in the final third. Much of the time, they are working with their outside backs and their chemistry in these pairings hasn’t been bad. But the connection between the forward line and midfield isn’t quite there yet. It’s not that the midfield is absent, but it hasn’t been living up to its potential. There really isn’t a major issue with individual players, but the USWNT is lacking cohesiveness and chemistry still at every position.
Defense wins games, but you have to score to win
Finishing has been…well, disappointing. Both matches against Nigeria saw plenty of opportunities created. There were 14 shots generated in the first game and 16 in the second, proving that efficiency and being intentional around the box were missing at times. Of course, every team has off-games when it comes to finishing, but the U.S. certainly won’t pull off 16 shots against England, so every moment matters. One more concern about the final third is that there doesn’t seem to be a strong aerial presence. Morgan and Hatch are certainly capable, but scoring headers wouldn’t be on my list of their top three strengths.Obviously, there are defenders and midfielders who can fulfill this role on setpieces, but in the run of play, the U.S. is lacking a dominant player in the air offensively—something they’ve consistently had for years in the time of Carli Lloyd and even Abby Wambach.
Choppiness and slow tempo shouldn’t excuse lack of rhythm
These two games included a good amount of fouling, which could also be expected against England. Nigeria also slowed down the tempo at times, especially when restarting play on throw ins, goal kicks, and setpieces. As a result, the U.S. had difficulty establishing a true rhythm. This will vary by opponent, but it shouldn’t become a frequent problem, especially when it’s anticipated.
Where did their spark go?
This isn’t the first time it’s been said, but there’s just something off. Anyone who has consistently watched the USWNT over the past five to 10 years (or longer) probably has a solid understanding of what has made them the arguably the best women’s national team in the world throughout this time frame. They have never matched the technical caliber of European teams, but what has separated them historically is their tenacity and fitness levels. The U.S. has always been extremely confident and full of heart, a quality that has been instilled in the program since its birth and is also quite ingrained in the culture of American soccer. It wasn’t uncommon to hear players talk about their mentality of winning games no matter what the score was or how many minutes were left in the match. Perhaps the transition of implementing younger players into the squad and replacing veterans was too much, too quickly. Maybe it’s that many experienced players are out with injury. Or even still, it could be a lack of overall chemistry. If you don’t know what I mean, that’s okay. But as someone who has been watching since 2011, they just look like they’re missing something.