Vlatko’s preferred starting lineup and more USWNT analysis

Quick Hits
  • The U.S. women’s national team took on Nigeria over the weekend in their first of two friendlies this month
  • What did we learn about the United States from that game? Let’s talk about that
smith
Want more American soccer? We have you covered.

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

The United States women’s national team put together a cohesive performance over the weekend, beating Nigeria 4-0 in their first of two friendlies this month. 

Lindsey Horan’s first international goal of the year really captured the game’s pulse. Horan received a ball from Sophia Smith with her right foot, cut it across her body, and put a Nigerian defender on skates before rifling a left-footed shot into the far corner of the goal.

The goal doubled the USWNT’s lead and seemingly put the game out of reach for Nigeria in only the 25th minute. Despite the lopsided scoreline, there’s plenty we can take away from this match. 

Vlatko’s familiar lineup

United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski seems to have figured out his go-to starting XI, at least for now. During the Concacaf Women’s Championship, I wrote about how Andonovski’s heavy rotation might be hurting this team. Now more than a month removed from that Olympic and World Cup qualification tournament, Andonvoski went with the same starting lineup that took the field against Canada in the W Championship Final.

Alyssa Naeher started in goal, with Becky Sauerbrunn and Alana Cook in front of her and Sofia Huerta and Emily Fox in the fullback spots. Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Andi Sullivan held down the middle of the pitch, and Mallory Pugh, Alex Morgan, and Sophia Smith rounded out the starting lineup up top.

That marks the first time the USWNT fielded the same starting lineup in back-to-back matches all year. 

It was clear that the players on the field knew their roles in the U.S. system, and were comfortable playing both in those roles and with one another. 

It was a good day to be a Sophia/Sofia

Speaking of looking comfortable, Sofia Huerta sure looked up for the task on Saturday. She had a real breakout performance for the United States. While Huerta doesn’t show up on the stats sheet for either of Sophia Smith’s goals (which we’ll get to in a second), without Huerta, neither goal would have happened.

In the 14th minute, Huerta won a 50-50 ball in midfield off a Nigeria goal kick that ultimately found its way to Smith, who put the U.S. up 1-0. Huerta won possession for the U.S. six times, one of those being a recovery that stopped a Nigeria counter-attack and sent play moving forward. That sequence ended in Smith’s second goal of the match in first half stoppage time.

Speaking of Smith, she was the most exciting player on the pitch – again – for this United States team. She recorded two goals and an assist in the match, which brought her USWNT goal total to 10 in 22 competitions, including a team-leading eight goals in 2022. She’s the second-youngest U.S. player in the last 20 years to score 10 goals, only behind fellow national teamer Mallory Pugh.

Smith was relentless in the attack for the U.S., recording four shots, with three on target, and creating chances while winning tackles and possession for her team. Smith had a gritty assist on Horan’s goal and she ultimately poked a touch towards a wide-open Horan before being taken down at the top of the box. After the game, Andonovski praised her ability to “pop in[to] pockets” and “expose the defense”, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us, since Smith has been doing that for club and country all year.

Progress for Sullivan

Another player who shined for the USWNT over the weekend, especially in comparison to their Concacaf showing, was defensive midfielder Andi Sullivan. After the United States lifted the Concacaf W trophy, I wrote about how the USWNT was bypassing their midfield, and especially Sullivan, during their attacking build-ups.

That wasn’t the case against Nigeria. 

Sullivan completed the fourth-most passes in the final third on the team (7) while completing the third-most recoveries (6). Sullivan was involved in the build-up of Smith’s second goal, too. In fact, the first pass in the attacking sequence actually came from her. Sullivan is starting to settle into that No. 6 role for the U.S., which is great news for the national team as they start to hone in on their 2023 World Cup preparation. 

We should keep an eye on the midfield in the second Nigeria game to see if newcomers Sam Coffey (Portland) or Savannah DeMelo (Louisville) earn some minutes, though. Neither player made their USWNT debuts over the weekend, even though Andonovski made six changes to his lineup in the second-half.

One notable substitution was Kansas City Current’s Hailie Mace, who repped the U.S. jersey for the first time since 2018 and looked like she really hasn’t skipped a beat. Mace slotted into the backline for Emily Fox, but she has a long history of playing wherever her clubs need her in the NWSL. She could be the USWNT’s secret weapon next summer, especially if the roster is still limited to just 23 players. 

Data courtesy of StatsPerform.