The United States Women’s National Team is headed to the 2023 World Cup in New Zealand, looking to claim a third consecutive title. Before the travel party departs for the Land of the Long White Cloud, there is a final tune-up against Wales, the “first time the team will play outside of Europe.” The friendly provides the opportunity to build some chemistry and close out camp on a high note before boarding the airplane. San Jose, California’s PayPal Park – an 18,000-seat venue – will host the sendoff.
This is the first all-time meeting between the two nations. Ranked 30th internationally by FIFA, Wales failed to qualify for the World Cup after finishing at second in UEFA’s Group I, defeating Bosnia and Herzegovina in the first round of the playoffs and losing, 2-1 in extra time, to Switzerland in the second round. Recent results include a runner-up finish at the 2023 Pinatar Cup with a 1-0-2 record, a 4-1 victory over Northern Ireland, and a 1-1 draw with Portugal. Y Dreigiau (The Dragons) have suffered a single defeat dating back to April of 2022, which came at the most unfortunate of junctures.
Wales is managed by Gemma Grainger, taking over following Jayne Ludlow’s seven-year tenure. The 40-year-old Englishwoman’s previous experience includes leading Middlesbrough and the England U-17 team. She signed a contract extension through 2027, believed to be the right person to lead the program to first-ever qualification to the UEFA Women’s Championship and World Cup.
Grainger named a 22-player roster for the friendly, largely the first-choice squad that is a healthy mix of veterans and new inclusions. Rachel Rowe, most recently of Reading, is absent with a calf injury. Team captain Sophie Ingle is missing due to a suspension but “will travel out with the side as a training player.”
GOALKEEPERS (3): Laura O’Sullivan (Cardiff City Ladies), Olivia Clark (Bristol City), Safia Middleton-Patel (Manchester United)
DEFENDERS (6): Hayley Ladd (Manchester United), Rhiannon Roberts (Unattached), Gemma Evans (Reading), Ffion Morgan (Bristol City), Lily Woodham (Reading), Esther Morgan (Unattached)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Jess Fishlock (OL Reign), Angharad James (Tottenham Hotspur), Charlie Estcourt (Unattached), Josie Green (Leicester City), Megan Wynne (Southampton), Ceri Holland (Liverpool), Carrie Jones (Manchester United), Anna Filbey (Crystal Palace)
FORWARDS (5): Kayleigh Green (Unattached), Elise Hughes (Crystal Palace), Mary McAteer (Unattached), Hannah Cain (Leicester City), Ella Powell (Bristol City)
Grainger alternates between the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations, pushing a “fluid, proactive, [and] attacking” style. Wales has struggled with scoring despite creating chances, but the recent outburst against Northern Ireland has been cause for optimism. Long, diagonal passes and field switches are frequent, with wingers then cutting inside or looking to reach the endline before centering the ball. The defense has encountered problems when guarding set pieces, although those issues tend to become less severe as coaches have more time to work with the squad.
Laura O’Sullivan should continue to be the number one during this World Cup cycle, bringing experience and quality as the 2017 Welsh Footballer of the Year. The 31-year-old is often the “only amateur player in the squad,” competing with Cardiff City Ladies in the third tier of the England pyramid while also working a full-time job. She is a sturdy presence in the box and is willing to come off her line to corral long balls or push away corner kicks.
Hayley Ladd competes with Manchester United as a defensive midfielder, earning the club’s Player of the Year award in 2020, and has made over 80 appearances since debuting for Wales. The 29-year-old boasts an “excellent range of passing” and “pressurizes her opponents to make mistakes,” while also occasionally unleashing a devastating long-distance shot. Her typical partner has been Reading’s Gemma Evans, a player who “embodies everything it means to be Welsh.” She was considered “one of the top defenders in the Women’s Super League” last season, bringing a hard-working attitude and consistency.
What a pass from Rhiannon Roberts to set Helen Ward up for her 44th international goal!— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) October 26, 2021
Wales 2-0 Estonia ⚽
BBC Two Wales and @BBCRadioWales FM/DAB (Ex N Wales) AM, DTV
On the left side of the formation is Lily Woodham, also on the books at Reading. The 22-year-old thrives at intercepting passes and blocking opponents’ shots, while also completing several successful long balls per match. Most recently at Liverpool, Rhiannon “Razza” Roberts is a jack of all trades at the club level but slots into right fullback for Wales. She is a complete player, “pushing forward powerfully, shutting down counters, and conjuring dangerous crosses from millimeters of space.”
Angharad James is the youngest player to reach 100 caps for Wales, described as the team’s “unsung hero.” She thrives at intercepting the opponent, throws herself into slide tackles, and is first to challenge for headers on restarts. With Ingle suspended, there is an opportunity for 19-year-old Carrie Jones to slide into the lineup, fresh off a season-long loan at Leicester City. The “future star” displays “on-pitch technical flair” as a problem-solver and was one of the most prolific tacklers in the Women’s Super League. OL Reign’s Jess Fishlock was named the National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player in 2021, earned Best XI or Second XI honors seven times, and claimed five Welsh Footballer of the Year accolades. Her contributions on both sides of the game are essential, whether driving through opponents, shooting from distance, getting on the end of crosses, or charging back to make last-ditch challenges.
Likely to be filling in for Rachel Rowe at left winger is Bristol City’s Ffion Morgan, who helped The Vixens secure promotion to the Women’s Super League, finding the back of the net five times in 22 appearances. She has a strong shot from distance and will fight for crosses in the box, battling with larger players despite standing at 5’2”. On the other side of the field is Ceri Holland of Liverpool, described as a “combative and energetic presence,” earning the club’s Players’ Player of the Year award last season following a four-goal output. The 25-year-old from West Yorkshire works hard on defense and can find the back of the net in a variety of ways, making darting runs inside or unleashing long shots.
Despite turning 35 years old, Kayleigh Green is still leading the line for Wales despite playing midfielder at the club level. The Cardiff native recently announced her departure from Brighton & Hove Albion after contributing one goal and two assists in 18 appearances last season. Pacey enough to get behind the opposing back line, she is strong in the air and can shoot with decent accuracy from distance. Her tireless efforts to press the opponent force turnovers and can lead to unexpected opportunities, particularly when charging at the goalkeeper.
The USWNT has a clear talent advantage over Wales, bringing the best-possible roster in this pre-World Cup tune-up. However, Vlatko Andonovski’s squad has endured occasional scoring issues, which could manifest against well-drilled opponents. While failing to once again qualify for the competition, the visitors should be considered a challenge and have demonstrated a growing strength over the past year, particularly when maintaining a stable defensive structure.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, July 9th at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, 1:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TNT, Telemundo, Universo, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).