Vlatko Andonovski faces his first test since taking over as the United States women’s national team head coach tonight, as the USWNT hosts Sweden. Given Sweden’s history of being particularly obstinate opponents against the U.S. in the past, it’s safe to say Andonovski is jumping into the deep end rather than taking it easy with the kind of foe the USWNT would be expected to put 5+ goals past.
Spirit outlook: Rather than citing one key player, let’s shift the focus to what each of the four Washington Spirit players in camp should be aiming to achieve between tonight’s game and Sunday’s match against Costa Rica:
Rose Lavelle - Stay entrenched as a starter. No one else in this set of players has Lavelle’s skill set, but Andonovski is a flexible coach. Lavelle isn’t so much competing with other attacking midfielders as much as she’s trying to make sure there’s not a formation shift that moves more of the creative responsibility out wide or deeper in the midfield.
Mallory Pugh - Break through for more regular minutes. Pugh couldn’t quite hold off Tobin Heath once the latter returned to health this past spring, and has seen her share of the wing minutes diminish. Of the players in camp, only Christen Press and Lynn Williams have the kind of speed on the ball that Pugh has. She needs to catch Andonovski’s eye by being more of a factor off the ball, and by being more consistent on it.
Andi Sullivan - Differentiate herself from the other central midfield options. It’s the deepest area of the USWNT pool, but Andonovski has favored players who play like Sullivan — calm, controlled, cerebral — throughout his coaching career. The road to a starting job on this team is going to be a long one, but pushing ahead of, say, Allie Long or Morgan Brian would represent a successful start down that path.
Aubrey Bledsoe - Prove that she belongs. The other goalkeepers in camp have been the top 3 for quite a while now, but Bledsoe’s NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award is evidence that she can possibly get herself in that group. It’s doubtful that Andonovski gives time to all four goalkeepers in this window, but if Bledsoe routinely stands tall in training, she’s good enough to stay in this conversation.
Location: Mapfre Stadium (Columbus, OH)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected USWNT starting 11: (433) - Alyssa Naeher; Emily Sonnett, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Casey Short; Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle; Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press
Bench: Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Aubrey Bledsoe, Alana Cook, Imani Dorsey, Morgan Brian, Allie Long, Samantha Mewis, Andi Sullivan, Lynn Williams, Jessica McDonald, Mallory Pugh, Midge Purce
It’s hard to gauge exactly how Andonovski will attack the last two friendlies of 2019. Sweden is certainly the tougher of the two matches, which increases the likelihood of the more experienced group we’ve got listed as our projected starters actually starting tonight. However, we could also see players like Naeher, Sauerbrunn, Ertz, and Heath have their minutes limited, given how demanding this year has been for them physically and mentally.
As such, don’t be surprised if the lineup is more of a departure from a Jill Ellis eleven. Players on NWSL teams that didn’t go to the playoffs (like, for example, all four Spirit players, c’mon Vlatko give them a game!) may end up seeing more of the minutes in this window as a result. It’ll also be interesting to see if Andonovski is ready to hand Cook — a dual national who has also been called up by England — her first cap as a sign of intent to keep her in the program.
Available TV: Fox Sports 1, TUDN
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, TUDN En Vivo
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: If I have time to stop for beer on my way home: some kind of stout or porter? If I don’t: Pikesville Rye with one large ice cube.
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