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'Nowhere near enough to win big games' - Youthful USWNT struggles in SheBelieves Cup opener

18:00 GMT+4 18/02/2022
Catarina Macario USWNT 2022
The U.S. started 2022 with a scoreless draw with the Czech Republic as head coach Vlatko Andonovski tries to rejuvenate his squad

It was perhaps unsurprising that the U.S. women’s national team did not set the world alight in their SheBelieves Cup opener against the Czech Republic on Thursday night.

With the exception of Lyon’s Catarina Macario, the entire group was in preseason.

With an average age of 25.55 years, it was also the youngest starting XI the USWNT had fielded in nearly four years as the team embarks on a period of transition.

All that said, this was a game the USWNT would have expected to win and with the number of chances they had, they certainly could have.

But instead, a resolute Czech side backstopped by in-form goalkeeper Barbora Votikova thwarted the U.S. in a 0-0 draw at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

“You look at the players that were on the field, how many times they've been on the field together, [chemistry] is something that will come with minutes and games together,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said in his post-game press conference.

“It’s not easy. It doesn't matter how good they are or how much potential they have. It's not easy to just throw them on the field and expect them to click immediately.”

Much was made in the build-up to the SheBelieves Cup about the names that weren’t on the U.S. roster, including veteran stars Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath.

Andonovski gave starts to three players expected to help carry the load whenever the aforementioned quartet leaves the international stage: Macario, Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh.

But it was a mixed bag for that trio.

Macario, who leading up to the match admitted “I need to start making things happen” as she passed her year anniversary with the USWNT, started as a withdrawn striker.

The 22-year-old did indeed make some things happen, especially when dropping deep and linking play. But like her teammates, Macario lacked some sharpness when presented with chances to score or assist.

“I think we’re going to see more of Cat in that position going forward so she can get used to it and she also needs to get used to the players around her,” Andonovski said.

“This is the first time she’s done that and there were lots of players around her that haven’t played together."

Smith showed some examples of her immense skill while Pugh was mostly quiet on the night.

Both players were withdrawn with 30 minutes to play in a double substitution that saw one of the more highly anticipated USWNT debuts in recent years: Washington Spirit star Trinity Rodman.

Rodman is undoubtedly destined for great things and showed flashes, but she and Spirit teammate Ashley Sanchez, also introduced in the second half, didn’t quite have the impact on the game that fans of their NWSL team are used to seeing so routinely.

Instead, it was some of the USWNT’s more experienced players who impressed the most.

Rose Lavelle was consistently dangerous while driving forward from midfield, while Kristie Mewis brought a much-needed injection of attacking impetus after coming on at halftime for the more defensive-minded Morgan Gautrat.

In the end, Andonovski won’t be too concerned with the result. The Czechs are a well-drilled side who appear to be improving fast.

His youthful USWNT side will have better nights as they continue to jell and round into regular season form with their clubs.

But on a night where some of the young U.S. stars could have stamped their authority on the team, they failed to do so.

A full-fledged changing of the guard was never likely to be an easy process, and Andonovski ended his press conference with a stark assessment of his squad.

“We all know how we look and where we are at is nowhere near enough to win big games," the coach concluded.