USWNT doesn’t have four years to make fixes to flaws exposed at World Cup

USWNT doesn’t have four years to make fixes to flaws exposed at World Cup


England and Spain are playing on, while the U.S. women are back home on the couch after their debacle of a showing at the World Cup.

Tempting as it might be for the team to wallow a bit longer, there isn’t time. Not when the Paris Olympics are less than a year away.

It was the U.S. women’s national team’s sluggish and stodgy performance in Tokyo, remember, that should have been a blaring alarm bell of the troubles ahead. The problems persisted after, resulting in a shorter-than-acceptable stay at the World Cup. So unless the world’s No. 1 team wants more mediocrity, it needs to do a major reset over the next 11 months.

The process began Wednesday, with Vlatko Andonovski resigning as the USWNT’s coach. This is hardly a surprise; the round-of-16 exit was the team’s earliest ever at a World Cup or Olympics, and Andonovski was the first to coach the USWNT at multiple major tournaments without winning a title.

U.S. Soccer will be deliberate in its search, and sporting director Matt Crocker promised the federation’s “commitment to excellence remains unshakeable” when it comes to the USWNT. But the need for a new coach sooner rather than later is paramount because Paris will be here before we know it.

Here, then, is a not-exhaustive look at some of what the USWNT, and U.S. Soccer, must do before the Olympics:

Find the right coach

Andonovski already had a tough assignment, taking over the two-time World Cup champions just nine months before what was supposed to be the start of the Tokyo Games. Then COVID hit.

Other teams faced similar challenges, however. Ditto for having significant and untimely injuries — we see you, England!

These weren’t the reasons the USWNT had sub-par performances, both in Tokyo and at the World Cup.

Andonovski was determined to use a system that didn’t play to his players’ strengths, and he proved incapable of making adjustments even when it was clear it wasn’t working. The USWNT was so focused on trying to make the bad fit work, it sucked the joy out of their game and robbed individual players of their creativity.

Andonovski, whose resignation was announced Thursday by U.S. Soccer as a mutual agreement “to part ways,” wasn’t the one sending shots wide or over the crossbar, or taking an extra step (or three) rather than shooting. But the players don’t have problems finishing at the club level, and you have to wonder if they spent so much time thinking about how they were playing that they were paralyzed when they did have opportunities.

Did you see Alessia Russo’s game-winner against Colombia that sent England into the semifinals? There was no hesitating when she caught up to the ball, no slowing to try and avoid the closing defender, no maneuvering to find a better opening. She had an opening and she took it. Or how about everything Lauren Hemp did in the second half of England’s semifinal win over Australia? She was ruthless, in the best sense of the word.

The USWNT didn’t have enough of that boldness at the World Cup, and whoever is the USWNT’s new coach has to find a way to get it back.

Sarina Wiegman is the obvious choice. This is her second World Cup final in a row, and her teams have won the last two European championships. Football Association CEO Mark Bullingham made it clear England won’t let Wiegman go easily, but U.S. Soccer has to at least make an effort.

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Take an unsparing look at the talent pool

Given the USWNT’s success over the last 11 years — two World Cup titles and one Olympic gold medal — it’s easy to evaluate players for who they were rather than who they are. But hard choices will have to be made with some of the veterans so the players who will be the USWNT’s cornerstones for the next generation can emerge.

Megan Rapinoe announced before the World Cup she’d be retiring and Julie Ertz did the same (sort of) afterward. Alyssa Naeher remains world class, and goalkeepers can play longer, but she will be 39 in 2027. Same for Kelley O’Hara. Even Alex Morgan will be 38 at the next World Cup, and given history, is unlikely to be a starter.

This isn’t to say any of them should be shoved to the side. But the USWNT risks sacrificing its present by valuing its past more than its future. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but only playing Alyssa Thompson in two games, for a total of 21 minutes, was a mistake. Same for not playing Ashley Sanchez at all. If you don’t trust players in big moments, then why bring them in the first place? And how do you expect them to get the experience to handle those big moments if they’re sitting on the bench?

Give the youngsters meaningful minutes, and start bringing in players who will be contributors over this next World Cup cycle. The San Diego Wave’s Jaedyn Shaw tops this list, but the USWNT also needs to start bringing teen phenoms Olivia Moultrie and Chloe Ricketts into the fold.

The USWNT has the deepest talent pool in the world, and it hasn’t been making the best use of it.

Find fire in the failure

The USWNT did not go into the World Cup complacent, and what they wore before games or did after did not cause their early demise. Suggestions otherwise were both absurd and a bid to drum up controversy. And ratings.

That said, failure is a powerful motivator and the USWNT, its young players in particular, need to use it.

Sophia Smith was inconsolable after missing what could have been a game-winning penalty kick in the Round of 16 loss. Trinity Rodman looked shell-shocked. Lindsey Horan fought back tears. The USWNT needs to take that hurt, sadness, embarrassment, anger — all of it — and use those emotions so they never feel the same way again.

“What I’ve learned is more valuable than any experience I’ve ever had,” Smith wrote on Instagram last week. “… I know without a doubt we will be back and hungrier than ever.”

The clock, both for Paris and beyond, is already ticking.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.


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