USWNT Mixing Youth And Experience For Concacaf W Championship
by Michael Lewis
The USWNT celebrate a goal by Trinity Rodman #14 (C-L) during the second half against Uzbekistan on April 12, 2022 in Chester, Penn.
As if the U.S. women’s soccer team needs any added incentive, how's this for even more motivation? The Americans can qualify for not one, but two major international soccer tournaments this month.
That's the challenge the U.S. faces when it enters the Concacaf W Championship this week in Monterrey, Mexico. The team, which opens play on Monday night against Haiti, can clinch a berth in the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand by reaching the semifinals. There also is another prize — a spot in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 for the tournament champion. The second and third-place sides will play for the second Concacaf berth in those Summer Games.
"What's challenging is that this tournament is quite new for us and that it's not only World Cup qualifying, it’s also Olympic qualifying," team captain and center back Becky Sauerbrunn said during a Sunday video call with the media.
Given the Americans’ dominant history in the game — four World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals since 1991 — the team will be favored to meet Canada, the 2021 Olympic gold medalists, in the Concacaf final, although head coach Vlatko Andonovski claimed he wasn't looking that far ahead.
"This is a different tournament," he said. "The significance of it is a little bit bigger because we do try to qualify for two major tournaments, World Cup and Olympics. But the approach is one game at a time. Our main focus right now is the game tomorrow, Haiti, and our purpose is to do the best that we can in the first game, and then we'll move on to the next one."
There is a lot on the line for the USWNT, but Sauerbrunn has liked what she’s seen from the team leading up to the tournament.
"I would describe this group as a really great blend of veteran, of youth and we have that like super professional middle-tier player, thinking about the Lindsey's (Horan), the Rose's (Lavelle),” she said.
The “vibes” and energy going into the tournament, she said, are “really good.”
“For me, that's one of the most important things that I look for is like, how does it feel?” Sauerbrunn said. “And right now, it feels really good."
Here’s a look at the roster that will compete in the Concacaf W Championship.
Sophia Smith #11 of Team USA fights for the ball against Daniela Montoya #6 of Colombia in the first half at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on June 25, 2022 in Commerce City, Colorado.
Who's Back & Who's New
The USWNT is a mix between promising youth and grizzled veterans.
Several players who played in the 2019 World Cup will make up the backbone of the squad, including goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who has recovered from the knee injury she suffered during last year's Olympics, as well as Sauerbrunn, right back Kelley O'Hara, midfielders Lavelle, and Horan, and forwards Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, who leads the National Women's Soccer League with 11 goals.
One thing to note is Rapinoe will miss the July 7 encounter against Jamaica because she will be at the White House that day receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden. Rapinoe, the 2019 World Cup's Golden Ball and Boot winner who turns 37 on July 5, is expected to be a super-sub and an occasional starter for this team and a voice of wisdom on and off the pitch.
Newcomers and less experienced players include forwards Sophia Smith, who tallied twice in the 3-0 victory over Colombia, Ashley Hatch, who scored early in two friendly wins over Australia last year, and Trinity Rodman, the 2021 NSWL rookie of the year. Other newer faces include promising defenders Sofia Huerta and Emily Fox, plus midfielder Taylor Kornieck, who recorded her first goal in her international debut against Colombia.
Becky Sauerbrunn #4 of United States looks to pass during he first half of the International Friendly match against the Korea Republic at Children's Mercy Park on October 21, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas.
The Big D
While the headlines and many of the plaudits usually go to the forwards and midfielders, the defense can get lost in the shuffle.
Since World Cup qualifying began in 1991, the U.S. has allowed only five goals in 33 matches while compiling 29 clean sheets. The only team to score more than one goal against the U.S. in a qualifier was Mexico in 2010. That 2-1 loss was the only one for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying history, in 33 total games. And since that Nov. 5, 2010, defeat, the U.S. has an 11-game shutout streak in qualifying.
"I can't tell you how much pride it gives me to get clean sheets," said Sauerbrunn, who has made 203 international appearances. "After every single game, the first thing I do is go back to my goalkeeper because that's what we do. We're so proud of it.”
Sauerbrunn said that excitement for clean sheet is shared by her head coach.
“What's so great is that having Vlatko, who as a defender himself when he played, I think he has such an appreciation for defense,” she said. “It's not just the backline and the goalkeeper that takes such pride in the clean sheets, it's the entire team. You can see on the field that everyone is putting in a defensive shift from the nine all the way back to the goalkeeper."
The Americans kick off their tournament on the Fourth of July in Monterrey in a group stage match against Haiti. They will continue against Jamaica on July 7 and complete the group stage vs. Mexico on July 11.
The semifinals are set for July 14, and the third-place game and final will take place July 18.