In perhaps their toughest game before defending their title at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the United States defeated northern neighbors and reigning Olympic champions Canada 2-0 in the SheBelieves Cup opener in Orlando on Thursday.
Mallory Swanson scored both goals for USA, including the goal that became the winner after just seven minutes:
The Americans meet Japan in a repeat of the 2011 and 15 World Cup finals on Saturday.
Here are three quick thoughts on Thursday’s game.
Swanson stays hot for the USWNT
On a night when US soccer star veteran Alex Morgan was honored for her 200th cap in November, it was fellow forward Swanson who stole the show.
Three games in a potentially historic year for the US, Swanson (née Pugh – she married Dansby Swanson of the Chicago Cubs in December) was Vlatko Andonovski’s top player. Swanson had a career-best seven goals in 2022. The 24-year-old has already scored four in 2023; Her second on Thursday came after she pounced on a bad pass from Canada full-back Vanessa Gilles:
Swanson was the second youngest member of the 2019 squad to repeat as world champion. But she trailed Morgan, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Carli Lloyd on the Americans’ offensive depth list in France and barely played.
With Lloyd now retired, Heath and Press seemingly out of the national team picture and Rapinoe likely to land a super-sub role Down Under at age 38, Swanson is quickly establishing himself as Andonovski’s automatic first choice Heading to Australia/New Zealand 2023 There’s still plenty of competition for spots at the top (more on that below), but Swanson looks like not just a solid player, but a player poised to compete at the global stage to explode as the US chase an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup crown.
Americans roll despite absences
This was the first game for the USA since Andonovski confirmed Julie Ertz (maternity leave) and Sam Mewis (knee surgery) will not be available for the Americans’ 2019 title defense. Injured strikers Catarina Macario and Sophia Smith are expected to be back in time but both were unavailable this month. Meanwhile, surefire US starters Rose Lavelle and Naomi Girma missed this match with minor discomfort.
Most teams would struggle without so many key players. On Thursday, the US barely missed a beat. Alana Cook filled in admirably for Girma in central defense alongside Becky Sauerbrunn. Ashley Sanchez brought Lavelle into midfield and forced a spectacular save from Reds backstop Kailen Sheridan just two minutes into the game.
And up front, youngster Trinity Rodman put in another good performance. It was Rodman’s cross that set up Swanson’s opener and while the 20-year-old is still behind a healthy Macario and Smith in the pecking order, she closes the gap with every passing play. At least Rodman is now the first forward coming on in the main event.
Don’t read too much into Canada’s performance
As easy as the US makes Thursday’s win over another all-planet adversary look, it’s wise not to jump to conclusions. Like Americans for most of the past four years, up until last year when a new wage agreement was struck with US Soccer, Canada is mired in an ugly and public wage dispute with its bosses, in this case the Football Canada Confederation.
The Reds originally intended to strike during the SheBelieves Cup; The CSA eventually forced them to participate under threat of legal action. However, the visitors played the game under protest, wearing shirts that read “enough is enough” during their national anthem:
Any notion that the Canadians wouldn’t give their all in the game quickly evaporated when the whistle blew; After the game started, Bev Priestman’s team showed their usual toughness. Still, it would be naïve to think that all of the off-field drama leading up to this tournament wasn’t a major distraction for Canada, or that it didn’t manifest itself on the field in some way on Thursday.
That’s why the Americans’ final two Tests this month, first against Japan and then next week’s Brazil, could give both Andonovski and US fans a better idea of where the defending champions stand with the World Cup just five months away.
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By DougMcIntyre.
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