Friday, June 14, 2024

USWNT vs. Colombia takeaways: Mia Fishel, Jaedyn Shaw score first international goals as team spotlights youth

The U.S. women’s national team finished off their two-game series against Colombia on a high on Sunday, picking up a 3-0 win that may have teased the squad’s not-too-distant future. After a scoreless first half featuring a lineup made exclusively of players who competed at last summer’s Women’s World Cup, interim head coach Twila Kilgore introduced newcomers Mia Fishel and Jaedyn Shaw. The pair each marked their second caps with their first goals, building off of the encouraging signs from Kilgore’s first-half team.

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This month’s matches are expected to be Kilgore’s last in charge as U.S. Soccer reportedly inches closer to naming a new head coach for the USWNT, and after a string of games that felt like a regurgitation of the past, Sunday’s game finally offered some new information for onlookers and coaching candidates alike.

Here are some takeaways from the team’s commanding victory:

Something old

Kilgore has notably tried not to rock the boat during her spell as the interim head coach and has leaned on tactics and players that many are familiar with in the belief that the person who eventually succeeds Vlatko Andonovski should make the tough calls. She did so again on Sunday by picking a group of starters that all made the trip Down Under to the World Cup, but mixed things up in midfield and found success doing so.

Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan started again but Savannah DeMelo came in for Andi Sullivan, which gave the team more attacking flair that was apparent from the start. The hosts played with more energy and were able to break through Colombia’s sturdy defense much more easily than they did during Thursday’s 0-0 draw, equaling last game’s two shots on target by halftime. DeMelo was also able to showcase her skill on set pieces, an attribute that landed her on the World Cup squad despite only earning her first cap in the sendoff game.

It marked a dramatic difference in Horan’s performance from Thursday to Sunday in particular. The captain was one of the most active players in attack on Sunday and capped that off with a goal in the second half. Her spot was likely locked in regardless of the new coach, but the performance is a positive for Sonnett and DeMelo. The former has carved herself a spot into the lineup as a midfielder since excelling there in Andonovski’s final game and DeMelo helped unlock a U.S. offense that has had experienced rough patches this year.

Something new

Kilgore also opted to start a front line that saw Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman flank Alex Morgan, which saw varying levels of success in the first half. While the USWNT’s midfield was operating at a high level, the attack was yet to truly find that finishing touch, especially Morgan, who now extends her goalless run in a national team jersey to 11 games. Both Morgan and Smith came off at halftime — Smith in a move to manage her minutes after recovering from injury and in the midst of the Portland Thorns’ NWSL playoff run — and paved the way for Fishel and Shaw to enter the field.

Many onlookers have waited for the day both would see serious minutes, and the pair did not disappoint. Fishel played centrally while Shaw took a spot on the wing, and both showed glimpses early on in the second half. Fishel scored her first international goal off a set piece — a longtime area of success for the squad — after heading a well-placed ball from Sonnett.

Shaw, meanwhile, notched her first goal for the team in the 83rd minute after combining with fellow 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson. Thompson won the ball near goal and then skillfully outmaneuvered the Colombian defense to find Shaw, whose well-timed run towards goal meant she was able to swiftly finish off the chance.

The kids are alright

Fishel and Shaw’s debut goals mean they have earned the headlines after Sunday’s win, but they were far from the only youngsters to signal that the side’s future is bright.

Thompson, the youngest member of this year’s World Cup team, played an important part during her 18-minute cameo as she begins to build a résumé with the national team. 24-year-old Sam Coffey, an NWSL MVP candidate after an impressive season in the Portland Thorns’ modified, also saw some field time and should be in the conversation as the USWNT begins their post-World Cup rebuild.

Even though Kilgore relied on experience at the start, even the starting lineup was a nod towards the future. Only two players — Morgan and Crystal Dunn — are over the age of 30, and that group was full of players who are well-positioned to stay put. Though neither Smith nor Rodman got on the scoresheet this month, both are poised to lead the attack for years to come and center back Naomi Girma may be the best player of her generation in the pool.

It may have taken some time to get there in the early days of the team’s Olympics preparations, but the USWNT might finally be handing things over to the next generation.

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