The 2022 SheBelieves Cup presented an opportunity for the fans and neutrals alike to see a new version of the USWNT. Stalwarts like Crystal Dunn, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe, Julie Ertz, Alex Morgan and many more were not listed on the roster for this year’s tournament which meant that the likes of Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith, Rose Lavelle and others had to step up and seize their moment.
Against the Czech Republic, this young(er) USWNT couldn’t unlock a very stubborn and well-drilled opponent despite creating enough opportunities to do so.
A lack of cutting edge in front of goal
The biggest downfall for the USWNT last night was their lack of ruthlessness in the final third. They had the majority of the possession and stopped the Czech Republic from troubling Casey Murphy in goal. They, especially Macario and Lavelle, were also finding good combinations and pockets of space that, had they been a little sharper, would have resulted in goals.
With both Kelley O’Hara and Emily Fox pushing high for most of the match, the USWNT tried to overload the Czech Republic. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. When it did work, it was because the fullbacks or wingers had decided to take on their markers and find a gap to exploit. However, most of the final passes and crosses from almost everyone on the team weren’t accurate and allowed the Czech Republic to regroup and clear the ball.
The game was also more physical than many had anticipated which meant that the likes of Smith, Pugh and Lavelle were constantly either picking themselves off the ground or stalling attacks as they looked to body their marker off of them. As time wears on, they will need to be stronger and more agile when an opponent marks them tightly like that because, as shown last night, when they do beat that press, there are spaces for them to be creative and/or find their way to goal.
The shoots of something good are developing with this young crop of players but it’s not quite there yet. Vlatko Andonovski will hope that his team catches on quickly to the style he’s trying to introduce and return to being the dominant force they’ve been in previous years.
Votíková stands tall and keeps the USWNT at bay
One of the key reasons why the USWNT were unable to find that breakthrough goal was goalkeeper Barbora Votíková. After a very shaky start where she and her defenders almost conspired to knock in the ball into their own net, the Paris-Saint Germain keeper was in fine form.
She made two outstanding saves to stop Rose Lavelle and Trinity Rodman from finding the back of the net but apart from that, did not have to dive for anything more. Instead, she positioned herself well to snatch up any crosses or set pieces that came into the box, organised her backline well and anticipated any late runs by the USWNT very well. If there could be a pick for the best player for the Czech Republic last night, she’d be my pick. Votíková will face another stern test on Sunday from Iceland but if she performs as well as she did last night then, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Czech Republic register their first win of the season.
Even with the introduction of Becky Sauerbrunn (who earned her 200th cap), Kristie Mewis and more, did not seem to be the solution for the USWNT. The Czech Republic continued to hold stead and force the USWNT to pass into the midfield, where they would then pounce and look to transition quickly. It ended up being a frustrating night for the hosts and one they will look back on with some regret at not finding a way to win.
The biggest takeaway from last night’s game is that all but Macario are still in pre season mode and their lack of finesse in the final third was proof of that. With another game against New Zealand quickly approaching, don’t be surprised to see more sharpness from the USWNT in front of goal. For now, there was enough to be encouraged by while still also having a few lingering doubts that haven’t quite gone away after the Olympics. All these young players have the chance to stamp their place in the national team, they just have to reach out and grab it.