USWNT loses straight games for first time in 5 years. Is it time to worry?


Megan Rapinoe of USA and OL Reign in action during the Women’s International Friendly match between Spain and USA at El Sadar Stadium on October 11, 2022 in Pamplona, ​​Spain. (Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Three days after the US women’s national team lost to England and prepared to face a Spanish side without 17 top players, US head coach Vlatko Andonovski arrived at a pre-match press conference prepared with some basic math.

He knew he would be asked about those missing Spanish players who had temporarily resigned over a dispute over working conditions; and about the roja Leftovers that we all safely assumed the US would defeat. And he repeatedly pointed out that the American narrative seems to be missing.

“You can say the same about us,” Andonovski argued almost preemptively. Without being asked, he rattled off the names of 15 players his Team was absent and whose absence severely weakened the USWNT on their European tour.

Without them, the USA lost 2-0 to Spain on Tuesday. The Americans had zero shots on target late in the game and looked incoherent up front. They were physically superior but tactically and technically inferior to a Spanish team that was missing about nine of eleven starters. They conceded a sloppy goal in the first half and never recovered.

They lost a second straight game for the first time since 2017 and, of course, worries mounted. The World Cup is nine months away. The team’s only major tournament under Andonovski so far ended in disappointment. The preparations for the next one are far worse. When Esther Gonzalez volleyed home Spain’s second goal, a fan base asked in unison: Is it time to panic?

But the answer, according to Andonovski and common sense, is a resounding no.

Among the names Andonovski rattled off Monday were Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Kelley O’Hara, Emily Fox and Tierna Davidson. He initially forgot to mention Catarina Macario, arguably his best player. All of them are currently injured or otherwise absent. All should be in Australia and New Zealand next summer.

Without them, the USWNT would still have had to be better than a Spanish B-Team. That they weren’t was less a cause for concern and more a reminder of longstanding mistakes. Even when Pugh and Morgan are present, their attack was often inefficient. Its structure and rhythms don’t create the kind of chances that such a talented front six should have.

But without half of those six — and especially in the context of a “heartbreaking,” emotionally draining week following the release of the Yates report — USWNT’s performance really isn’t worth over-analyzing.

“With our team there is no excuse because I think we have incredible players,” Andonovski clarified on Monday. “And I think every single one of them deserves their place on the team.”

But he knows he’s missing half of his starting XI. He knows he could have added Crystal Dunn, who remains on a minute limit five months after giving birth, to his list. He knows they all have the best part of a year to get healthy and that he and the entire team have the best part of a year to fix their mistakes.

And there are certainly flaws, even beyond the incoherence of the attack. The defense team is worried. With the spate of injuries and pregnancies, there’s a lack of chemistry on the field. The USWNT is not a finished product.

But what is certain is that by next summer’s World Cup it will be far more of a finished product.

The last time it lost two games in a row was in 2017, it lost just two of its next 78. Among the dozens of wins was a 2019 World Cup.

Losing to Spain will rekindle the narrative that Europe has “caught up”. But that was the story four years ago. “The rest of the world caught up 15 years ago,” Andonovski said. “But the US has always found a way to stay a little bit ahead or find a way to get on top.”

And he can do that again in 2023. Two close defeats away, with squads and emotions torn, are no reason for doubt.

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