Explaining the USWNT’s Rocky Start to 2020

The USWNT defeated Haiti 4-0 earlier this week in the reigning World Cup Champion’s first game of a series that will determine which CONCACAF teams will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Although 4-0 seems like nothing but a dream start for the U.S. and crushing blow for Haiti, a lot more happened underneath the pristine scoreline, which should have been at least 4-1. Many factors contributed to the struggles the USWNT faced Tuesday night, some of which included a new coach, a new line-up, less than ideal weather conditions, and the return from a long break. The U.S. typically dominates games against many of its CONCACAF opponents, the exception being Canada, the #8 ranked nation in the women’s soccer world, but this time, Haiti gave the women’s team widely considered best in the world a run for its money.

Rusty Play

With the departure of Jill Ellis came to the departure of her style of play, which included many long balls, a lot of offense, and of course, a strong defense. While newly hired coach Vlatko Andonovski hasn’t been around long enough for viewers and analysts to determine the details of Vlatko’s playing style, but one thing is for sure concerning the way the USWNT played on Thursday night-it wasn’t good. In fact, for half of the game, they seemed to have no plan at all. The majority of the passes the U.S. made went to the Haitian team, or to no player at all. Although Christen Press scored early for the U.S. off of a Lynn Williams assist, the team seemed to lose their offensive rhythm and dominance that is typical of them. Haiti even conjured a few chances, including a corner kick-turned-goal that was eventually and controversially disallowed. Originally, many people thought the goal was not counted because of the offside rule, even though the Haitian player in the offside position did not appear to touch the ball, and offside doesn’t even apply to corner kicks. Eventually, rumors began to float that the goal had been disallowed because of goalkeeper interference. This means the game should have gone to half-time 1-1, a tied score between the United States and Haiti, ranked #1 and #68 in the world respectively. This could have motivated Haiti offensively and caused a downfall in moral for the U.S., dramatically changing the outcome of the game. There were many conditions that impacted the first half’s tight scoreline: the fact that the game is the first one of 2020, after a long break, the involvement of several players who haven’t played for the national team in months, and the inclement weather, but the fact of the matter is that the USWNT’s playing style, at least in the first half, was not the quality that is typically expected from them.

Line-ups and Players

One of the things that the USWNT is best known for in the women’s soccer world is their depth. Every single player on their bench is capable of starting in the World Cup or the Olympics, which is a great thing when a team potentially has to play five games in the span of two weeks. This means that Vlatko Andonovksi’s line-up against Haiti probably wasn’t the one he would put out against a team like Canada, France, Brazil, or England, and this could also have caused a bit of lost chemistry and disjointedness in the team. Players like Lynn Williams and Kelley O’Hara hadn’t played for the USWNT in months and this likely impacted the USWNT’s performance. However, Williams and other players, especially once the Haitian players began to get tired and the U.S. ran away with the game, proved themselves worthy of a spot on the Olympic roster. Veterans are sure to help the USWNT. The absence of Alex Morgan certainly caused shakiness, and once Megan Rapinoe was subbed into the game, she helped to create more opportunities, goals and calmed the players.

The game against Haiti wasn’t an ideal start to Olympic qualifying for the USWNT, but in the end, they came away with a 4-0 victory and will look to improve in a multitude of ways for their games against Panama, Costa Rica, and potentially in the semifinals and finals of the tournament. They will aim to shake the rust that may have accumulated over the holiday break and become more comfortable with a new coach, new players, and a new style of play.

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