The USWNT has never left the Women’s World Cup as early as it just did in the 2023 edition.
What’s the problem and what’s the remedy to get the American team back at the apex of world football? After all… two draws in the group stage and exiting via a penalty shoot-out isn’t what America expects.
Was Vlatko Andonovski ever the right appointment for the national US team? The North Macedonian has spent years in the US and made his name as an exceptional coach in the NWSL managing teams like FC Kansas City and Reign FC. Yet, could this success translate to a wider platform? If anything his team looked ill-prepared and unmotivated to play against teams from around the globe as they labored three draws against the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden – going out on penalties in the latter.
Andonovski’s tactical contributions were also questioned during the tournament. His substitutions looked ineffective at best. Choosing to bring off Trinity Rodman in the match against Sweden when she had been lively throughout the game, seemed to be a strange decision. While he may have wanted Megan Rapinoe on the pitch for the shoot-out and her invaluable experience in the endgame, taking off Alex Morgan seemed counterproductive when she also had more left to offer the game. However, it wasn’t just this instance he also refused to use more than one sub in the game against the Netherlands despite his team tiring throughout the match.
A successor won’t be easy to find and appoint but there are some names already beginning to circulate. The days of Jill Ellis might not immediately resurface but Brandi Chastain certainly has the connections to succeed, a wider understanding of the world of soccer, and has already said she’d like to help the USWNT.
Tony Gustavsson was part of the very successful USWNT coaching team alongside Jill Ellis, predominantly as her assistant manager. Now a manager in his own right, he’s working for the Australian team who’ve performed exceptionally well with the Matildas in their home tournament, making it to the semi-final. Could he fancy a return to the US set up as the head coach?
One of the biggest issues that surrounded the 2023 World Cup team was the entitlement to success or façade that they had done better than the results showed. Carli Lloyd summed it up perfectly when she said that the player of the match was the post in the game against Portugal. Lloyd slated the team when they exuberantly celebrated a 0-0 draw with Portugal, while the job was done, the alarm bells were ringing. FOX Sports didn’t truly help their case by plastering adverts around the web including cockiness with lines like: “The whole world is wondering, what’s it going to take to stop this US team?” which has since been answered, Zećira Mušović.
The writing however has been on the wall for some time. Sam Kerr ditched the NWSL to join Chelsea in 2020, signaling that the leagues were beginning to match one another. Alex Morgan also failed to settle in the English league in the same year, however, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances in this as she had not played for a long time and had only returned from her pregnancy leave.
Megan Rapinoe has already announced her retirement and looked done with international football (albeit being a marvelous human being) when she missed her definitive penalty in the shoot-out. By the same merit, any player who carries the same lineage and expectation to win by default should also leave. This would allow the USWNT to bleed Sam Coffey, Sophia Smith, Alyssa Thompson, and Morgan Weaver into a freshly motivated new-look squad.
It used to be that every young girl growing up would dream of moving to the United States to chase a professional career playing soccer. While the nation still holds a lot of appeal, it’s not exclusively the only destination to play at an elite level. 22 of the 23 USWNT players who went to the World Cup play their football in the NWSL, meaning they’ve seldom come up against other styles of play.
Contemporary American players shouldn’t afraid to be play in England’s WSL, the Spanish Liga F, Division 1 Féminine in France, or even Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga. These leagues will help diversity their style and overall exposure to world football. The NWSL can no longer teach players everything about the game. Who wouldn’t want to see Alex Morgan have another go in England? Or Rose Lavelle link-up with Arsenal?
The top teams like England have players like Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh who play for FC Barcelona, Georgia Stanway who is at Bayern Munich and Rachel Daly who now turns out for Aston Villa and had played extensively for Houston Dash. These experiences make the squad holistically better with more extensive experience in world football.