By Official Florida FC
The United States women’s national team played its first stateside game on Thursday night when it kicked off the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando.
The Americans pounced on a distracted Canadian side to win 2-0.
Alex Morgan celebrated her 200th cap with an authoritative presence at center forward in a city where she spent six years of her professional career.
Mallory Swanson scored twice to give the Americans their 53rd win in 64 all-time matches against their northern neighbors.
Here are our three thoughts, plus a random thought, from the match:
Mallory Swanson is in the kind of form that will make her a put-her-in-ink selection this summer in Australia and New Zealand. The 24-year-old has scored in four straight matches for the USWNT.
USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Swanson not only plays well individually, but is raising her game in a way that also lifts the performances of her teammates.
Swanson repeatedly drifted toward the middle of the pitch from the left wing to combine with Morgan, serve as an outlet or start the attack. The timing of when to come infield gave the USWNT more numbers in attacking positions.
“That’s what I would want from her every game,” Andonovski said. “Two goals, what can I say? It’s not just the two goals. Her flair in the game it just makes the game look so easy sometimes. Every time I watch her play, not just in games but in trainings, I feel I can go back and play this game again. That’s how easy it looks.”
The speed, dribbling and finishing from open play that Swanson showcased Thursday is not something the USWNT has enjoyed on the wing since Christen Press stepped away from the program 18 months ago.
Kelley O’Hara’s international retirement and Crystal Dunn’s gradual integration after her return from maternity leave means that the USWNT has five months to figure out who will be the starting fullbacks when the Women’s World Cup kicks off.
On the right, Emily Fox started the match and was defensively sturdy, while also getting forward and even making herself available at the base of midfield as a safety valve.
On the left, the question isn’t whether Dunn can do the job. The question is when she will return to full fitness.
Dunn has started all three matches for the USWNT since returning from maternity leave; however, she has been substituted at halftime in all three appearances.
On the right, Emily Fox started the match and was defensively sturdy, while also getting forward and even making herself available at the base of midfield as a safety valve. Fox was replaced by Emily Sonnett at halftime.
USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Dunn was “excellent” Thursday night. Her problem solving ability was evident while competing against Canada’s Janine Beckie, specifically when it came to locating and finding outlet passes from Canadian pressure.
Dunn was replaced by Emily Sonnett at halftime. Sonnett may have more experience than Sofia Huerta and nominal defender Midge Purce, but she is heavily dependent on her right foot.
(Official Florida FC Opinion: Women like Dunn and Morgan are incredible for returning to a high endurance sport like professional soccer – and being starters for the No. 1 ranked team in the world – less than a year after becoming mothers. That both are competing at such a high level with infants and toddlers will always be awesome in our eyes.)
Is Andi the answer?
Andi Sullivan may not have the star power of Morgan, Swanson or even Becky Sauerbrunn. But, the 27 year-old may be critical to the USWNT winning an unprecedented third straight world championship.
Sullivan’s presence in the base of midfield provides cover to Sauerbrunn – and whoever her partner is in central defense. On the occasions Canada did attack on Thursday, Sullivan’s positioning meant the Canadians couldn’t dribble through the USWNT.
With a smile Sullivan told reporters in the mixed zone that she views the No. 6 position as “whatever the boss tells me to do.”
“It’s a little bit of everything. I feel like I have been learning a lot and enjoying it and doing my part.”
Sullivan added the SheBelieves Cup will provide a back-to-back-to-back opportunities to test themselves against quality opponents on short turnarounds. With questions around the midfield, particularly at the base of midfield, Sullivan may be the solution.
For what its worth, Canada head coach Bev Priestman remained impressed with the USWNT and its midfield.
Random Thought: Excellence isn’t cheap
Canada is the reigning Olympic champion. The Americans have won each of the last two World Cups.
Both came together before kickoff to support the Canadians’ efforts to receive additional funding and support from Soccer Canada.
On Feb. 17 the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association released a statement on Twitter calling out the federation.
“We are tired – tired of constantly having to fight for fair and equal treatment, and for a program that will give us a chance to achieve what we know this team is capable of achieving for Canada.”
Again, Canada are the Olympic champions. Its captain, Christine Sinclair, is the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of international soccer. Midfielder Quinn has been an exemplary advocate for trans rights. The current squad is a representation of a diverse, multi-ethnic country.
The players took the field in purple T-shirts and are competing in the SheBelieves Cup under protest.
It’s past time they were paid.