SAN DIEGO — With the backdrop of a sunny Southern California afternoon, the future undoubtedly looked bright for the United States women’s national team on Sunday.
Days after taking part in a frigid 0-0 draw against Colombia in Utah earlier in the week, the USWNT bounced back in their rematch with a 3-0 result that was guided by the youthful influence of under-23 players such as goal-scorers Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel, as well as a late impact from Alyssa Thompson.
The victory in front of a vocal 16,200+ at Snapdragon Stadium, and most importantly the performances from their next generation of stars, provided much-needed optimism in the latest international window. The USA were inefficient in attack in Thursday’s 0-0 draw with Las Cafeteras. The same could be said during the early stages of Sunday’s rematch.
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With only two changes for field players in the starting XI, the USWNT’s game plan was once again reflective of the ponderous and unimaginative issues that plagued the U.S. at the Women’s World Cup. Despite a wealth of possession and a home-crowd advantage in San Diego, the U.S. struggled to capitalize on their chances, highlighting a lingering summer hangover that had yet to be dealt with.
That is until the introduction of San Diego Wave’s Shaw, 19, and Chelsea’s Fishel, 22, during the midway break.
Within a matter of seconds, both of the rising prospects were eager to connect with rapid passes and dynamic runs into the final third. Reinvigorated by their additions, members of the USWNT’s frontline and midfield were more willing to move higher up and press Colombia’s defense. By the 56th minute and with a growing roar from awakened fans, Fishel, a local San Diegan, would then open the scoring with her first senior national team goal after heading in a cross from Emily Sonnett.
“Mia, I think the first thing she brought to the game right away is just being able to settle the ball back to goal, hold onto the ball, allow people to join,” said USWNT interim coach Twila Kilgore, who has led the roster since mid-August after Vlatko Andonovksi’s exit.
“I thought she did a really good job at that. Obviously scoring a goal, that is a big thing and something that we talked about across the whole team.”
Galvanized by Fishel’s opener, the USWNT would later make it 2-0 by the 62nd minute after a highlight-worthy goal from captain Lindsey Horan that was assisted by Emily Fox. Attacking momentum continued to escalate in the second half, especially after the substitution of Angel City FC’s lively 18-year-old winger Thompson.
In a moment of magic in the dying minutes, Thompson won the ball in the final third, sprinted forward and then slid a pass to Shaw. Rapidly controlling the ball, Shaw then cleverly found the back of the net for her own first USWNT goal to make it 3-0 in the 83rd minute. The USWNT fans were sent into a frenzy as Snapdragon Stadium chanted Shaw’s name in unison.
In a venue that is accustomed to constant and unwavering support for Wave superstar Alex Morgan, who remained scoreless in the window despite two starts, up-and-coming prospects like Shaw and Fishel were instead the heroes who were celebrated the most on Sunday through their goals.
While others such as Crystal Dunn, Savannah DeMelo, Horan, Fox and Sonnett are all worthy of praise for their production in San Diego, the big talking point is the sudden attacking rejuvenation that was on display through Fishel, Shaw and Thompson.
Jaedyn Shaw celebrates scoring for the USA against Colombia on Sunday. Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF
With only a combined total of 12 caps to their names, it now seems like an obvious fix to a stagnant USWNT would be more minutes and places in the XI for the rising stars, but Kilgore stressed that there are no guarantees for any players on the field.
“Whether you’re a young player or you’re a veteran player, the key is that … you never know if you’re gonna get invited back, that’s something you have to earn every single time,” said Kilgore after the match.
“Nothing is promised to anybody, and I think that kind of the path that we took with them [the young players] kind of proves that it’s good to take things slow.”
Whether the next manager trusts them or not also remains to be seen.
With an expectation for a new hire to be set before a set of friendlies against China this winter (Dec. 2 at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Dec. 5 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas), three options are reportedly in the running for the USWNT job: Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson, Juventus women’s boss Joe Montemurro and OL Reign manager Laura Harvey.
Patience has been stressed by those in charge regarding the newest faces in the USWNT structure, and no matter who steps in as manager, the script will likely be the same as the team deals with a necessary generational change within the squad.
All that said, as seen on a picturesque Sunday in San Diego, players can force the narrative in their favor. There’s no denying that names like Shaw, Fishel and Thompson are the future of the USWNT, but when given the opportunities to shine, they can also be the present.