The USWNT returned to action for the first time in 2023 with a matchup with New Zealand at Sky Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. The fixture set an attendance record for a home New Zealand Women’s National Team match, with 12,508 filling the arena. From a Spirit perspective, it was a frustrating start to the match as only former Spirit players, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Swanson (formerly Pugh) and Crystal Dunn were in the starting lineup.
Given the travel, that NWSL preseason camps are even a week or two away, and this being the team’s first action since November 13 versus Germany, rust was expected. However, in the first half, not only was there rust, there was also a lot of disjointed play and at a worryingly slow tempo. Some of this seemed due to the grass, which seemed a bit too long and dry for zippy passing, but mostly it was due to an unfamiliar lineup and lack of movement off the ball.
At halftime the teams went into the break knotted at 0-0 and Midge Purce, one of the few bright spots in the first half, said that she knows they’re “going to get a talking to” at halftime. They surely got that, but they also got a change of personnel as Andi Sullivan and Trinity Rodman entered the match for the second half.
Sullivan immediately starting shuttling the ball around the pitch at a much higher tempo and seven minutes into the half Trinity Rodman cut inside her defender and delivered a perfectly timed left footed cross for Mallory Swanson to head home.
Eight minutes later Rose Lavelle found Alex Morgan with an absurd backheel through ball into the box for Alex Morgan to finish. Then, three minutes later, the United Spirits got in on the goals again.
Ashley Sanchez had only been on the pitch for two minutes before adding to her highlight reel. She received the ball near the halfway line on the right side, took a touch, turned, spotted Swanson making a central run, and dropped a delicious pass into her stride. Swanson only needed one touch to evade the onrushing keeper and another to slot home.
Sanchez finds Swanson for her 2nd goal today— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) January 18, 2023
In the 67th minute Lynn Williams made her long awaited return to the pitch and the national team after a lengthy recovery from surgery to reattach her hamstring. Seven minutes later, Trinity Rodman dished another left footed assist, allowing Williams to mark her return with a goal.
i remember when trin was a rookie they showed her data on how much weaker she was with her left foot and she hated it but two years later she's out here dropping two left footed assists in 23 minutes with the uswntpic.twitter.com/ERgpqZXvdl— ugh (@838_carlisle) January 18, 2023
The note about Rodman’s left foot is a fun one for Spirit fans. Rodman’s limitless potential has been evident from her first minutes on the pitch in a Spirit shirt. It’s exciting to watch her continue to grow as a player by making her strengths even stronger, but also, and maybe more impressively, resolve to turn weaknesses into strengths as well.
‘A tale of two halves’ may be one of the most worn out soccer clichés, but it’s the best way to describe this match. Whereas the first half was worrying, dull and slow, the second was fun, fast and effective, leading to a comfortable looking 4-0 full-time scoreline.
A lot of the turnaround had to do with the Washington Spirit players who entered the fray. Sullivan’s passing accuracy and tempo kept New Zealand from being able to track play and settle defensively while Rodman and Sanchez created goal scoring opportunities, assisting three of the team’s four goals.
We agree with Spirit Admin, the United Spirits will soon be at an Audi Field near you so get tickets and we’ll see you there!
Hey peeps.— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) January 18, 2023
We interrupt this AMAZING match to remind you of this:
You can see Sanchez and Trin on the Spirit squad this year.