It’s the first friendly of the post-World Cup/Victory Tour season blah blah blah is Vlatko Andonovski gonna f- this up??? That’s really what’s on all our minds ahead of this friendly against Sweden. He’s coming onboard with a solid amount of hype behind him (some of it provided by this here website) and he’s already made some ripples in the player pool with the training camp preceding this game. Would he have been so bold had injuries not freed up space for him? We can only know once those players are healthy again. And we can only know what Andonovski will be like as the WNT coach after the game has played out. But there are a couple of things we can guess at.
First, there will probably be a good focus on the defense. Andonovski has built a reputation on his defensive work, so be on the lookout to see how that plays out, particularly Emily Sonnett and Casey Short as your likely starting fullbacks, but with Imani Dorsey and Alana Cook also in the mix. There’s no O’Hara or Dunn here to bail you out, but given that Short was widely considered a World Cup roster snub and Sonnett is fairly experienced out wide by now, we should be able to glimpse what a top defensive effort looks like from this bunch + Andonovski.
Second, let’s see what this midfield can really do under Andonovski and assistant coach Milan Ivanovic’s direction. One week of training camp probably isn’t enough for any kind of radical change, but having Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Sam Mewis all ready to go must seem like the ultimate smorgasbord to a new coach. Do you try to fit those players into some kind of diamond formation? Do you stick with the 4-3-3 they all know very well by now? Are Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis even a starting consideration for Andonovski right now given they were both going nonstop through the NWSL championship less than two weeks ago? There’s also Morgan Brian and Andi Sullivan to make things interesting and allowing for some mixing and matching here.
I won’t even hazard a guess at a starting XI for this game. Sure, there’s wanting to start off on the right foot and therefore hedging your bets by starting Alyssa Naeher, Abby Dahlkemper, and Becky Sauerbrunn in the back. It’s easier to fiddle with the midfield and the forwards if there’s a solid foundation underneath them. But we just don’t know yet! Andonovski’s contract with USSF reportedly runs until 2023, demonstrating that the federation is willing to place some faith in him and let him develop things through the next cycle. In turn, that probably allows him a little early leeway.
So watch, take notes, read a little but not too much into the player choices and performance, and try to feel some optimism before winter descends and the sun goes down at 4:30 every afternoon.
USA vs Sweden
November 7, 7:30 PM ET / 4:30 PM PT
MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: FS1, TUDN
Streaming: fuboTV (affiliate link)