NASHVILLE — As the months and matches pass and as the World Cup lurches closer, questions about the readiness of the U.S. women’s national team and who belongs on the flight to New Zealand are being answered.
The top-ranked Americans endured a battery of tests against a technical and organized opponent at Geodis Park, bending under pressure before and after Mallory Swanson continued her torrid scoring pace with a goal just before halftime.
They weren’t at their best, and perhaps if they were facing a foe with stronger finishing abilities, they might have lost. But in the context of World Cup preparation and player evaluation, Andonovski drew valuable insight.
“There were moments we got exposed, and we made some changes and adjusted our system a little bit,” he said. “The players had to adjust on the fly. That was a very good learning opportunity, a very good moment for us, because we were able to solve some problems. I’m sure there’s still more that we need to solve.”
There are tactical issues to address and personnel decisions to make. Most of the 23 World Cup roster slots seem set, and for players seeking to make a late impression, there was a mix of performances, just as there was Thursday in Orlando during a 2-0 victory over Canada.
Andonovski will get another look Wednesday in Frisco, Tex., against Brazil, which lost to Canada, 2-0, later Sunday. Final auditions will come in early April during two home friendlies. (The details have yet to be announced.) Performance in the National Women’s Soccer League also will come into play before the roster announcement in June and a send-off match in July.
“Every position is going to be a battle,” Andonovski said, a reference to playing time more so than roster slots.
The one player he has no concerns about is Swanson, who has seven goals during a five-game scoring streak.
“Mal is in the best form of her life,” said striker Alex Morgan, who assisted on the goal. “It’s just so great to see her scoring and really dominating so much. She is so much more than [speed]. The skill level she has, the fact she has been able to score in all different ways from long range, short range, taking goalkeepers on, whatever it is.”
“She certainly makes my life a lot easier,” Andonovski said, smiling.
Swanson (nee Pugh) scored twice against Canada, and on Sunday she excelled with her husband, Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, in attendance. She didn’t point or wave to him because “when I score, I black out a little bit,” she said. “My celebrations aren’t the best.”
With superior technical play and possession, Japan dictated terms for much of the first half. The United States then scored against the run of play with a lightning-strike counterattack that left its hottest player in lethal position.
Right back Sofia Huerta had struggled with her defensive work and passing, but with the Americans under pressure, she launched a long clearance to Morgan near midfield. Morgan settled the ball, turned and drove it ahead to Swanson beginning to accelerate.
Defender Shiori Miyake seemed to have a bead on it, but Swanson buzzed past her and bore down on goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita. Swanson was clinical with her low finish to the far corner.
Earlier, Swanson had been caught offside multiple times.
“Vlatko told me to not be offside, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to be offside on this one,’ ” Swanson said.
Japan had ample opportunity to score in the second half. Aoba Fujino missed wide by a whisker, and Fuka Nagano hit the crossbar from 25 yards. In the 81st minute, goalkeeper Casey Murphy made a tremendous reflex save on Yui Hasegawa’s close-range stab, then in stoppage time stuffed Jun Endo’s angled bid.
“Those last 20 minutes, you really have got to home in, especially when you’re holding on to a 1-0 lead — that ultra-focus and making sure you’re communicating, organizing and doing everything you can to help the team get the win,” said Murphy, who is battling World Cup incumbent Alyssa Naeher for the starting job this summer.
The United States registered its fourth consecutive shutout — two by Murphy, two by Naeher — and World Cup-bound Japan was blanked for the fourth straight time entering Wednesday’s tournament finale against Canada.
Assessing the performance, midfielder Kristie Mewis said: “It took us a little bit longer than I think we all would have liked to figure it out, and [the Japanese] still were doing very well in the second half. We somehow figured out how to score a goal and hold them off. And I still think there was a lot of really good play with us. It’s just about fine-tuning everything and kind of just growing from here.”
Notes: Midfielder Rose Lavelle did not play for the second consecutive game because of a muscle strain. She is questionable for the tournament finale. ...
Naomi Girma started in central defense after missing the Canada game with a leg injury. ...
Announced attendance was 25,471. ...
In the other match, No. 6 Canada (1-1-0) scored off set pieces in each half to defeat No. 9 Brazil (1-1-0) and jump into second place on goal differential.
In the 31st minute, Vanessa Gilles headed in Jessie Fleming’s corner kick. In the 71st, substitute Evelyne Viens scored on a seven-yard volley after Brazil failed to clear a free kick from the box.