It was a night of firsts as the U.S. Women’s National Team took on Uzbekistan on Tuesday in the second of two friendlies scheduled during the April FIFA break.
The crowd at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania was treated to several “firsts” for the USWNT. Two players earned their first-ever caps: goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and defender Naomi Girma. One player scored their first international goal: last year’s NWSL Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman. Two players wore the captain’s armband for the first time: midfielders Rose Lavelle and Andi Sullivan.
“Talking about firsts, I think that it’s great,” said head coach Vlatko Andonovski after the match. “It’s great that we had an opportunity to give a chance to someone like Naomi Girma to step in. I’m also very proud of Aubrey to come in and work her way to get a cap. At the stage of her career that she’s at, it is not easy. It shows her persistence and perseverance, and the type of player and person that she is. Very happy for both of them, and for Trinity’s first goal. I said in the post-game huddle that I truly believe that’s just the first of many.”
Just like in the first match-up against Uzbekistan, the U.S. walked away with nine goals but unlike last weekend, they did not concede. There was very little work to be done for Kingsbury, who spent much of the game in the midfield watching her teammates execute a relentless attack in Uzbekistan’s half.
When it was announced that the U.S. would be playing Uzbekistan, a scoreline such as this was to be expected, but head coach Vlatko Andonovski had nothing but praise for the 48th FIFA ranked team.
“I want to give a lot of credit to Uzbekistan. Coming to the States, playing us on our home soil - it’s not easy for any team. It’s hard, it’s a long [way to] travel, and I thought they did good. They fought all the way through regardless of what the score was. They never gave up. I want to give them a lot of credit for that,” he said.
Of the nine goals scored, Catarina Macario and Rose Lavelle each scored two, and one apiece came from Mal Pugh, Trinity Rodman, Margaret Purce, and Ashley Sanchez. The opening goal, scored within the first minute of the game, was an own goal coming off an Uzbekistan player Kamila Zaripova.
But even with such a lopsided scoreline, the players did not take this opportunity for granted. After the match, Lavelle explained the importance of these games, including preparing to play against a team that employs a low block.
“In qualifiers we’re potentially going to face teams that sit in a low block. I do think playing games like these help prepare us for those moments,” she said. “Playing in the NWSL, the competition is hard every single day, so we have a lot of players that have experience in that. So when the time comes for us to play a team that’s not sitting in a lower block, I think we’re prepared for that as well.”
For Rodman, scoring her first goal was a pivotal moment in her career, with so much of her life leading up to this momentous occasion. Even better, she got to score it with an assist from her Washington Spirit teammate Ashley Hatch.
“It was definitely really rewarding,” Rodman said after the game. “Being able to be on the field with people I’ve been playing with for over a year now was awesome. We had the momentum, kept going forward, and we have the connection.”
“It was a very nice moment, and a very nice experience obviously for Trinity, but for me too,” said Andonovski. “I was very proud of her. She has worked very hard to earn an opportunity and earn minutes on this team, and the fact that she scored a goal is a very good experience.”
The big star of the evening however, was none other than Catarina Macario who thrilled the crowd and used her magic to score two goals, including an incredible free kick taken just outside the box.
After the game, Macario credited her success to a complete team performance. “I think our chemistry has gotten much better on and off the field, and I think we’re off to a good start with this new cycle. We keep looking to improve.” Macario now returns to France to rejoin her Lyon teammates as they finish out the season.
Newly minted team captain Rose Lavelle couldn’t have been happier for her team’s success and for Andonovski’s trust in her leadership both on and off the field.
“That was really cool,” Lavelle said, reflecting on her captaincy after the game. “That was never really something that was on my radar, so when Vlatko said that, I was a bit surprised but obviously it’s a huge honor. I don’t think I ever saw myself in that position, but it’s something I’ll remember forever.”
“It’s actually very nice to see Rose in the environment,” Andonovski said. “Obviously we see her on the field, but what many people can’t see is how she is in the environment. It’s very nice to see how much she has grown, how she’s growing into this role, and how she helps the younger players to integrate into the system and on the team. I am very happy with her, and was very proud to tell her she was going to be the captain of the team for this game.”
Now, the players will return to their teams, with the majority heading back to their NWSL markets to finish up the last few games of the 2022 Challenge Cup.
Andonovski reiterated that how these players perform in their home markets is equally as important as their performance on Tuesday for continuing to make the roster.
“I did tell the players that the job is not done for them. They’re going back to their teams, back to their markets and they have to keep on improving, keep on developing and show us they’re in good form and ready for the next camp. It’s not just these players. Anybody that is healthy and in good form and we feel like is going to be able to help us be successful has a chance to be on this team,” he said.
As the team inches closer to World Cup qualifiers, Andonovksi knows the work is not yet finished, but is confident the team will be ready.
“We feel very good in terms of where we stand at the stage of the process that we’re at,” he said. “We know that there are still little things we need to tighten up, little details, but that’s what we’re going to use the next camp for, the next two games that we have before the qualifiers.”