The United States women’s national team (USWNT) defeated Switzerland, 4-0, in the first of two international friendlies with the 15th-ranked team.
The match, touted as the start of a new cycle, featured a roster that left some veterans like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger at home in favor of calling up 11 uncapped players. USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis claimed this was to give new players a look at the international level in preparation for the 2019 Women's World Cup while working within the roster-size restrictions.
It would be one such new call-up, the 2016 NWSL Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot Award winner Lynn Williams of the NWSL Champions, the Western New York Flash, that made the biggest impression for the night. In just 51 seconds on the field, Williams found herself with the ball on a breakaway to go 1v1 with Swiss goalkeeper GaëlleThalmann, and, as she had done so many times for her club team, Williams easily slotted the ball past Thalmann for the USWNT’s game-winning goal. With the goal Williams becomes the 20th player in USWNT history to score in her first cap.
Although all of the new call-ups who dressed for the match would eventually see the field, the most experimentation came from Ellis’s starting XI. Ellis abandoned her preferred 4-5-1 formation for a 3-5-2 in which she shuffled experienced national teamers into new positions. Allie Long, who is usually listed as a defensive midfielder, was pushed back to play defense between Becky Sauerbrunn and Emily Sonnett on the back line. Tobin Heath and Short were moved to the wings, while Carli Lloyd played up top at forward, suggesting that the USWNT would switch to more of a 2-6-2 when in possession.
Switzerland came out pressing hard to start, firing off a shot at starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in the opening minutes of the match. The USWNT would immediately retaliate as Naeher threw the ball to Crystal Dunn who was running down the right flank. Dunn drove the ball towards goal for a 1v1 with Thalmann, but her shot was easily stopped.
Lindsey Horan had two solid opportunities on goal in the first 10 minutes of the game, but failed to put either away. The first came off a Tobin Heath corner kick in which Horan was able to head the ball towards the goal, only to have it sail just over the crossbar. Minutes later, Dunn passed the ball to Horan in the center of the box, who dribbled around a couple of defenders to get a look on goal. Her shot surprised the Swiss back line, and Thalmann had to make a diving save to prevent Horan from putting the U.S. on the board.
A bad turnover by Emily Sonnett nearly resulted in a goal for Switzerland in the 30th minute. Naeher was passed back the ball and opted to pass it to Sonnett rather than send a long ball over the field. Sonnett attempted to pass to ball to a teammate, but the pass was intercepted by Eseosa Aigbogun and resulted in a shot on goal. Naeher took to the air to punch the Aigbogun’s shot over the crossbar, but it was Switzerland’s best shot on goal up to that point.
Although the USWNT seemed to dominate possession in the first half, there were too many missed opportunities to consider it even a moral victory. Too often players would move the ball in or near the box, only to find themselves alone with no teammates making runs or fighting into space to give them options, resulting in turnovers. When playing against a team that’s strong on defense like Switzerland (or dare we mention, Sweden), a single player cannot do it alone, regardless of her speed or footwork.
After a minute of stoppage time was added to the first half, both teams went into the locker rooms scoreless. In the two teams’ previous meeting, the match was scoreless at the half, only to see the USWNT score three goals in the second half to win the game, 3-0.
In need of more power in the attack in hopes of a similar result, Ellis made a couple of substitutions at the half. Lynn Williams subbed in at the half for Lindsey Horan and immediately made a last impression by scoring the game-winning goal. Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath combined for the USWNT’s second goal in the 61st minute. Dunn fired a shot off, only to have it deflected off a Swiss defender. Dunn collected the deflection and passed it to Heath who put a shot in just past Thalmann to double the U.S.’s lead, 2-0.
Christen Press got in on the scoring action just minutes later after Kelley O’Hara made a run from the right side of the box into the middle. Instead of taking a shot though, O’Hara passed the ball off to Press, who put a shot past Thalmann to put the U.S. up 3-0.
On her very first touch of the night, Sam Mewis, who had just subbed in for Andi Sullivan, got her head on the end of a Christen Press cross to score the USWNT’s fourth unanswered goal of the night. Despite two minutes of stoppage time being added to the second half, Mewis’s goal would be the last of the night, and the game ended in a 4-0 win for the USWNT.
The game started out shakily for the USWNT, likely the result of a new formation, players in new positions and new faces on the pitch. However, the second half saw the USWNT come out with the confidence that fans are used to seeing, and a scoreline to match. It also saw all of the new call-ups who dressed for tonight’s match see playing time as Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars) and Andi Sullivan (Stanford) were in the starting lineup, and Williams, Abby Dahlkemper (Western New York Flash) and Ashley Hatch (BYU) came into the second half.
Probably most enjoyable for fans to watch was Lynn Williams, whose speed made it nearly impossible for the Swiss defenders to keep up with. Her constant smile indicated that she was having fun out on the pitch, something that has been missing from the USWNT at times this year. Although one can rarely predict Jill Ellis’s next roster decisions, Williams’ performance tonight might just be enough to earn her another call into camp next month.