The U.S. women’s national team christened the newest soccer stadium in the USA, Q2 Field in Austin, Texas, with a 2-0 win over Nigeria in what was the players’ final opportunity to impress head coach Vlatko Andonovski before he names his final 18-player Olympic roster.
Winger Christen Press stole the show again and her quick thinking and reactions in attack helped break down the toughest opponent the USWNT faced in its three-game tuneup series this month. She scored the opening goal with a first-time, left-footed shot and delivered a spectacular through ball for the second goal.
Here are four key takeaways from the match:
Press delivers . . . again
She was the top performer for the USWNT in this Olympic prep camp and we’re accustomed to seeing her deliver regularly, but this stat really puts it into perspective:
Press says she has become a better player over the last year and that the rest she received before this camp served her well. But her consistent performances and the desire she shows in each of her USWNT appearances is perhaps best captured by these words she shared postgame.
“I think about my journey and sometimes how I reflect on my own career and it’s hard to believe that I’m here,” she said. “So I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I have with the national team and I will always keep fighting to score goals.”
Kristie Mewis is on the bubble
She put in a shift in midfield in place of starter Rose Lavelle, but she wasn’t really able to leave an imprint on the match. As one of the bubble players for the Olympics, it wasn’t a performance that moved her up the depth chart. But that can also be chalked up to the type of game that unfolded and Andonovski said as much after the match.
There’s a case to be made that her experience, versatility and work rate could come in handy in Tokyo, but they still may not be enough to justify a spot when Andonovski has just 18 spots available. But if Julie Ertz’s recovery doesn’t progress as planned — Andonovski has previously said he expects Ertz to have recovered from her knee injury in time for the send-off series — that might bring Mewis back into the picture.
Lloyd or Morgan at center forward?
Given the high profile of both stars, it will be tempting in the coming weeks to have a debate as to which should be the starter. Carli Lloyd got the nod in two of the last three matches after Alex Morgan started against Portugal.
Of course, the lineup decisions ultimately depend on the opponent, and the USWNT saw three teams that all opted for defense-first approaches. Based on what we saw in the matches, Lloyd is a solid option against teams that sit back because of her pressing and her ability to improvise. Having the highest forward also double as a playmaker offers additional ways to solve a congested final third.
Less traffic and more space benefit Morgan’s game. Sure, she can be a goal poacher in the box, but she’s most dangerous when she can come at the defense with a head of steam. There will be games at the Olympics, and periods within games, when the space will be there to be exploited.
Rose Lavelle can’t be replaced
She can, but no one in the current U.S. pool has the same qualities that Lavelle brings to the team in midfield. Her 1-on-1 skill, vision and playing style — she’s constantly seeking connections and combinations with the attackers around her — give the USWNT a flow and pace to its attacking game, even if in spurts, that was hard to recreate in her absence against Nigeria.
Pushing Lindsey Horan from the No. 6 slot into an attacking midfield position late in the match felt in part like an attempt by Andonovski to inject some of the passing flair that Lavelle would normally bring.
But Andonovski sounded confident that Lavelle will be ready for the pre-Olympic send-off series, despite talk of a walking boot on the ESPN broadcast.