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US women's soccer narrowly avoided an unprecedented losing streak — but serious issues remain for the World Cup champions

Vlatko Andonovski watches the USWNT warm up.
US Women's National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski watches his players warm up.
  • This fall, the US Women's National Team lost three consecutive games for the first time since 1993.
  • The world's top-ranked team broke its losing streak with a second-half comeback win against Germany.
  • Despite ending the year on a high note, the USWNT has issues to address before the 2023 World Cup.

The US Women's National Team avoided an unprecedented losing streak with a come-from-behind victory Sunday against Germany, one of the top teams in women's soccer.

But even after ending their year on a high note, the reigning World Cup champions have significant issues they need to address — ones that their most recent favorable result shouldn't mask.

Alex Morgan reacts to a call during the USWNT's friendly vs Germany.
Alex Morgan reacts to a call during the USWNT's friendly vs Germany.

The first half of Sunday's contest was all Germany

Coming off a loss to Germany — the world's third-ranked team — in Florida just three days earlier, the Stars and Stripes  headed to New Jersey's Red Bull Arena with vengeance on their minds. But instead of kicking off the game with an air of hunger, the USWNT players came out completely flat.

Germany spent much of the opening period exacting their will against the hosts. Led by the legendary Alexandra Popp, the Germans passed rings around the Americans, bodied them off the ball, and forced the world's top-ranked team to scramble for answers.

It came as little surprise when, in the 18th minute, the visitors broke through to score. With the ball puttering around the 18-yard box, Germany's Jule Brand contorted her body to hit a left-footed volley past USWNT keeper Alyssa Naeher and into the back of the net.

The 2022 Euros runners-up had several additional opportunities to score in that opening half, though they failed to convert beyond Brand's strike. 

The outlook on the US side, meanwhile, looked bleak heading into the locker room at halftime. If the Americans didn't get their act together, they risked suffering the single worst losing streak in the team's illustrious history.

With their backs against the wall, the young USWNT stars found the fight to pull off a second-half resurgence

Despite their lackluster showing in the opening 45 minutes, the Stars and Stripes once again found themselves on their heels as the second-half whistle sounded.

It took until the 53rd minute — when Naeher jumped off her line and charged towards Germany's Lina Magull for a gutsy save on what could have been the game-clinching goal — for the American offense to finally shift into gear.


Just one minute after Naeher's save, US striker Sophia Smith collected the ball at the top the 18-yard box, dribbled through several German defenders, and ripped a shot off of her right foot that ricocheted off of the keeper's outstretched hand and into the top far corner of the goal.

Fellow forward Mallory Pugh then broke through two minutes later to give her side the lead. 

Inconsistency isn't enough to beat the world's top teams — nor will it suffice for the US to win a third-consecutive World Cup in 2023

A short eight months from now, 26 USWNT players will jet across the globe for the 2023 World Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand. They'll play Vietnam in the first game of their title defense. Then, five days later, the Americans will face No. 8 Netherlands — their fearsome foes from the 2019 World Cup final.

Next up will be the yet-to-be-determined final qualifier in their group. After that, assuming the US finishes top-two in its group, the knockout stage begins.

Vlatko Andonovski's squad would then have to win four consecutive matches to take home the trophy, and the USWNT would be all but guaranteed to face several top-10 teams on that path to soccer's top prize. But as of late, the tournament's reigning champions have struggled to secure wins against squads in the upper echelon of the sport.

Spanish players celebrate scoring a goal against the USWNT as Rapinoe screams in frustration.
Spanish players celebrate scoring a goal against the USWNT as Megan Rapinoe screams in frustration.

Most recently, ahead of the comeback against Germany, the Stars and Stripes suffered a three-game losing streak for the first time since 1993. Andonovski's team struggled mightily with its ambitious autumn slate, losing back-to-back contests against England — this summer's Euros champions — and a depleted Spanish side during October's trip to Europe.

And the team's return to US soil didn't start any better, as the Americans suffered a 2-1 loss to Germany in Florida last Thursday. If they had seen an unfavorable result on Sunday, the USWNT would've extended its losing streak to four games; not once in its 36-year history has the USWNT lost that many games in a row.

And even though Andonovski's side managed to stave off the unprecedented, thanks to Naeher, Smith, and Pugh's second-half heroics, the team and its fans still have plenty cause for concern as the World Cup rapidly approaches. Heading into the new year, the USWNT owns a 2-5-1 record in its last eight games against FIFA top-10 foes.

USWNT loses to England.
Rapinoe reacts after the USWNT lost to England.

Other nations elevating their investment in women's soccer has certainly helped reduce the advantage the USWNT has historically had over the rest of the world. So too have injuries to several of the team's stars — including Catarina Macario, Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O'Hara, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, and more. Furthermore, the Yates report on rampant coaching abuse in the National Women's Soccer League that came out this fall undoubtedly had a negative impact on players and coaches alike.

Still, the USWNT has built a reputation for winning at all costs and through all adversity — including but not limited to a feud with the president of the United States and a contentious legal battle with its own federation. These recent outcomes stand in stark contrast to that decades-long record, suggesting that there are deeper issues than improved competition, player injuries, and off-field circumstances impacting the current squad.

Vlatko Andonovski.

Some have suggested that coaching and lack of proper systemic adjustments to highlight players' individual strengths are part of the problem. Others, like former USWNT superstars Carli Lloyd and Heather O'Reilly, have pointed fingers at this team's "mentality" and perceived lack of will to win at all costs.

Regardless of the root — or, more likely, roots — of their struggles, the 2015 and 2019 World Cup champions will have to act fast if they want to bring a third-consecutive trophy back home to the US. A year-ending win notwithstanding, the status quo simply won't suffice.

Read the original article on Insider

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