And now, all eyes are on Vlatko Andonovski.
The U.S. women’s national team completed its third of three June friendlies on Wednesday, defeating Nigeria 2-0 in the first game at Q2 Stadium in Austin.
Following wins over Portugal, Jamaica and Nigeria, Andonovski now must choose his 18-player roster to bring to the Olympics in Japan next month.
The depth and quality of the USWNT will make Andonovski’s choices exceptionally tough, but within days, we’ll know who made the cut and who will be disappointed. Over to you Vlatko…
Pay attention to Becky Sauerbrunn
She may go about her job quietly and efficiently, but it’s time we start paying more attention to Becky Sauerbrunn. For years, the center back has been one of the most indispensable players for the USWNT, and Wednesday provided yet another example of what she brings to the table.
The 36-year-old’s ability to step up and intercept passes is a huge weapon for the U.S., turning defense into attack in the blink of an eye. On the offensive side, Sauerbrunn, along with her center back partner Abby Dahlkemper, were able to unpick Nigeria’s defense with precise balls over the top and pinpoint switches.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to continue to work on,” Sauerbrunn said of the offensive side of her game. “I want to have all the tools in my tool kit. If the time comes when I need to be hitting some 60-yard [diagonals] or some 20-yard chip balls to Christen Press, then I’ll be able to do all those things.”
With Julie Ertz potentially out for the Olympics, the U.S. will depend even more on the leadership and poise Sauerbrunn brings. Time and time again, she shows that she’s up to the task.
Reading the roster tea leaves
After the three friendlies, we can make a decently educated guess about some of Andonovski’s final roster decisions.
A.D. Franch looks like the favorite for the backup goalkeeper spot after she got the start against Jamaica, with Alyssa Naeher starting the other two games and Jane Campbell not seeing the field.
Alana Cook didn’t see the field in any of the games, so the promising defender will now look toward the 2023 World Cup. The same goes for Andi Sullivan, who did see a few minutes against Jamaica but was bypassed for a look at the No.6 spot in favor of normal defender Emily Sonnett on Wednesday.
Further forward, Sophia Smith looks like she may fall just short of the Olympic squad after playing sparingly in the three games and seeing Lynn Williams, one of her main competitors for a roster spot, come in off the bench and score against Nigeria.
And Carli Lloyd looks set for one more international tournament, as the 38-year-old put in a strong showing over the three games, including an assist against Nigeria. Lloyd looks like the best option for Andonovski to back up Alex Morgan at target forward.
“In terms of making final decisions, I feel like we have very good knowledge of the players,” Andonovski said. “We’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge and data over the last year and a half so when the time comes I believe we are going to make the right decision for this team.”
Summer Series gives USWNT a real test
Going into the team’s three-match Summer Series against Portugal, Jamaica and Nigeria, it wouldn’t have been outrageous to suggest the USWNT would have an easy go of things.
The three opponents held an average FIFA ranking of 39, representing the kinds of teams the USWNT has routinely buried by seven or eight goals in the past. This time, though, that wasn’t the case.
Portugal pushed the U.S. all the way in the opener and Andonovski’s team needed a late Sam Mewis goal to eke out a 1-0 win. Jamaica didn’t provide quite the same challenge in a 4-0 U.S. win, but Nigeria again offered the U.S. a great test on Wednesday, giving the USWNT another taste of the kind of low block setup it will likely see in Tokyo.
It’s also worth noting the three games were played in brutal Texas heat with quick turnarounds between the matches. Those two conditions will also be in play in Japan, meaning Andonovski’s players shouldn’t be surprised at what they encounter when the Games begin next month.