CHESTER, Pa. — The U.S. women’s national soccer team did to Uzbekistan on Tuesday night what you would expect the sport’s preeminent program to inflict on 48th-ranked fodder, which is to say the outcome was decided while the sun was still warming Subaru Park’s north stands.
Fact is, aside from two tests in Australia, the top-ranked United States has not faced anyone of significance for a long time.
The pause in serious competition has afforded Coach Vlatko Andonovski a stress-free opportunity to use less experienced players and leave some standard-bearers at home. It has provided time to experiment with tactics and combinations while allowing emergent players to take on greater roles.
From that standpoint, this breezy stretch was a grand success. Newcomers have sparkled, and Andonovski’s depth has grown. Without difficult matches, though, it’s hard to gauge how good this new wave of players is.
Tuesday’s match marked the end of Andonovski’s five-month study. The next camp comes in June for two final tuneups before the Concacaf W Championship in July, which will double as 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympic qualifiers.
Will the same pool of players return for a regional competition that will present few threats but carry enormous consequence? Does he recall Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press?
Or do his selections feature a blend of new and old, a transitional phase bridging the 2021 Olympics and the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where the Americans will vie for a third consecutive trophy?
“That’s not an easy process,” Andonovski said. “l did tell the players the job is not done for them. Now they’re going back to their [NWSL] teams and they’ve got to keep on improving, keep on developing and to show us they are in good form and ready for the next camp. Because now it’s not just these players. Anybody that is healthy and in good form — and we feel like is going to be able to help us be successful — has a chance to be on this team.”
Andonovski’s selections for the Uzbekistan matches were consistent with his call-ups for the Australia trip in November and the SheBelieves Cup in February. These games, however, were the first since the fall that Andonovski was open to reinviting his famous figures. It came with a caveat: They had to deserve it.
Many were unavailable. Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz and Casey Krueger are pregnant, while Rapinoe, Sam Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lynn Williams, Emily Sonnett and Tierna Davidson are hurt.
The cluster of matches has provided a forum for 21-year-old forward Sophia Smith (hat trick Saturday); 23-year-old fullback Emily Fox; and the Washington Spirit triumvirate of Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman, who on Tuesday scored her first U.S. goal.
With an average age of almost 25, the starting lineup Tuesday was the youngest in 15 years. And, for the first time since 2013, none of the starters had made 100 international appearances.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle wore the captain’s armband for the first time. Goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury, who anchored the Spirit’s championship run last fall, and 21-year-old center back Naomi Girma made their international debuts.
“It’s an exciting time,” Lavelle said. “I really feel like you can’t go wrong with anybody. Whoever goes out on the field, it clicks and it’s working.”
The Americans led 6-0 at halftime. The first goal came just 25 seconds in when Kamila Zaripova deflected Lavelle’s cross for an own goal.
Catarina Macario, a 22-year-old forward who is quickly becoming a global star, slotted in a 19-yard free kick in the 12th minute. Mallory Pugh, a 23-year-old wing who has revived her career after a rough early stretch, pounced in the box two minutes later.
In another two-minute span, Lavelle converted a rebound with a deft chip, then weaved into the box with grace for a low bid that caromed in off the right post. On the last touch of the half, Macario scored with a tight turn and a low finish.
In the 71st minute, with six Spirit players on the field, the 19-year-old Rodman scored in her third appearance. Later, she hit the crossbar from five yards.
“I said in front of everyone in the postgame huddle that I truly believe this is just the first of many,” Andonovski said.
Silver Spring’s Margaret Purce and Sanchez scored in the last five minutes.
While blowouts are fun for the fans — Tuesday’s announced crowd was 11,373 — they don’t reveal much. Greater tests would provide more accurate measuring sticks, but scheduling conflicts with top teams in Europe and pandemic issues have limited the U.S. Soccer Federation’s options.
The two home friendlies in June almost certainly will be against a South American foe — but not No. 9 Brazil. The next highest-ranked team from that continent is No. 26 Colombia.
Then it’s on to Monterrey, Mexico, for the Concacaf tournament. To qualify for the World Cup, the Americans need only advance from the group stage. An automatic Olympic berth, though, would require winning the tournament — and probably beating No. 6 Canada, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, along the way.
Finally, a major test.