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USWNT 3-0 Haiti: Takeaways from W Championship’s opening matches

The U.S. women’s national team began their World Cup qualifying campaign on Monday, beating Haiti 3-0 in the first game of the CONCACAF W Championship in the high temperatures and humidity of Monterrey, Mexico.

The heat goes some way toward explaining the relatively slow pace of the game; Megan Rapinoe said as much when talking to media afterwards, saying, “It was actually a lot hotter than we really realized. Even on the bench, we’re like, ‘Oh, we need to be doing this’ and then we’re like, ‘Oh, I think it’s actually pretty fricking hot out there.’ We haven’t really trained in the full sun like that.”

It was hot in Colorado and Utah for the June friendlies (though humidity was not a factor), so that is a curious statement from Rapinoe. But Vlatko Andonovski’s USWNT also looked like there was gum in the works in a few places, having some trouble figuring out how to move past Haiti once they stepped up into a mid-block and pressed back a little bit. 

Before getting to the games themselves, there were plenty of questions around Monday’s meager attendance at Estadio Universitario — and yes, a Monday night and the heat were never going to be helpful factors here. But walking around the city center in Monterrey, there’s no sense that they’re hosting the W Championship. The only place we’ve seen CONCACAF signage so far is in the stadium itself.

The attendance numbers will hopefully improve for the big USA vs. Mexico group-stage match next Monday, then the semifinals and the final, but considering the strong attendance numbers across Liga MX Femenil (especially for big matches) and support for the women’s game here, there’s no reason to think these matches shouldn’t be a draw. For as much as we talk about investment into the teams playing in the tournament, this edition of the W Championship might prompt bigger conversations about the investment into the event itself.

There might not have been a full stadium, but the Group A matches didn’t disappoint on day one, even if the vibes did skew into classic CONCACAF territory at times.

Alex Morgan is scoring

Morgan’s form has spoken for itself over the past few months, but there is something intangible about her presence for the USWNT in CONCACAF. Both of her finishes on Monday’s brace were not particularly easy ones, but as Becky Sauerbrunn said after the game, “she’s just a poacher.” 

“Those are just top, top level striker goals,” Rapinoe said, pointing to Morgan’s form and how the break from the national team benefited her. 

“She’s baaack. It’s making me think of what Draymond (Green) said all the way back in, I think it was November. He said don’t let us win a championship. Alex is experienced and one of the best players in the world. She has a ton of goals for a reason, and has World Cups and (Olympic) gold medals and all that for a reason.” 

Morgan was also pretty close to a hat trick, denied by the crossbar in the first half, and called offside after another nice finish in the second half. Despite the brace, there were definitely still takeaways from her after the game on where the USWNT could have cleaned up some of the problem-solving faster and moved away from the game plan if the opponents presented a different look than they expected.

“Their left midfielder was jumping a little bit more, and leaving their outside back a little more isolated, whereas their right midfielder wasn’t doing that,” Morgan said. “We found way more space on our right side. It was working, and I don’t think we utilized it as much as we needed to. Those are things that we should figure out on the field before we get to halftime; that’ll come with experience and players feeling more confident and comfortable in their leadership roles on this team.”

But Morgan wasn’t the only player talking about the USWNT’s speed of reading the game…

The rest of the team has its issues

As much as the USWNT looked like they were playing game one of the group stage, Haiti was certainly ready for the challenge of their opening match. Andonovski said in his postgame press conference that there was work ahead to “tidy up a few things for the next game,” but dismissed any thoughts that they had overlooked Haiti and the quality of their team.

“We have so much respect. We do remember the 2020 game in January in CONCACAF and we know that they’re a very disciplined team with tremendous individuals,” he said. “In fact, we were overly prepared and maybe gave them a little too much respect from the get go because we knew who we are facing.”

In particular, he had praise for Melchie Dumornay and Roselord Borgella, who managed to pick apart the center back pairing of Becky Sauerbrunn and Alana Cook a few times for solid chances, sometimes simply beating them at the one-v-one. In the 41st minute, Emily Fox was left to make a desperate tackle on Nérilia Mondésir in the box to concede the penalty (a missed attempt by Borgella). 

Cook and Sauerbrunn haven’t had a ton of time playing together as either one of them was usually paired with either Tierna Davidson or Abby Dahlkemper. In 2022, before this game, Cook and Sauerbrunn had played together for 153 minutes across three games, including a full 90 in a June friendly against Colombia.

“(Dumornay and Borgella) are powerful. They’re technical. They’re knowledgeable. And they are players that can change the game in a split second,” he said. “I don’t know if there was a miscommunication or anything in between our center backs. I would say it was the really good play of the attackers on the other team.”

Plenty of players said that Colombia was a perfect opponent for the two June friendlies to prepare for the W Championship, but there’s no replicating the experience of a qualifying tournament.

“Little jitters,” was Rapinoe’s assessment of the match. “It’s a lot of people’s first real meaningful tournament. It’s always difficult to play in CONCACAF. It’s just a different type of tournament, I thought we got the kinks out.” Among those who played against Haiti, those who hadn’t gone through a results-critical senior tournament included Casey Murphy, Alana Cook, Emily Fox, Sophia Smith, Midge Purce, Ashley Sanchez, and Sofia Huerta.

She gave the team a seven out of 10, a passing grade, but nothing standout. 

“Good goals. Got a few chances,” she said “Definitely need to just be sharper, more clinical, a little bit more ruthless, I think. There was a lot more space that we just didn’t play in or are slow to play in, technical errors, stuff like that. But overall, it’s good.” 

Andi Sullivan was optimistic about the midfield, even as Andonovski continues to experiment slightly with his use of Kristie Mewis as a deeper-lying player and Ashley Sanchez continues to adjust to being asked to creatively pry open defenses.

“I think we actually do a really good job, all of us playing together,” said Sullivan. “So any common combination of us works really well. I think Kristie did a great job winning things and playing a little bit lower, as you know, more of an eight rather than two 10s. And I felt that helped us a little bit. And I think it’s a difficult game to come into.”

“I think Rose and Lindsey set the tone from the beginning,” Sullivan continued. “So I just feel like it’s good for us to have options, because it’s a lot of ground covered in that position.”

Haiti — and particularly the play of Dumornay and Borgella — might have provided a blueprint for Jamaica and Mexico to exploit the USWNT backline, though it’s still TBD if the back four will have personnel rotations for one of the two remaining group-stage matches. That potential weakness was definitely on Andonovski’s radar moving forward. 

“We wanted to bring numbers up going forward and create overloads in different areas of the field,” he said. “Mathematically, when you create numerical superiority in any part of the field, that means that you’re going to give up superiority somewhere else. I thought that they were able to expose that area of the field. And that’s something that we’re gonna have to look at.”

VAR: not great 

The introduction of VAR to the tournament will, over time, probably be a net positive. But the first taste of video review on Monday night in both games left a lot to be desired, not just in terms of results, but also with how it drastically impacted the flow of the game with how long the reviews were taking.

For some players, the long pauses weren’t necessarily a bad thing. As Sauerbrunn said after the match, the VAR delays “provided us time to get over to the sidelines, get some water because it was pretty hot out there today. Also, just to talk about what’s going on in the game, what we need to do, so in a way, if you use it to your advantage, VAR is great.”

The major talking point was Roselord Borgella’s challenge on Kelley O’Hara being downgraded to a yellow card based on video review, after referee Marie-Soleil Beaudoin initially issued a red card for the high, studs-up contact.

Sauerbrunn was polite in expressing her take on just how well VAR worked on Monday, saying that the results “didn’t bounce our way.” Rapinoe didn’t hold back quite as much on her disbelief on that main call.

“Was there VAR?” she said, scoffing, before noting one positive element in that the offside review worked. “But I mean, I thought the very first corner kick of the game was a stone cold penalty when Lindsey (Horan) got taken down immediately. I’ve never seen studs up at shoulder height like that, rake down the entire length of Kelley’s body, I’ve never seen that not be a red card. I don’t care about intention, or anything like that, if you put your studs up that high, to me that’s a red card. I’m not really sure what they were looking at there.”

Her final review? “Work in progress, I guess.”

A note on Jamaica beating Mexico

Jamaica stunned home favorites Mexico in the second game of the night, beating them 1-0 off of an early Khadija Shaw goal. 

It was a combination of a brilliant read on the ball’s flight from Shaw, and subpar defending from Mexico that enabled the goal. From that point on, Mexico, already somewhat nervy, just couldn’t quite get it together. They did create chances, and they dominated possession on the ball, but when they entered the final third their only strategy was to cross it in from wide without much else going on — something that Jamaica head coach Lorne Donaldson told media after the game they specifically prepared for ahead of the tournament. 

“Almost everything they did, we expected it. So we were prepared for it,” he said, though he also said he thought Mexico would bounce back and complemented their preparations.

CONCACAF’s match statistics showed Mexico with 58% possession, yet with 12 shots to Jamaica’s 13. Jamaica also dispossessed Mexico twice as often (14 to seven). Mexico’s defenders seemed to have a rough time trying to contain Shaw, who probably could have gotten at least one more goal if she’d been quicker to shoot.

The U.S. absolutely will have to alter their tactics to take on Jamaica; against Haiti, they allowed center backs Sauerbrunn and Cook to spread out fairly wide with only Sullivan in the space in front of them as they tried to break down Haiti’s deeper defending. That’s not space that they can afford to allow someone like Shaw or Jody Brown, and Jamaica will certainly be coming into their second game on an upward swing of confidence. They did slow down noticeably over the course of their game against Mexico, but it’s never encouraging when the U.S. has to resort to being fitter than their opponent, as valid a last-ditch strategy as that might be. 

(Photo: CONCACAF.com)

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