After a dull performance three days ago that resulted in a scoreless tie against Las Cafeteras, the USWNT was energetic, ruthless and rejuvenated — especially in the second half — thanks to an injection of younger players who proved they’re ready for the international stage.
Mia Fishel and Jaedyn Shaw, both earning their second caps, scored their first goals for the U.S., and captain Lindsey Horan had a beautiful one-touch banger that made the crowd at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego roar.
In what is likely to be her final match as the USWNT’s interim head coach, Twila Kilgore showed off what could very well be the future of this team. At one point in the second half, the forward line was composed of 18-year-olds Shaw and Alyssa Thompson with Fishel playing in the No. 9 spot.
The Americans struggled to find the back of the net in the first half. The game was chippy, physical and the U.S. was unable to finish in the final third. Alex Morgan, who has only scored two goals for the U.S. this calendar year and didn’t score once at this summer’s World Cup, had an early shot saved by Colombia goalkeeper Natalia Giraldo. Sophia Smith, who recently won the NWSL’s Golden Ball with 11 goals, was back in the starting lineup for the first time since the World Cup (due to injury) but didn’t have any clear scoring opportunities.
But after halftime, Fishel and Shaw came in and changed the game.
Here are takeaways from Sunday’s match:
Play of the game
Horan’s perfectly-timed goal.
In the 62nd minute, Emily Fox streaked down the right sideline and sent a ball right in front of the goal. Horan was there to volley it home.
Subbing Fishel and Shaw up front after halftime. Fishel, 22, came on for Morgan while Shaw, 18, came on for Smith (who was on a minutes restriction). The two young forwards added an immediate spark.
For example, in the 57th minute, Shaw sent a short corner to Emily Sonnett, who played a perfect ball into the box and a wide-open Fishel finished it off with her head. It was her first international goal in just her second cap, and she celebrated accordingly.
Fishel said after the match that she had been studying Morgan’s movements before coming on for her, and that Morgan also gave her a few pointers at halftime.
Then, in the 83rd minute, Shaw got her turn, tapping in a perfect pass from Thompson.
“We’re really, really pleased with both of them,” Kilgore added. “How they seized those opportunities, but also their patience and the path that we’re helping them create. They’re really solid players, very talented players.”
On Saturday, Kilgore explained the process in which U.S. Soccer prefers to onboard new players. First, they invite a player into camp and don’t play them, then they have them dress for a match, and then they give them playing time.
Fishel and Shaw had never played with each other — not even at the youth levels — but their connection was obvious.
“They brought a sense of calmness and were able to find each other,” Kilgore said. “It was really fun to watch them and I kind of anticipated that would be a good connection between the two of them.”
In just their second international appearances, Fishel and Shaw scored their first goals for the USWNT.
Fishel is from San Diego and was playing in front of her family and friends, while Shaw was playing in her home stadium since she plays for the NWSL’s San Diego Wave.
“It was a dream,” Fishel said.
After the match, Kilgore further explained what each player brings to the program.
On Fishel: “The first thing she brought to the game right away was the ability to settle the ball back to goal, hold onto the ball, allow people to join,” Kilgore said. “I thought she did a really good job with that.
“Obviously scoring a goal is a big thing and something we talked about across the whole team.”
On Shaw: “I think you just see her quality between the lines and her ability to face up and play a final ball. She’s really easy to play with and link up with. She did a good job defending today, which is something we’ve been talking to her about and that’s part of keeping the tempo against a team like this, which is not easy to do as a young professional.”
What’s next for the USWNT?
Hiring a head coach.
If everything goes according to Matt Crocker’s plan, the USWNT will have a new boss sometime in the next several weeks. The U.S. Soccer sporting director told a group of reporters last month that his goal was to have this manager in place by the squad’s next camp in December.
Who will this person be? That’s still unknown. What we do know is that the U.S. Soccer Federation, Crocker and the players all want the same thing: to be back on top of the soccer world and win major tournaments.
This summer’s disappointing World Cup served as a wake-up call for the program when the USWNT was eliminated in the round of 16 after a dramatic penalty shootout vs. Sweden, marking the squad’s earliest exit in major tournament history. Soon after, former head coach Vlatko Andonovski and U.S. Soccer parted ways.
In the aftermath, Crocker met with players and asked for feedback on what they want in a new coach. And that’s a leader who can develop and hone relationships, build trust, communicate and make critical in-game decisions. The USWNT also wants to be more technical, creative and overall better in possessing the ball and finishing in the final third.
While there were criticisms during the September and October camps that Kilgore wasn’t giving new players enough minutes or changing up lineups and formations, that responsibility is for the next coach to figure out. And with the Paris Olympics less than nine months away, there will be a lot of attention on how this all unfolds.
“This team, I truly believe, is in a good place to move forward with lots of different types of [player] selections that could take place for the next head coach,” Kilgore said. “And that’s an opportunity to evaluate different types of players while growing the players towards the direction that they need to be prepared for the Olympics.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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