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Next player up or time for a new system? How the USWNT can adapt without Mallory Swanson

© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In the 41st minute of the United States women’s national team’s 2-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland, on April 8, Mallory Swanson tore the patella tendon in her left knee. As yet, there is no timeline for recovery, but the likelihood is she will not play at the World Cup in three months’ time. The injury is a tough blow for a player who has developed her game and established herself as one of the world’s most dangerous forwards in recent years. It’s also a blow for the team — now, the U.S. must reconsider their attacking setup.

Swanson played in every single one of the national team’s last eight games, all of them from the start, and she scored eight times in that run. Averaging one goal per game from the left-hand side of the U.S. front three, she also injected speed to the attack and could score out of nothing. Her place in Vlatko Andonovski’s starting lineup this summer was all but guaranteed. Swanson had become one of the team’s most important players and — at 24 years of age — can do so again. For now, though, Andonovski must start thinking about alternative options.

It’s not possible for the U.S. to replace Swanson. Simply looking at her dribbling, her ability to move the attack into more dangerous areas on her own, nobody compares. There are few — if any — in the world that can do what she can. Over the last two years, playing more on the inside with the Chicago Red Stars in their 3-4-3 system, she has also grown more accustomed to running behind and finishing chances. There is, of course, the off-field dimension too: Andonovski described the player as “a very lovable person…who brings joy to the environment.”

No matter what decision Andonovski makes, the U.S. attack will look different without Swanson in it. The challenge for the head coach is making lemonade from lemons, accepting a difficult situation, then searching for solutions. What can he do to make up for the loss of such a vital player, such a consistent goalscorer?

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