That World Cup hangover hasn’t disappeared just yet for the United States women’s national team. The USWNT and Colombia played to a 0-0 draw Thursday in the first of two friendlies between the two sides, with the second taking place on Sunday in San Diego. The match bore a strong resemblance to what the world saw from the U.S. at the most recent FIFA Women’s World Cup: the good, the bad and the ugly of that.
The vibe was certainly different when compared to the pair of friendlies the U.S. played against South Africa last month. In those matches it was all sweetness and light and smiles as the USWNT collectively celebrated the stellar careers of Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe. As such, the U.S. looked relaxed — though not entirely sharp — on the way to a pair of victories by a combined score of 5-0.
On Thursday, without the celebratory mood, the U.S. veered closer to their disappointing showing in Australia and New Zealand when the defending champion was eliminated in the round of 16. Certainly Colombia had something to do with that. Their performance at the World Cup, where Las Cafeteras reached the quarterfinals, didn’t look like a fluke then and the same is true now. The fact that Colombia was missing the likes of midfielder Mayra Ramírez and striker Catalina Usme put even more of a shine on the result for the visitors.
That said, the U.S. defense was solid, almost suffocating in fact. Colombia superstar Linda Caicedo had some dynamic moments, but was also prevented from doing any major damage. She recorded zero shots and just one chance created on the night. The backline could even celebrate the return of center-back Becky Sauerbrunn, who after missing the World Cup with a foot injury entered the match at the start of the second half to make her first appearance since playing against Republic of Ireland in April.
But except from some sparks courtesy of Trinity Rodman, the attack for the most part looked tentative, and the midfield sluggish. It wasn’t until a flurry of second-half substitutions that the U.S. looked capable of imposing its will on the visitors for a sustained period. Ashley Hatch looked lively after entering the match in the 67th minute, with a tight-angled shot six minutes after coming on forcing a sharp save from Colombia goalkeeper Natalia Giraldo. Another substitute, Sophia Smith, nearly snuck a shot past Giraldo in second-half stoppage time only for it to carom off the post twice with the help from the keeper.
Another World Cup reminder was Alex Morgan looking well short of her best. She clanged a penalty against the post in first-half stoppage time, bringing back memories of her failure to convert a spot kick against Vietnam at the World Cup. She also fired straight at Giraldo in the 25th minute after being set up by Lindsey Horan. From the run of play, especially in the first half, the forward didn’t offer much of an outlet to help the U.S. break out of its own half.
Morgan’s performance, along with those from the World Cup, raises the question of whether interim manager Twila Kilgore will look to someone else to lead the line in the short time she has left at the helm. Morgan’s numbers with the San Diego Wave this season have dropped considerably, scoring just seven goals in 2023 after netting 16 times in 2022 in roughly the same number of minutes.
For now Kilgore seems set to persist with Morgan. When asked if someone else would begin taking penalties, she said: “I trust Alex Morgan to take penalties.”
Apart from individual performances, the U.S. team’s tempo — or the lack of it — stuck in the memory the most. The lack of urgency was singled out by Kilgore in her postgame news conference.
“This team is a team that’s being challenged to make quicker decisions, and when we don’t hesitate and we do those things and we execute a little bit faster, we find more success,” Kilgore said. “And I think hopefully we go through the film and we can point some of those things out and we’ll be a little bit quicker in our decision making.”
But there also seemed to be more to the U.S.’s attacking malaise than just tempo. A lack of off-the-ball movement remains an issue as well, a point that was highlighted by Sauerbrunn in an interview with TBS after the match.
“I really think when this team has been the most successful, everyone is so connected and closer to one another, and you feel like you’ve got options and availability,” she said. “When we struggle is when everyone feels isolated and alone and they basically have to pass on the isolation to another player, and that player has to do something amazing to break the pressure.
“We should be able to use one another to break pressure, and I think, at times, we feel like we’re on an island. When we’re at our best, there’s people around, we’re bopping, we’re moving, we’re doing, and we can do that isolation when we need to, because we have amazing outside attacking players and central players. But I really think the connection will bring us back to the success that we’ve had.”
The matches against Colombia come at an awkward time for multiple reasons. The NWSL playoffs are in full swing, and no player on the field — at least those on teams that are still involved — wants to jeopardize their status with their club team.
Then there is the fact that the USWNT is in limbo — and will remain that way — until a new manager is hired. Kilgore is doing what she can to move the team forward, talking of watching game tape, and identifying issues in a bid to speed up the U.S. attack. But she can only take the team so far.
The United States Soccer Federation has said that the goal remains for the new manager to be in place by December. Until then, the USWNT will have to carry on, and try to rid themselves of the memories from last summer.