Vlatko Andonovski went into Saturday’s friendly at Australia with two principal goals: test out inexperienced players and give his entire squad the chance to face a world-class opponent on the road in a hostile environment.
It was mission fully accomplished for the USWNT and their coach against the Matildas, as they came out 3-0 winners in a game that heralded the beginning of a new era after this summer’s disappointing Olympic showing in Japan.
The scoreline was perhaps harsh on the hosts, who saw several good chances squandered or saved by Casey Murphy, who was outstanding in her first U.S. cap.
Ashley Hatch scored her first national team goal inside the game’s first minute, with Rose Lavelle and Lindsey Horan adding second-half goals.
Though Australia had more possession and shots on goal, the USWNT was far more ruthless and deserved the win in the first of two friendlies against the Aussies this month.
Murphy shines in first cap
Alyssa Naeher has been the USWNT starter at goalkeeper for several years but the picture behind her is far from settled. Casey Murphy was given the chance to stake her claim on Saturday, and her performance ensured she’ll now be in the conversation moving forward.
The OL Reign goalkeeper made a host of big saves and showed a good command of her box, taking full advantage of a game in which the USWNT allowed an unusually high eight shots on target.
“She came up big. She gave us confidence,” Andonovski said about Murphy after the game.
At 6-1, Murphy has an imposing frame and her NWSL form has suggested she could make the transition to the international game. Against the Matildas, she showed all of her ability as well as a mentality that suggested she won’t get rattled by a big occasion.
“I thought she was great for the team, great for the back line,” Andonovski added. “I feel comfortable saying that even though this is the first cap for Casey, it’s going to be one of many.”
USWNT gets the test it wanted
It’s rare for the USWNT to play a high-quality opponent on the road in front of a hostile crowd. In fact, the last game that could be so described came nearly three years ago, when the U.S. lost at France to kick off 2019.
But the USWNT ran into a game Australia team on Saturday that was backed by a crowd of 36,109 — a standalone record for a Matildas game in Australia.
Tony Gustavsson’s team controlled the first half and could have been ahead were they more clinical and avoided the defensive lapse that cost them on Hatch’s early opener.
These are the kinds of experiences that are invaluable for a team building toward the 2023 World Cup — when the USWNT may very well face hostile crowds again if they come up against Australia or New Zealand.
Newcomers make an impression
One of Andonovski’s biggest priorities in this month’s friendlies and January’s camp is to identify new faces he believes can be part of his main rotation heading toward the 2023 World Cup.
For a USWNT squad carried by veterans in recent years, Saturday’s lineup was very much out of the ordinary.
With an average age of 26, the XI was the youngest for the USWNT since 2018 and it was the first time since 2013 that all 11 U.S. starters were under the age of 30.
In addition to the aforementioned Murphy, Hatch also made a big impression by scoring early and turning in a well-rounded performance in just her third cap. Sofia Huerta, making her first appearance since 2018, had a strong half at right back and played a major role in the team’s second goal.
There were also national team debuts for Ashely Sanchez, Morgan Weaver and Bethany Balcer, who could all figure more in Tuesday’s second friendly against the Matildas.