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Roster depth provides the USWNT with their first win of 2023

After a rough first half, the USWNT managed to walk away from their first friendly of 2023 with a 4-0 win against New Zealand. With notable second-half substitutions and the triumphant return of Lynn Williams, the USWNT started off 2023 with a bang. 

This was a game of many firsts for the USWNT. Their first match of 2023. Their first time playing in New Zealand. The first game aired on HBOMax. Taylor Kornieck’s first start. Lynn William’s first goal since her return from injury. And the debut of Mallory Swanson since her marriage to Dansby Swanson.

Continuing their trend of notable firsts, the first half felt rocky and uncertain. But they managed to pull things together in the second half to put four points on the board and leave with a win. But is it a win that they should feel good about? There were highs and lows to the USWNT’s performance, which could be cause for concern as the World Cup rapidly approaches.

USWNT starting XI

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski stuck to his usual lineup, with a few notable exceptions. Taylor Kornieck started in the defensive midfield position, earning her first start for the national team. Midge Purce started in the front line alongside Mallory Swanson and Alex Morgan. Purce fills a slot that was in question in the starting IX with both Sophia Smith and Megan Rapinoe out on injury. Becky Sauerbrunn started in the backline as the captain for this match. Crystal Dunn also earns her first start since coming back from giving birth.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t an official FIFA window, so many players on the New Zealand side were unavailable for selection due to club team commitments. During the HBOMax pregame show, Vlatko answered questions about starting Kornieck as the defensive mid, a position that she doesn’t normally play.

“Obviously, this is something different for us. It’s an opportunity for us to try something different, and I wouldn’t say make big changes, but small experiments to just to give ourselves a little more unpredictability when it comes down to the style of play.”

First half

At the start of this match, it appeared that the USWNT might fall to New Zealand for the first time since 1987. The team didn’t seem to have any cohesion or chemistry when they first took the pitch. They missed out on valuable chances, unable to finish their shots or communicate their passes.

The best look of the half came from Midge Purce who was denied a goal by the top post. Taylor Kornieck looked incredibly lost in her position, a place she isn’t used to playing, and left the US exposed to attack down the midfield. Rose Lavelle also created several chances in the first half, continuing to play with excellence.

Second half

But this team isn’t one to go down without a fight, and Vlatko made strong use of his deep talent pool with substitutions in the second half. The most important subs of the second half were Andi Sullivan and Trinity Rodman, who came in for Taylor Kornieck and Midge Purce respectively.

Sullivan is much more comfortable and experienced in the number 6 role, and it showed in the second half. The pace felt much more controlled, and her confident presence and chemistry with Lavelle and Horan allowed for a higher press that didn’t result in an exposed midfield. Trinity Rodman earned herself two assists, the first of which allowed her to connect with Mallory Swanson to open the scoring. Swanson earned two goals this match, with the other two points coming from Alex Morgan and Lynn Williams.

Another high point in this match came from Williams’ return to the pitch after being out for injury. She made an immediate impact and scored for the United States for the first time since 2021. They managed to end the game with a 4-0 victory.

Key takeaways

The USWNT is a very capable and talented squad, with extreme roster depth and a history of excellence. But that doesn’t mean they don’t stumble every once in a while. What matters is how they recover from those stumbles.

As we saw in their comeback win against Germany in November, this team fights for their wins. This game was no different. They struggled in the first half and then adjusted to make a comeback in the second. The concern comes when they play a higher-ranked team (like the Netherlands in the group stage of the World Cup), who will take advantage of that rocky first half to score on the United States. They need to be able to start off their games how they finish them, or their World Cup journey in the summer will be cut short. They have the capability to do so, it’s just a matter of Vlatko ironing out the kinks in his starting lineup and cementing the chemistry between his key players.

The USWNT play one more match against New Zealand this week on Friday the 20th, with coverage starting at 9:30 p.m. EST on HBOMax.

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