The United States women’s national team (USWNT) defeated Uzbekistan, 9-1, on Saturday, April 9 at Lower.com field in Columbus, OH.
Uzbekistan came into the game as the 48th ranked team in the world in comparison to the number one ranking the USWNT had. After the game, this wide margin was clearly seen as Uzbekistan was outmatched physically, skill-wise and tactically.
Sophia Smith, who came in with only one goal in her international career, scored a hat trick and showed off her dynamic playmaking abilities. Both Jaelin Howell and Ashley Sanchez picked up their first goals in international competition.
Initially, the defenses of Uzbekistan held up. Although they were getting a lot of pressure on them, they didn’t concede until the 26th minute. Andi Sullivan started off the scoring in the 26th minute with a header.
After a Catarina Macario corner kick was headed towards goal by Lindsey Horan, Alana Cook then headed it back to the middle of the box where Sullivan finished it off. This impressive three-way combo was the start of the dominating play we would see during the match. In less than a minute, Mallory Pugh scored another goal for the U.S. Smith scored the first of her three goals in the 33rd minute and scored another just two minutes later.
Going into the half, the score was 4-0 with the USWNT getting many opportunities to have increased the lead. The team wasted no time to score another goal coming out of the half. Macario finally got her deserved goal in the 46th minute. A beautiful through ball from Rose Lavelle set it up after knocking on the doorstep a few times. In the 56th minute, Smith got her hat trick after Kristie Mewis connected with Pugh with a long ball over the top and into open space. From there, Pugh quickly dribbled to the right side of the field, drawing the keeper out of position, and passed the ball to Smith who was making a run in the box for an easy tap-in. Howell scored her first goal in the 64th minute off of another great header from Cook. The USWNT finished the game with two goals: one from Ashley Hatch in the 86th minute and one from Sanchez in the 90th minute.
Uzbekistan couldn’t keep up with the U.S. throughout the game, but Aziza Norboeva was able to score a goal off of a set piece corner kick. This goal ended the USWNT’s 17-game and over two-year shutout streak on home soil. Though it may be nitpicking a little bit, letting in a goal from a clearly inferior team is a learning moment for a young team. It doesn’t matter the opponent, the team needs to keep its focus up. Norboeva was left unmarked, and that goal will definitely annoy Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski, who will go over that in film and practice.
This USWNT is pretty young, and with some inexperienced squad members in comparison to past iterations. Coming into the match, only two players, Kelley O’Hara and Horan, have more than 100 caps. The average age of the squad is 26.8 years old. The 2020 Olympic team had an average age of 30.8 with the front three players on the other side of their 30’s.
Despite this goal, there were many good things on display from the USWNT. Because Uzbekistan was committed to playing a high line, the USWNT was easily able to exploit this. Initially this high line worked as U.S. players were caught offside numerous times, but after 25 minutes, the team was able to figure out how to avoid the offside trap. Most teams that play against the U.S. and are overmatched sit in low blocks. They avoid the pressure the team gives, use their numbers to their advantage when defending, and force the USWNT to play on the ground more.
The high line from Uzbekistan meant that there were literally 20+ yards of free pitch behind them and the goalkeeper. The Uzbeks weren’t athletic enough to catch up to the physically superior Americans when they got behind them, especially as the game wore on. Goalkeeper Tilovova Laylo, who I thought made some good saves, was forced to play aggressively and come out of the box more. Sometimes it worked out; most times she was punished for this. The game plan from Uzbekistan head coach Midori Honda was bad, and what was worse was that she didn’t adjust whatsoever after the first half or throughout the game. The team couldn’t keep up with the U.S. or hold possession, yet Honda didn’t change any plan. Hopefully by the next game, plan adjustments will be made.
This game was one of the two friendlies scheduled against Uzbekistan, the next one being on April 12 in Chester, PA. After that game, there is only one FIFA window left. It is in June, before the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in July. The qualifying tournament will be for next year’s World Cup and the 2024 Olympics, a first for the USWNT having to qualify for these events in the same tournament.