A number of Vlatko Andonovskis young attacking stars stepped up to the mark as the U.S. took home the tournament trophy
After the U.S. women’s national team defeated Iceland 5-0 on Wednesday night, clinching the SheBelieves Cup, head coach Vlatko Andonovski was asked if he got what he wanted from the tournament.
Andonovski was guarded, but offered praise after his youthful roster improved with each of the tournament’s three games.
“I feel comfortable saying that we made strides,” he said. “Theres always going to be room for improvement especially with a young group of players like this one.
“But with what we had lined up, I feel very comfortable saying that we did a pretty good job.”
The USWNT opened the tournament with a frustrating 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic and then defeated New Zealand 5-0 thanks in part to an extraordinary own-goal hat-trick.
The 5-0 win over Iceland, by comparison, was much more convincing and easily the team’s best performance of the tournament.
With Andonovski omitting several of his veteran mainstays, a host of young players had the chance to shine at the SheBelieves Cup – and a few of them grabbed that chance.
Let’s take a look at the USWNT’s winners and losers from the SheBelieves Cup…
The 22-year-old showed flashes in the first two games but put it all together against Iceland, scoring a pair of wonder goals in the first half of a star-making turn.
Macario has played all over the field for the USWNT since her debut in January 2021, but the SheBelieves Cup offered her first chance to get an extended look at the No.9 position.
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Andonovski said that Macario needed time to become comfortable with playing as a striker for the national team but that, more importantly, her teammates needed to adjust to her tendencies.
“We saw in the three games, from game one to game three, how Cat grew, but mostly we saw how the team grew around Cat,” he said.
“Understanding her movements, understanding her positioning, the angles, the balls that she is playing – that’s where we grew the most.
“It wasnt necessarily that Cat grew in the position as much as the team grew with Cat in that position.”
Andonovski clearly wanted a long look at how Davidson and Cook would operate together as his center-back partnership and the youthful duo hardly put a foot wrong throughout the tournament.
“I want to give lots of credit to our back line and goalkeepers,” Andonovski said. “I thought they did an incredible job throughout the tournament.
“With our two center backs who [got] the great majority of the minutes, Alana and Tierna, I thought they were pretty much spot on.”
The pair weren’t called upon much defensively but did their job when asked, and also helped spearhead the team’s attack with their distribution. Davidson’s cross-field passes, in particular, can pull opposing defenses apart.
Becky Sauerbrunn is clearly still a major part of the team but the USWNT captain is 36, which leaves Davidson, 23, and Cook, 24, well positioned to be the team’s center-back pairing of the future if they continue to grow together.
After an absence from the USWNT picture due to injury and indifferent form, it’s clear that Pugh is squarely back in the mix.
Pugh followed a standout 2021 campaign with the Chicago Red Stars by leading the USWNT in goals at the SheBelieves Cup with three, scoring for the first time with the national team since October 2019.
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Still only 23, Pugh is positioning herself to be a major piece of the USWNT’s front line moving forward, regardless of if or when Andonovski reintroduces the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press into the mix.
Dahlkemper was forced to pull out of the roster before the tournament started due to a back injury, and then watched the aforementioned duo of Cook and Davidson star in her absence.
It wasn’t long ago that Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn were the team’s unquestioned starters at center back, but Dahlkemper’s difficult Olympics opened the door for Davidson to assume a starting role and Cook has subsequently shown her quality as well.
At 28, Dahlkemper is right in her prime and still has plenty left to give the USWNT, but she needs a bounce-back 2022 campaign with new club San Diego Wave in order to regain her footing.
This is admittedly slightly harsh on Williams, who didn’t have a bad tournament, but the forward did find herself overshadowed by the likes of Sophia Smith, Midge Purce, Pugh, Macario and others.
Williams had a breakthrough Olympics and, at 28, she appeared well positioned to play an even more prominent role when some of the USWNT’s older attacking stars rode off into the sunset.
But now Williams will be looking over her shoulder at a younger crop of forwards and wonder where Andonovski sees her fitting in.
At the SheBelieves Cup, Williams came off the bench in two matches and didn’t play the other.
Perhaps Andonovski simply sees Williams as a known quantity and wanted a longer look at other players.