USWNT takeaways: Ashley Sanchez is a game-changer, answers in midfield

Quick
Hits
  • As they prepare for the Concacaf W Championship, the U.S. women’s national team played Columbia recently, winning 3-0 in Colorado 
  • Let’s talk about three things we learned from that game
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The United States women’s national team battled Colombia on Saturday in Commerce City, Colorado during the first of two tune-up matches before the Concacaf W Championship. 

It wasn’t a perfect game for the U.S., even with a 3-0 scoreline. They couldn’t completely break through the organized Colombian defense for the first 45 minutes. Despite occupying the attacking third for the majority of the half, the United States failed to capitalize and the teams entered the break tied at 0-0. A handful of second-half substitutions – and continuing to apply attacking pressure – ultimately changed the game and the scoreline for the USWNT. 

What did we learn from this friendly ahead of qualifying? Let’s talk about that.

All data cited is courtesy of StatsPerform.

Ashley Sanchez is a game-changer for the U.S.

Sanchez entered the match at halftime with USWNT veteran Alex Morgan, coming in for Lindsey Horan and Ashley Hatch, respectively. Leading up to this switch, the United States was struggling to connect the midfield to the frontline and the attack looked a little slow and disjointed. 

Now, Colombia’s defense does deserve some real credit here. The U.S.’s opponents lined up with five defenders and their decision to sit deep and defend is similar to what the United States will be up against in Mexico next month. 

Fortunately for the United States, Sanchez came in and unlocked the game. With Sanchez accompanying Rose Lavelle in the midfield, the U.S. essentially played with two No. 10s. What’s more is that both players are lethal on the dribble and excel at beating opponents 1v1 to play the ball into dangerous positions. Sanchez’s ability to take players on is on full display in this clip as she danced around the 18-yard box and beat a couple of Colombian players:

Colombian defenders struggled in the second half as they were forced to contain Sanchez and Lavelle, and it only took nine minutes for the United States to break through and score the first goal of the match.

Lavelle played a perfect ball into Sophia Smith, who ultimately scored after her shot deflected off the Colombian goalkeeper. While Lavelle was credited with this assist, Sanchez’s work to win the header in the midfield ultimately set up Lavelle to play into Smith. This goal wouldn’t have happened without both midfielders on the pitch.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski seemed to share this sentiment. He had lots of praise for Sanchez in his post-game media availability, going on record by saying that Sanchez “was the reason [the United States] got a little more sophisticated in the second half.”

Kristie Mewis might be the answer to the No. 6 question for the USWNT

There’s been a large question mark surrounding the defensive midfield position for the United States after Andonovski opted to bring only one ‘true’ No. 6 to Mexico. He named Portland Thorns FC’s Sam Coffey and Racing Louisville FC’s Jaelin Howell, both of whom play in the defensive midfield for their respective clubs, to the expanded 26-player roster for the two friendlies against Colombia, but neither player dressed on Saturday night. 

I speculated that either Lindsey Horan or Taylor Kornieck would be called on to fill the backup No. 6 role behind Andi Sullivan, but both of my guesses were wrong! 

In the 73rd minute, Kristie Mewis entered the match for Andi Sullivan and stepped into the defensive midfielder role pretty seamlessly. Mewis is a natural midfielder, though she typically plays a bit higher up the pitch. Regardless, she got the job done from a deeper midfield position, connecting passes to link the defenders and attackers. In her 17 minutes on the pitch, she recorded 20 touches, which was just about half of Sullivan’s 41 touches in her 73 minutes. Mewis also made 18 passes, with 10 in the final third. She was involved and helped link play in midfield, which is a big part of that No. 6 role.

In hindsight, Andonovski’s decision to use Mewis in a deeper role maybe wasn’t all that surprising, given his statements about the U.S. midfield earlier in the week. The United States head coach alluded to the possibility that the US ‘had a plan’ and would play with more of a “double six” or a “hybrid between six and eight” at times when Sullivan isn’t on the pitch. We could see more positional experimentation in the midfield over the next few weeks, but so far, Mewis looks prepared to fill in behind Sullivan on the depth chart.

Taylor Kornieck’s 2022 NWSL form is translating to the international stage

After several lights-out performances for the San Diego Wave in the NWSL in the first half of the regular season, Kornieck earned her first-ever call-up to the USWNT. Then, on Saturday, Kornieck became the 248th player to earn a cap for the USWNT, coming on for Lavelle in the 73th minute. 

She wasted no time in opening her national team scoring account, heading in a Megan Rapinoe cross to put the United States up 3-0 in the 90th minute. With the goal, Kornieck became the 21st USWNT player to score in their international debut.

In her limited time on the pitch, Kornieck had 11 touches, recorded seven passes (with 100% accuracy), and completed three additional passes in the final third. She also notched a successful tackle and aerial dual, which is expected of the tallest woman to ever wear a United States jersey.

Andonovski and the United States will look for Kornieck to come off the bench and make an immediate impact during qualifiers, much like she did on Saturday.