The USWNT marches on.
It beat Nigeria, 2-0, on Wednesday night in the first match played at Austin's new Q2 Stadium. The victory completed a three-game sweep in the WNT Summer Series and extended the USA's unbeaten run to 10 games (9-0-1) in 2021, 21 games (20-0-1) under head coach Vlatko Andonovski and 42 games (38-0-4) overall.
The Summer Series -- intended to replicate the USA's group stage at the Olympics with three games over seven days in the same heat and humidity in Texas that it will find in Japan -- was a slog.
The USA misfired on its chances and struggled to put together crisp combinations. It did not play particularly well, but it didn't have to. Its opponents were so poor they managed to get off only two weak shots in three games.
But just seven goals -- including goals in second-half stoppage time against Jamaica and Nigeria -- is not what you would expect, given the huge edge in possession. Except for Christen Press, none of the attackers looked sharp.
Still, the goals were met:
1. Get the veterans through the three games without injury. (Rose Lavelle rolled her ankle in the first half of the Jamaica game and sat out the Nigeria match but her injury is not considered serious.)
2. Get one last look at the players on the bubble (Lavelle's injury actually helped in that regard.)
Late goals, great goalsJune 17, 2021
Andonovski must cut his roster down to 18 players -- plus four alternates -- before the USA plays Mexico in early July in East Hartford, Connecticut, and then heads to Japan. This is his first championship with the team.
“I feel pretty good,” he said after the Nigeria game about the selection process. “I feel like we have very good knowledge of the players. I have accumulated a lot of knowledge and lots and lots of data for all the players in the last year and a half. When the decision time comes, I believe that we are going to make the right decision for this team.”
Complicating Andonovski's selection process is the status of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz. Both are two-time world champions and both are recovering from knee injuries. The assumption, though, is both players will be in the Olympic 18.
If Heath and Ertz are in, that puts the number of locks (as close to locks as there are) up to 14 (ages on the opening day of the Olympics are in parentheses):
Goalkeeper (1): Alyssa Naeher (33);
Defenders (4): Kelley O'Hara (32), Becky Sauerbrunn (36), Abby Dahlkemper (28) and Crystal Dunn (29);
Midfielders (4): Lindsey Horan (27), Sam Mewis (28), Lavelle (26) and Ertz (29);
Forwards (5): Megan Rapinoe (36), Alex Morgan (32), Carli Lloyd (39), Press (32) and Heath (33).
(All are holdovers from the 2019 World Cup championship team and all but Horan played in the final against the Netherlands.)
That leaves four spots up for grabs (stats are from games played in 2021).
Goalkeeper, 1 from...
Jane Campbell (26), 180 minutes, 2 shutouts
Adrianna Franch (30), 90 minutes, 1 shutout
Field Players, 3 from...
Lynn Williams (28), 418 minutes, 2 goals
Tierna Davidson (22), 373 minutes
Emily Sonnett (27), 301 minutes, 1 assist
Kristie Mewis (30), 266 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist
Catarina Macario (21), 246 minutes, 1 goal
Midge Purce (25), 232 minutes, 2 goals
Sophia Smith (20), 110 minutes
Alana Cook (24), 90 minutes
Andi Sullivan (25), 16 minutes
Also played in 2021...
Ali Krieger (36), 79 minutes (1 assist)
Casey Krueger (30), 54 minutes (1 assist)
Jaelin Howell (20), 28 minutes
Emily Fox (23), 11 minutes
The choices will be difficult.
There is little to separate Campbell and Franch in goal -- though Franch's comeback from a knee injury probably gives her the edge -- like the choice among field players competing for particular backup spots.
The assumption is Andonovski will pick two defenders and one midfielder, though many of the candidates can play multiple positions.
The player in the best position is Davidson, the primary backup for Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn at center back.
After that it is probably between Sonnett (who played at right back, left back and holding midfield in the last two games) and Purce (who started at right wing and then moved to right back against Jamaica) and Kristie Mewis (who started in place on Lavelle against Nigeria) and Macario (who is nine years younger than Mewis with a higher up side but has been less consistent than Mewis since joining the national team).
The wild card is Williams. She started early in the year, then faded from the picture, but came off the bench against Nigeria and contributed an excellent goal in stoppage time. Andonovski has valued Williams for her ability to counter-press, but her stock dropped because of a scoring drought that extended almost five months before Wednesday's goal.
The average age of the frontline will be more than 34 years old by the time the USA gets to Japan, and to take along a younger attacker like Williams or Purce or Macario as cover will be tempting.
Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire