The United States women’s national team defeated Nigeria 4-0 on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. The match was the first of a two-game series against Nigeria during the September window. USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski inserted a starting lineup that featured a few changes from the Concacaf W Championship-winning squad over the summer, and the familiarly among the 11 players set the tone early as the USWNT found the back of the net three times in the opening half. A massive injury never allowed Nigeria to establish themselves as the U.S. cruised to victory. Lindsey Horan, Alex Morgan and Sophia Smith recorded goals for the Americans.
Let’s take look at some highlights and takeaways from the match
Meet the preferred starting XI … for now
In the buildup to the 2022 Concacaf W Championship, Andonovski and the coaching staff saw a flurry of injuries to typical starters ahead of the World Cup and Olympic Qualifiers. The ACL injuries to defender Tierna Davidson, Catarina Macario and Christen Press, along with additional lower leg injuries to Lynn Williams and Samantha Mewis forced Andonovski to make some adjustments with the inclusion of younger NWSL players.
The same 23-player roster for the Concacaf W Championship is back for the Nigeria friendlies, and Andonovski’s usual suspects — Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith — were back together on the front line to lead the attack while Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavellle and Andi Sullivan guided the midfield.
The familiarity lead to immediate payoff as the trio were quick to press the defense and cause problems all game. Smith’s breakthrough in the 14th minute came by way of a 50-50 ball won by Sofia Huerta that was flicked ahead by a Nigerian player to a streaking Smith into the box.
An hour of play gets the job done
Before scoring her second goal in stoppage time of the first half, Smith and Horan were able to combine for the opening goal. Sofia Huerta retained possession of the ball after a failed clearance by Nigeria, which Sullivan and Lavelle helped maintain around the 18-yard box.
Ultimately, Smith’s pass off to Horan was the final combination and Horan make quick work inside the box to switch feet and put the U.S. up 2-0.
Smith’s movement to drop lower in an effort to generate more options and Pugh’s ability to win dead ball situations throughout the game led to the only goal for the U.S. during the second half. Pugh’s foul in the box led to a converted penalty kick by Morgan in the 52nd minute.
The penalty was the lone goal for the Americans in the second half, despite the quick start and Nigeria playing with 10 players during the final 11 minutes of the match due to lack of substitutions. Horan, Morgan, Pugh and Smith were subbed out before the 70-minute mark.
“I thought that we controlled the game, and controlled the pace of the game throughout whole 90 minutes,” said Andonovski, who expressed postgame that he liked what he saw during the game from the players. “But also, I didn’t feel like we finished as strong as they started. So that’s a point, something that we are gonna have to address or work on and talk about for the in preparation for the next game.”
For Andonovski and the team, the buildup to the 2023 World Cup will be about chemistry and cohesion, but their immediate next step is to close out the international window strong against Nigeria. Andonovski admitted that there are still new challenges to present the team.
“Every game is a an opportunity for us to get better. We’re going to review this game and see what are the things that we’re doing good and then we then will look at the things that we need to improve on,” Andonovski said about facing Nigeria once more.
“Once we see that we feel comfortable in certain areas of the game, then we try to layer in another layer, or add another challenge to the team to see how they’re gonna accept it and overcome the challenge. So, before we even decide what we want to do next game, we want to win a review of this one.”
The USWNT will close out their two-game series against Nigeria on Tuesday in Washington D.C. , with a capacity crowd expected for their first match at Audi Field.