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Second-half subs spark another USWNT win over South Korea

U.S. women's national team forward Sophia Smith maneuvers around Korea defender Choo Hyojoo in a friendly on June 4.
Photo Copyright Matt Krohn for USA TODAY Sports

New U.S. women’s national team coach Emma Hayes continued her successful experimentation on Tuesday in Saint Paul, Minn., starting nine different players in the squad’s 3-0 win over Korea Republic than in the pair’s opening match on Saturday. The only players to start both friendlies were defender Jenna Nighswonger and captain Lindsey Horan. The changeup, however dramatic, is all part of the former Chelsea boss’ plan. And even more changes throughout the match were ultimately what secured the dominant victory.

Speaking to media Monday, Hayes said she viewed Tuesday’s match was an opportunity for her to continue evaluating players before she names a roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which will have to do in the coming weeks. Toying with the lineup was an “important” part of that process, particularly seeing that the Games start next month. 

“We need a squad to select first in the Olympics, so I need to know where everybody’s at in terms of their understanding, then their application,” Hayes said Monday. “Players who might not have got a start the other day, they need the opportunity to do that. I stick with what I’ve said all along: this is a process. We focus on the steps to get us there. I expect there will be bumps again, tomorrow. My job is to close the gap on that at the end of this camp, but I want everybody to feel valued and feel that they have the opportunity to express themselves. So expect multiple changes.”

Those changes included her second set of starters, who had plenty of time Tuesday night to showcase how they could fit into Hayes’ system. But it was the next set of tweaks that really turned the tide in the later minutes of the match: the substitutes. After a goal from veteran Crystal Dunn, who started the match, gave the team an early 1-0 lead in the first half, it was the arrival of two waves of substitutes at the 62nd and 72-minute marks that brought an unmistakable shift in energy on the pitch. 

Case in point: 23-year-old forward Sophia Smith made an almost immediate impact just minutes after tapping in for USWNT veteran Alex Morgan in the first wave of personnel changes, scoring the squad’s second goal off a push that involved her fellow substitutes up front, Mallory Swanson and Trinity Rodman. 16-year-old midfielder Lily Yohannes then put a bow on the win shortly thereafter, finding the net herself in the 82nd minute—a mere 10 minutes into her senior national team debut. 

It was a tremendous showing for Yohannes, the newest face among the team’s crop of young stars who provided an encouraging burst of momentum for the USWNT in the match.

There was no shortage of stability and experience among the veteran presence in Tuesday’s starting lineup either with Horan, Morgan, Crystal Dunn, Emily Sonnett and Rose Lavelle (notably earning her 100th cap with the USWNT) on the pitch. And while there is perhaps something to be said about the starters’ commitment to Hayes’ repeated patience directive, it was the arrival of players like Smith, Swanson, Yohannes and Rodman in Hayes’ six swaps that gave the match a spark that had arguably been missing in a solid but ultimately largely unremarkable first half. 

“I experimented as much as I could do in these two games,” Hayes said Tuesday after the match.

The lineup was one of Hayes’ most notable changes through two games on the sidelines. Her experimentation was also not limited to singular substitutions, instead involving changing lines as she seemed to be evaluating pairings as much as individual players. And while she remains committed to not sacrificing control for the sake of speed, the new coach also gave props to the chemistry and energy the trio of Smith, Swanson and Rodman brought to the match upon subbing in. “I actually said to the team in the huddle pitch-side, before I made changes, ‘I want you to put your pedal to the metal,’” Hayes told reporters Tuesday night.

They did just that. The outcomes from the two matches and what she saw from the players who participated in both have Hayes “genuinely [feeling] excited.” 

The team will play another two matches just before Paris, meeting Mexico and Costa Rica in New York and Washington, D.C., respectively, in July. 


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