On the eve of the U.S. women’s soccer team’s game against Uzbekistan at Subaru Park on Tuesday night, manager Vlatko Andonovski was asked how much he’d rotate his lineup from Saturday’s opener of the two-game set.
There would be some, Andonovski answered, but there were also “certain groups of players” he wanted to see “as much as possible.”
And was the electric forward line of Mallory Pugh, Catarina Macario and Sophia Smith an example? The question was barely across the Zoom line when he started smiling.
“That is certainly one of those groups,” he answered, as the smile became a full-scale grin.
The fans in Chester on Tuesday grinned right along with him. Pugh, Macario, and Smith charged to a six-goal first half, and the Americans finished with a 9-0 romp.
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A lively crowd of 11,373 was also entertained by the starting midfield trio of Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez, and Andi Sullivan. And the back line made history, as highly-promising centerback Naomi Girma and veteran goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury earned their senior U.S. national team debuts.
Girma started alongside Pennington School alum (and fellow Stanford product) Alana Cook. Sofia Huerta played every minute at back, showing her potential as the heir to starter Kelley O’Hara. Emily Fox solidified her place as the current starting left back. And Kingsbury, at age 30, became the oldest goalkeeper to earn a first national team cap — and the third-oldest player overall.
The game was never a contest, starting with the Uzbekistan own goal that Rose Lavelle forced just 24 seconds after kickoff. It was 3-0 in 13 minutes, with a sizzling Macario free kick and a bit of Pugh trickery in tight space. It was 6-0 at halftime, with two from Lavelle and another from Macario.
Lavelle and Pugh were subbed out at halftime for Kristie Mewis and Trinity Rodman, respectively. O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Margaret Purce, and Ashley Hatch also came in during the second half.
The flood of goals slowed after halftime. It took until the 71st minute for the scoreboard to change. But it was a big deal when it did. Rodman a 19-year-old daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman, scored her first national team goal on the same field where Alex Morgan scored the first of her 115 a dozen years ago. Purce and Sanchez capped off the scoring in the final minutes.
“It was a very nice moment and a very nice experience, not just for Trinity but for me, too,” Andonovski said. “I was very proud of her. She had worked very hard to earn an opportunity, very hard to earn minutes on this team ... I said in front of everybody in the postgame huddle that I truly believe this is just the first of many.”
No matter the score at a given time, there was ample intensity. Slowing down isn’t in this team’s DNA no matter who’s on the field. And there will be plenty of times in the future — perhaps as soon as July’s Concacaf qualifying tournament for the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics — when the team will have to be on the gas pedal from start to finish.
There are just two U.S. games left before the Concacaf tournament, both to come in June. We’ll soon know who they’ll be against, and where they’ll be played. And some time in early summer, we’ll know if Andonovski has brought back veterans Morgan, Christen Press, Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe.
Morgan and Press are in good form in the NWSL, headlining expansion teams in San Diego and Los Angeles, respectively. Heath has battled injuries at England’s Arsenal, but when healthy she has played well. Rapinoe is the only one of the four not regularly on the field, because of a calf issue.
Until then, there’s proof that the kids are all right. And Andonovski, who was hired to lead a generational change, has the fuel he needs to make it happen.