The road to the World Cup continues, as the United States Women’s National Team looks to prepare for the summer’s competition with two friendlies against the Republic of Ireland. As time grows short, there are few remaining opportunities to earn a spot on the final roster. Manager Vlatko Andonovski will continue to tinker over the international window, making tactical adjustments and evaluating the remaining spots that are up for grabs. The first match is set for Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, while the second will take place at St. Louis, Missouri’s CITYPARK.
This is the 14th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USWNT holding an undefeated 13-0-0 record on a goal differential of +47 (48-1). Ranked 23rd internationally by FIFA, Ireland qualified for the World Cup in program history. Na cailíní i nglas (The Girls in Green) finished at second place in UEFA’s Group A behind Sweden and took down rivals Scotland in Round 2 of the confederation playoffs by a 1-0 margin. A February friendly against China ended in a scoreless draw but continued the record nine-match unbeaten streak dating back to 2021.
Ireland appointed Vera Pauw to the manager position in September of 2019. The 60-year-old former Dutch international carries extensive experience, having led Scotland, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, and the Houston Dash. The Football Association backed her following “misconduct allegations” and ensuing sanctions stemming from her tenure in charge of the National Women’s Soccer League club, and she is “engaging legal actions to challenge the findings” while “bracing for a storm of controversy” upon her return stateside.
SQUAD | 27 players selected for double header with World No 1.— Ireland Football ⚽️ (@IrelandFootball) March 31, 2023
First call-ups for Sophie Whitehouse, Tara O'Hanlon & Alannah McEvoy.
08/04 | | 7.30pm
11/04 | | 12.30am
*Games live on RTÉ2#COYGIG | #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/yixHHoEXCA
Pauw named a 27-player roster for the pair of friendlies, a squad that includes three newcomers. Following the initial release, Lucy Quinn replaced Lily Agg. Three call-ups are based in the United States, while the rest are on the books at European clubs, mainly in England. The group is missing core contributors Niamh Fahey, Megan Campbell, Chloe Mustaki, and Jessica Ziu.
GOALKEEPERS (4): Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Grace Moloney (Reading), Megan Walsh (Brighton & Hove Albion), Sophie Whitehouse (Lewes)
DEFENDERS (9): Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Jessie Stapleton (Shelbourne), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Aoife Mannion (Manchester United), Diane Caldwell (Reading), Claire O’Riordan (Celtic), Hayley Nolan (London City Lionesses), Tara O’Hanlon (Peamount United), Áine O’Gorman (Shamrock Rovers)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jamie Finn (Birmingham City), Ruesha Littlejohn (Aston Villa), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City), Ciara Grant (Hearts), Roma McLaughlin (Fortuna Hjorring)
FORWARDS (6): Heather Payne (Florida State University), Abbie Larkin (Shamrock Rovers), Amber Barrett (Potsdam Turbine), Kyra Carusa (London City Lionesses), Marissa Sheva (Washington Spirit), Alannah McEvoy (Shamrock Rovers)
Pauw typically deploys a conservative 5-4-1 formation with a low block that has drawn criticism from domestic media for lacking ambition. The manager responded, claiming that she is attempting to find a balance and “develop the play in between the lines” while the defenders hang deep, a strategy that has surrendered a single goal over the past year. She doubled down on her tactics, asserting that adopting a more attacking style at this late hour could “lead to a disastrous World Cup.”
Ireland enjoys the most success on set pieces but will be forced to do without the aforementioned absent Megan Campbell’s long-throwing ability, which turns anything within 30 yards into a goal-scoring opportunity. The defense is rarely caught out of position, having several players behind the ball at all times, sometimes retreating all the way to the goalmouth. There are gaps between the back line and the midfield at the top of the box, which can be exploited by cut-back passes, but the brief opening is quickly filled by additional retreating players.
The likely starter at goalkeeper is Everton’s Courtney Brosnan, a dual-national who spent time in the youth set-up for both Ireland and the United States. Her crucial save of a penalty against Scotland in the second round of the playoffs helped secure qualification to the World Cup. The 27-year-old New Jersey native is active and alert, rapidly covering tons of ground both vertically and horizontally. Her composure under pressure allows for teammates to use her as an emergency outlet in possession, complemented by quick throws to spring counter-attacks.
One of the squad’s veterans at 34 years old, Diane Caldwell intervenes at key times and is strong in the air. The Reading centre-back sprays long passes all out of the field, typically out of extended possession. In the middle of the trio is six-feet-tall Louise Quinn of Birmingham City, who, as expected, claims every possible header in her area and physically overwhelms opponents with a sharp tackle or shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. She is an essential part of the attacking strategy as the target on set pieces, whether scoring at a productive rate or redirecting across the goalmouth. With Niamh Fahey out with an injury, the manager has two main options in the third role. Megan Connolly has earned 35 caps while also competing with Brighton & Hove Albion following a decorated college career at Florida State University. The 26-year-old can also slide into the midfield and excels at challenges in the open field. There’s also Claire O’Riordan, a more traditional option who is strong in the air. Her ability to cover the wide area and shut down wingers is an asset on a three-player back line.
Squad captain Katie McCabe can lead the counter and serves as a creative presence, attempting more than 50 passes per match at a high completion rate. The versatile Arsenal wide player tends toward stand-up tackles and uses her body to shield off opponents. On the opposite side of the formation is Birmingham’s Jamie Finn, a more attack-minded player looking to overlap on the outside. She looks to press and regain possession high up the field, turning disruption into opportunities.
The North Carolina Courage’s Denise O’Sullivan is heralded as “one of the best midfielders in the world,” a two-way player who will step forward to unleash shots from outside of the box. The “maestro” displays “clever movements keeping attacks alive and creating opportunities in the final third” while also putting in work on the defensive side. The central partnership is likely to be completed by Ruesha Littlejohn, providing “drive in the engine room.” She is typically responsible for dictating the pace and controlling possession.
Domestically-based Áine O’Gorman competes with Shamrock Rovers, taking on a forward role and cutting into the center of the field. She positions herself in the right areas to both send in and convert crosses, complementing Ireland’s conservative tactics. Teenage sensation Abbie Larkin made five senior international appearances in 2022 and scored her first goal in a World Cup qualifier against Georgia, with some of the world’s biggest clubs lining up to sign her. The 17-year-old Dubliner should receive a run-out and is another useful target in the attack while also hitting highly-accurate long passes. Late addition Lucy Quinn could also provide an additional boost in the final third.
Leading the formation is Heather Payne, who recently wrapped a stellar four-year career with Florida State, claiming the College Cup in 2021. While lining up as a fullback with the Seminoles, she is firmly entrenched as Ireland’s top striker, having made her senior international debut at the age of 17. Despite scoring a single goal in 29 caps, the 23-year-old has become a favorite of the manager’s “due to her incredible appetite for hard work and ability to work the channels incessantly.” Her aerial abilities are another asset when knocking down the ball to teammates or providing another target on the all-important set pieces.
As the world’s top team, the USWNT is familiar with playing against bunkering teams employing more cynical strategies. Ireland is well-drilled and has the tactics to provide a stern test in the lead-up to the World Cup. The pair of friendlies could portend the fate of both programs this summer: whether the favorite’s attack can maintain past explosive firepower, and if the upstarts are able to punch above weight.
The first match is scheduled for Saturday, April 8th at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, 11:30 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TNT, Universo, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).
The second is scheduled for Tuesday, April 11th at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include HBO Max, Universo, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).