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Press, Williams lift USWNT past Nigeria in final match before Olympic roster decisions

Brad Smith/ISI Photos

The U.S. women’s national team defeated Nigeria, 2-0 on Wednesday in the first sporting event at the new Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas in front of a capacity crowd of 20,500 fans. Christen Press and Lynn Williams scored for the United States.

It was a big night for the Americans because it was the last match before Vlatko Andonovski and coaching staff will choose the long awaited Olympic roster. It was also a celebration of Carli Lloyd’s 300th appearance for the team, which she earned earlier this year to become only the third player to reach that milestone.

Andonovski went with many of the usual starters but a notable inclusion was Kristie Mewis, getting her first start of the series in place of Rose Lavelle, who sat out as a precaution after rolling her ankle on Sunday. It was a difficult first half for the U.S., even though Nigeria was missing five of their usual starters, they proved a difficult opponent. The front line was called offside numerous times, taking away what would have been goals. Credit to the Nigerian defense for holding their line and making things incredibly difficult for the U.S. The Super Falcons did a terrific job of swarming around the ball, getting stuck in tackles, and preventing any real 1-v-1 opportunities. Their keeper, Tochukwu Oluehi also had a good game, making important saves, coming off her line, and holding on to her saves not allowing rebound chances.

It wasn’t until first-half stoppage time that Press would break the deadlock with her one touch curling effort. Lloyd got the assist for helping the ball onto her teammate.

The second half continued much like the first with the U.S. struggling to connect offensively. Nigeria made it really hard for their opponents to create and it resulted in a lot of forced long balls that didn’t find the mark. Sixty minutes in, Catarina Macario and Emily Sonnett came in for the Mewis sisters. Sonnett slotted into the defensive midfield role and pushed Lindsey Horan higher up the field, next to Macario. Going into the last few minutes of the match it was still a slim, one-goal lead for the reigning world champions so Lynn Williams and Tierna Davidson subbed in for Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn. Davidson went to outside back rather than her usual center back and Williams went up top.

Into stoppage time, Williams scored a huge goal both for the team and for her own Olympic hopes. She was given very little time to play but made a massive difference as she was crucial in the buildup to her own goal. Off a defensive play, Macario found Williams, who one touched it to Horan. Horan found Press in the center of the park who played a fantastic ball in behind for the streaking Williams. She made her only opportunity of the game count.

The U.S. will play next July 1 and 5 against Mexico as part of a two game send-off series before the Olympics. The 18-player Olympic roster will be named at some point prior to that first match.

— Bella Munson

Three talking points from Jeff Kassouf

Kristie Mewis impresses in expanded role

With Rose Lavelle held out of the match as a precaution after rolling her ankle in Sunday’s win over Jamaica, Vlatko Andonovski turned to Kristie Mewis in the No. 10 role, alongside sister, Sam, at the No. 8, and Lindsey Horan in the No. 6 role.

Mewis was active throughout the night, checking down to find the ball and drifting wide left in attempt to stretch Nigeria’s back five. Her runs were not always rewarded — and she was not rewarded with a goal — but she helped her case significantly ahead of the Olympic roster selection. We often think of Mewis as more of a No. 8, but she looked comfortable as the No. 10. It is notable that Andonovski went with Mewis as the 10 when he had other options, including Catarina Macario.

“We see her as an attacking midfielder because we feel like, in the way that we play and her understanding of the positioning in between the lines, and the aggressive runs that she makes behind the line, is something that we can capitalize on,” Andonovski said.

“It was hard for her to get on the ball very often, but I thought she did well, and she showed some good things on the field.”

Lynn Williams’ late push?

Lynn Williams entered the match in the 88th minute, after standing at the scorer’s table for several minutes. Each second that ticked by was one fewer for Williams to make one last impression, and it felt like that might be an unfortunate metaphor for her push for a roster spot. And then came the goal.

Williams helped jump-start the counterattack with her check-down run deep in the middle third, then turned and provided an option in behind Nigeria’s back line. A little hip deke was all it took to get around Tochukwu Oluehi at that point and slot the ball into the open net.

How big was that goal for Williams? Regardless of whether she makes Andonovski’s 18-player Olympic roster or not, it was a needed one — but it is a wonder whether that last impression might stick with Andonovski as he evaluates his front line, which includes direct competition for Williams from Tobin Heath, who is a longtime incumbent on major tournament rosters but who has not played a game in months due to injury.

Previously, Williams’ last goal for the U.S. was on Jan. 22 in a 6-0 win over Colombia. It was clear for a while that Andonovski favored Williams’ defensive work rate up high on the press or the counterpress, but her scoring drought late in the spring was of some concern. That goal on Wednesday is just what she needed. We’ll see if it has any positive effect on her Olympic roster status.

Horan as the No. 6

We’ve had our eyes on the No. 6 position due to Julie Ertz’s absence, and these three games in a week showed us just how much Andonovski rates Lindsey Horan in that role if Ertz is not available. Last week, after the U.S.’ 1-0 win over Portugal, Andonovski said he told Horan she was “a monster” in the midfield. Horan started there again on Wednesday, but Andonovski felt the challenge presented by Nigeria required her to be higher up the field.

“I think Lindsey did very good at [the] 6 and did what she was asked to do — and even extra,” Andonovski said after the win over Nigeria. “But today, I felt like as the game was moving on, we were wasting some of the qualities that she has as a 6.”

That led Andonovski to insert Emily Sonnett into the match and move to what he described as a “slight[ly] offset 3-4-3” formation, with Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn pushed higher. Horan shifted into the double 10, an approach we saw in different moments throughout the week.

A big question now revolves around Ertz’s health, but Andonovski knows he has a solid option in Horan.

— Jeff Kassouf


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