Lynn Williams chipping in a goal and an assist in her first Olympic qualifying cap was not surprising. Her providing superb service, shoeless? Slightly surprising. However, Williams has so much aggression and speed it almost makes sense that her boot couldn’t stay with her.
On Tuesday night, Williams helped the U.S. women’s national soccer team defeat Haiti 4-0 in Olympic qualifying play in Houston. Williams’ contribution started in the second minute when she won the ball, lost a shoe, made it to the end line, and then served a well-paced ball into the path of fellow forward Christen Press. Press tucked it away for an early 1-0 lead. The urgency out of Williams to get the ball in dangerous spots in the final third provided a promising early sign for the U.S. Unfortunately, the remainder of the half looked like the entire game was being played shoeless. Williams tried to find pockets to draw the Haiti defense that would open up channels for Press and Carli Lloyd to slide through, but the chances were slim because the U.S. were uncharacteristically poor in their touches and passing.
After 20 minutes or so into the second half, the U.S. finally found their shoes and stride. Megan Rapinoe got subbed in for Press, and with just a few minutes into the game somehow found a way to create magic. In the 67th minute, Rapinoe took a corner kick and found Williams’ head to put the U.S. up 2-0. Williams outmuscled her defenders and the service from Rapinoe was textbook.
This was Williams’ seventh career goal and her third goal in the last two games for the U.S. The North Carolina Courage forward is known for scoring goals – in the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season she chipped in a league second-best 12 goals. A header goal for Williams is a little less on brand; she only scored one header in the previous NWSL season. The way she attacked the service from Rapinoe, though, showed confidence and that she belongs out there.
North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley has coached Williams for four years and told Stars and Stripes FC that she added another attacking dimension to the U.S. team Tuesday night. “A more direct, powerful, unpredictable weapon,” Riley said of Williams. “Once she gets isolation she is very difficult to defend and the quality of her runs makes her an obvious target for the intelligent U.S. midfield. She can play wide or inside and again her unpredictability makes her a great option and forces opponents to drop deeper to defend her, opening up space underneath for the midfield to operate.”
While more offensive threats surfaced as the game progressed, Williams looked like the only starter that came ready to play. Her movement off the ball only got better as the game went on and she found creative ways to open up space for Lloyd to make an impact centrally. After her assist early on, she also looked dangerous in the 23rd minute when she took a touch centrally which opened up space for Press on the outside. Williams went on to play a cutting pass into Press behind the Haiti defense. Williams and Press looked completely in-sync here and it this type of interchangeability up top will help the U.S. through the rest of group play.
The U.S. finished the game with a 23-3 advantage in shots, led by Lloyd’s five shots. Williams had three shots, all coming in the second half.
When we’re looking at who the U.S. has for attacking players, the roster is deep. When Vlatko Andonovski is choosing his starting lineup during these qualifiers it’s a friendly reminder that only 18 players will actually make the Olympic roster. It will be interesting to see if Andonovski keeps the same front three or if he switches it up with Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Jess McDonald all available for Friday’s match against Panama.
Williams held her own, Press did her job, and Lloyd, although ineffective in the final third for much of the game, still managed to find the back of the net to seal the score at 4-0. Lloyd’s goal actually started with Williams receiving the ball centrally and then dishing it out wide to Rapinoe who played a one-time ball into Julie Ertz who then found Lloyd.
Williams’ movement off the ball created chances too. She made a near post run in the second half that created space in the middle for Lindsey Horan to head home Rapinoe’s service in the 73rd minute.
If looking at Press and Rapinoe head-to-head, both provided solid service. It’s just Rapinoe’s presence added a crucial spark to an otherwise underwhelming performance for the U.S. side. We didn’t get to see Jess McDonald or Tobin Heath; McDonald offers the U.S. strength centrally up top. She’s confident with her back towards the goal and is dynamic off and on the ball. Heath is dangerous one-on-one, creates chances more than not, and has pace. Williams has her work cut out for her to make that 18-player roster, but her performance Tuesday suggests Andonovski’s decision is going to be a hard one.