This was the “Vlatko Andonovski Era” many supporters of the USWNT have been eager to see. Sure, they won two World Cups under prior manager Jill Ellis, but Andonovski is a different character. In the most concise summation, and with the utmost respect: Andonovski is a tactics-obsessed video and data nerd who wants to innovate on the pitch (he reportedly showed up to his USWNT interview with 16 different presentations on his vision for the team).
However, until recently, the USWNT had only seen minor adjustments to their overall style of play. Most notably, though the extremely gifted Crystal Dunn was still playing at left back, she had more freedom to get forward and into areas that she prefers to play in: wide forward or No. 10. In their second meeting in a week against Mexico, before flying out to Japan for the Olympics, the USWNT put on a show, and we got more of a peek at Vlatko Andonovski’s evil genius than we’ve had since he was hired in 2019.
The USWNT started the match in a lopsided 3-4-3 in attack that overloaded both sides of Mexico’s defense with numbers and lots of off-ball movement. So much so that the first goal of the night was an outside of the boot volley at the top of the six-yard box from the defensive midfielder (Lindsey Horan) who had received a flicked on header from the center forward (Carli Lloyd). The next goal came from the aforementioned Dunn, who assisted the second with a perfect left-footed cross delivered from a wide forward area.
AND! THEN! THEY! DID! THIS!
Let’s get the worst part out of the way. The goal didn’t officially count because center referee Danielle Chesky inadvertently blew her whistle. There will never be a more perfect metaphor for the fallibility of authority figures getting in the way of great art than what we witnessed last night. However, it’s also up to us how much validity we want to bestow to an errant whistle. It wasn’t a match with high stakes beyond avoiding injuries and promises of entertainment. It was a glorified friendly. We can choose to spend time berating a referee because this didn’t make it into an official record book, or we can prioritize our own eyes, minds and memories.
I choose the latter.
There are two runs here that absolutely make all this possible, and both start from the USWNT’s own half. First, Tobin Heath pulls wide to make herself available to right back Kelley O’Hara, then, after a one-touch backpass to Lindsey Horan, Heath curls into a sprint along the line before cutting across the pitch into a central gap. In under five seconds Heath makes herself an outlet for the right back, occupies the opposition’s left back, plays a pass to the defensive midfielder, makes herself an outlet for the center forward, then makes a perfectly weighted outside-of-the-boot through ball to the left forward (Christen Press). Please read that sentence again.
The second run that pops off the screen is Rose Lavelle’s. As soon as O’Hara spots Heath for the first forward pass of the move, Lavelle bursts forward into the space along the near touchline that Heath has just vacated, demanding the attention of several Mexican players. She sprints behind the central midfielder marking her, gets into space that draws the left central defender way out of position, then receives the pass from Horan, and one-touches it ahead to Lloyd before absorbing a hard foul. Rose Lavelle’s run isn’t just excellent for its intelligence, but also for the speed at which she makes it. If she doesn’t attack the space with as much intensity as she does, the defenders wouldn’t have felt as much urgency, and would have had a much better chance at keeping themselves organized. Three of the four final passes aren’t possible without Lavelle running as hard as she did, where she did.
Here’s a solid breakdown of the goal (you heard me) from start to finish:
After the match Vlatko Andonovski expressed frustration at the goal being disallowed, in part because of the befuddling reasoning, but more hurtfully because it was a neon representation of what can be done with this team.
“I cannot believe it happened, because I thought that was the most beautiful goal that we scored as a team. It was a perfect display of what we were trying to do, what we’ve been working towards, and how we want this team to look going forward.” -Vlatko Andonovski; source: Meg Linehan, The Athletic
If it’s good enough for Vlatko Andonovski’s book, it’s good enough for all of ours.
Remember the ‘BELIEVE’ locker room sign in Ted Lasso? Vlatko Andonovski should put a digital frame of a GIF of this goal in the locker room and it should become a religious custom for players to give it a tap before walking onto the pitch, Anfield-style. I will never forget this goal because it was a goal that I only not only saw live but also saw how it came about from start to finish. I remember my eyes widening as it unfolded and having to remind myself to close my mouth after it was scored. I remember watching the replay and seeing nothing in the crafting of this goal that was outside the rules of play, only an errant whistle. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let a puff of air through a funny shaped object tell me how to live. I will never forget this goal, the USWNT shouldn’t forget this goal and you shouldn’t either.