New year, new coach, and even a few new faces in the lineup. The United States Women's National Team kicked off 2013 with a pair of wins, 4-1 on Saturday and 3-1 on Wednesday, against Scotland. New head coach Tom Sermanni wasn't afraid to dive deep into the USWNT player pool, handing out four first caps and bringing back a handful of players not seen in a U.S. jersey since the team was wearing those weird nurse's outfit kits.
The Good: First caps for everyone! Christen Press, Kristie Mewis and Julie Johnston all earned their first caps on Saturday. Crystal Dunn got hers in Wednesday's match. Press was the most, well, impressive, starting the match in Jacksonville and netting two goals in her debut and another in the second match. On Saturday Press scored in the 13th and 32nd minutes, the first goal a hard shot from the 18 off a failed Scotland clearance and the second a header from a long Tobin Heath cross which found Press open at the back post. The 24 year-old added her third career goal on Wednesday, picking up a Shannon Boxx through ball just three minutes after entering the match, and putting a shot easily past Scotland keeper Gemma Fay.
More Good: Ali Krieger returned to the lineup for the first time since an ACL injury in January of 2012. Krieger played all 90 minutes in her return, and moved well on the flanks in both matches, a positive for a team that's been lacking mobile outside backs. Also returning was Yael Averbuch, who last played for the U.S. in 2011 before apparently falling out of favor with Pia Sundhage. Averbuch came on in the 66th minute on Saturday and while she certainly showed a little rust, she also showed herself as a solid option as a playmaker. Averbuch rang a 35-yard free kick off the crossbar in the 76th minute and earned an assist on Sydney Leroux's 89th minute goal, with a long ball that looped over the Scotland defense for the speedy Leroux to collect and put past Fay. Whitney Engen also returned to the lineup, going 90 on Wednesday night alongside Rachel Buehler in the center of the U.S. defense. Engen had a few shaky moments, including a misplayed ball that nearly resulted in an own goal, but she was also making just her third appearance for the USWNT.
The Not So Good: Abby Wambach was mostly invisible on Wednesday. Honored for her 200th cap before the match, Wambach did little in the way of threatening the Scotland defense. Sure, she scored the 153rd goal of her career and is now just five behind the record set by Mia Hamm, but aside from that diving header in 51st minute, Wambach was mostly a non-factor. Perhaps it was that Alex Morgan was missing on Wednesday. Morgan went down with an ankle injury just before halftime in Saturday's match. U.S. Soccer says she's fine, and was held out on Wednesday only as a precaution. Morgan and Wambach have become a dangerous scoring threat together, one pulling defenders and wrong-footing keepers to leave the other one open has become the M.O. of the U.S.'s offense over the past year, and Morgan's absence - and the absence of all those assists - left the rest of the attack obviously disjointed.
The Also Not Good: Sydney Leroux earned her first start on Wednesday night, and never looked quite right. Leroux did have that assist on Morgan's goal, but otherwise didn't look quite ready to make the transition from super sub to starter. The U.S. in general seemed unable -and unwilling - to do anything with all of the space Scotland was giving up in front of goal. Megan Rapinoe scored in the 21st minute with a curling outside of the foot shot, but had all the time in the world to settle the ball and set the thing up just a few yards from goal, but the U.S. otherwise mostly failed to take advantage of being in front of goal with all the time in the world.
The Really Not Good: The defense looked all kinds of disjointed too. Chalk it up to Sermanni's tinkering, or rust, but on Wednesday in particular, the defense and midfield often seemed asleep at the wheel. Rachel Buehler and Hope Solo both seemed to be off in dreamland on Suzanne Grant's 81st minute goal, Engen had that aforementioned near-own goal, and most notably the U.S. had the same problems with clearing the ball that have plagued the team since the World Cup. The midfield allowed Scotland too much space, and the whole thing seemed disconnected from the start. If not for Scotland's poor finishing and unwillingness to take the chances given to them, the score likely wouldn't have been quite as one-sided.
All in all, the U.S. managed to put up seven goals, and allowed just two. And while there are problems - particularly in the continually revolving door of defenders - Sermanni used a pair of mid-February friendlies in a year without any major competition exactly the right way. The new coach used 24 of the 29 players he called into camp, a welcome departure from the unchanging USWNT lineups so prevalent under Pia Sundhage. Sermanni's side will have a bigger test in next month's Algarve Cup, where they're scheduled take on China, Iceland and Sundhage's Sweden side in group play. Germany, Japan, Norway and Denmark make up the other group, and the winner of each will meet in the final. A third group, not in contention for the title, includes host Portugal, Mexico, Wales and Hungary.