The United States women’s national team will play Uzbekistan twice in the coming week in friendly matches. Those games were scheduled after what sources confirmed was a ‘top team from Asia’ had to pull out of playing the U.S. due to complications presented by travel in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
No, the games do not jump off the page the way some more marquee, top-10 world opponents would have. Yes, they still represent two of the final four opportunities to see the U.S. play before World Cup qualifying in July. And with such a newness to the roster, that means there is still intrigue from the outside — and competition within.
What should we watch? And how should we evaluate these games? Let’s dive in below. And if you need this regular reminder of why the U.S. roster looks so different right now, head coach Vlatko Andonovski walked through it all exclusively for subscribers of The Equalizer Extra back in November.
Alyssa Naeher is still the No. 1 for the U.S., but Aubrey Kingsbury and Bella Bixby are each in camp and each uncapped, and there is no better opportunity than now to get them reps in goal. No, they are not likely to be overly busy against Uzbekistan, but experience is important, period. Let’s work on the informed and logical assumption that Naeher remains the No. 1 through the entire cycle: having a No. 2 with some experience is crucial. That has long been a criticism how the U.S. has handled the goalkeeper position in the past, when Hope Solo played so much — even often in otherwise inconsequential games like these, when another goalkeeper could have gotten reps — that it seemingly left the Americans in uncertainty upon her abrupt exit (firing) from the scene.
More recently, we saw the unfortunate scenario of why a solid and experienced No. 2 is needed. Adrianna Franch was called upon at the Olympics when Alyssa Naeher went down injured in the semifinal which the U.S. eventually lost to Canada. Few things can prepare anyone for a moment like that without living through it, but the U.S. will want to make sure that whoever the No. 2 is at the World Cup next year is as ready as they can be. Will Bixby or Kingsbury make that roster? The pool is deep and competitive, but now is the time to find out.
Speaking of debuts, it is odd to see the goose egg in the ‘caps’ field next to Naomi Girma’s name. She has been a fixture for the U.S. at the youth level and she has knocked on the door of the senior team for some time, including semi-frequently joining the squad in camp. Trinity Rodman’s international debut at the SheBelieves Cup, however, leaves Girma as the only uncapped field player on this roster. She deserves to get looks, period, and it is increasingly likely that she will, given the circumstances.
Becky Sauerbrunn is still sidelined from a surgery she had for a torn meniscus, and Tierna Davidson is out for the year after tearing her ACL last month while training with the Chicago Red Stars. That, combined with Emily Sonnett’s injury absence and Casey Krueger expecting her first child, leaves the U.S. curiously thin at center back at the moment, and almost guarantees that Girma will see some time during these matches. Girma, Abby Dahlkemper and Alana Cook are the only center backs on the current U.S. roster. Dahlkemper and Girma play together for San Diego Wave FC, and Andonovski will likely lean into that familiarity to see what it looks like on the international stage. Sauerbrunn’s age and Davidson’s long-term absence mean that some combination of these three might be the pair Andonovski has to develop for the 2023 World Cup.
This will be a question for most U.S. fans. It is the first time Uzbekistan and the U.S. will meet, making the Uzbeks the 55th opponent in the Americans’ program history. The central Asian country is ranked No. 48 in the world and failed to make the final round of qualifying for the World Cup (the AFC Women’s Asian Cup).
Nineteen of the 23 players on Uzbekistan’s roster play domestically, while the other four play in Turkey. Uzbekistan is coached by former Japan international player Midori Honda, who represented Japan in the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. In February, Uzbekistan played at the Turkish Cup and defeated Lithuania 1-0, lost to Ukraine 2-0, and drew 0-0 with Venezuela.
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