The United States Women’s National Team enjoyed a successful summer, registering an undefeated run (without conceding a goal) at the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship, which secured qualification for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2024 Summer Olympics, and 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup. Next comes the long process of determining the best potential roster, with under a year until the first competition. Preparation begins with two friendlies in four days against Nigeria, an intriguing test for a squad looking to establish a baseline of success. The first match is scheduled for Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, while the latter is at Washington D.C.’s Audi Field.
These are the seventh and eighth all-time meetings between the two nations, with the USWNT holding a 6-0-0 advantage, winning a 2-0 friendly last summer. The Super Falcons are the most successful women’s program in Africa, having won 11 Women’s African Cup of Nations titles. The most recent continental competition was a disappointment, finishing second in Group C and losing the third-place match to Zambia, 1-0. While the country qualified for the Women’s World Cup, a streak extending back to the inaugural tournament, there is a lingering sense of dissatisfaction.
Nigeria is led by Randy Waldrum, appointed to the role in October of 2020. The 65-year-old American also serves as the head coach for the University of Pittsburgh women’s soccer team. With “pressure mounting,” local media questioned his tactical decisions amid drooping results, particularly after the recent finish in the Cup of Nations. Despite expressing the desire to keep him through the World Cup, the Nigeria Football Federation is reportedly examining and evaluating the direction of the program.
Our Super Falcons left Nigeria ➡️Airport ➡️✈️ United States— NGSuper_Falcons (@NGSuper_Falcons) August 31, 2022
8️⃣ players depart Abuja @tosindemehin @Abiodundebby100@RofiatImuran17@EOnyenezide10
Mbadi Amanda Uju
Akudo Ogbonna @GiftMonday21 #SoarSuperFalcons #Team9jastrong pic.twitter.com/4wU6qj8m7H
Waldrum named a 20-player roster for the pair of friendlies. Several are dual-national talents, with a few who competed in the United States program. Four inclusions are from the Falconets squad that reached the quarterfinals of the recently-concluded U-20 Women’s World Cup. Notable past call-ups such as Ashleigh Plumptre, Halimatu Ayinde, and Ngozi Okobi-Okeoghene were left out, rendering this something of an experimental group.
GOALKEEPERS (2): Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC), Christy Ohiaeriaku (Edo Queens)
DEFENDERS (6): Nicole Payne (University of Southern California), Glory Ogbonna (ALG Spor), Osinachi Ohale (Deportivo Alaves), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Akudo Ogbonna (Edo Queens), Oluwatosin Demehin (Rivers Angels)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Jennifer Echegini (Florida State University), Christy Ucheibe (SL Benfica), Toni Payne (Sevilla FC), Amanda Mbadi Uju (Atasehir Belediyespor), Deborah Abiodun (Rivers Angels)
FORWARDS (7): Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid), Rofiat Imuran (Rivers Angels), Uchenna Kanu (Tigres Femenil), Vivian Ikechukwu (WFC Gintra), Ifeoma Onumonu (NY/NJ Gotham FC), Gift Monday (Bayelsa Queens), Esther Onyenezide (FC Robo Queens)
Waldrum typically deploys a 4-3-3 formation with fullbacks that tend to hang back when in possession. Opportunities are created mostly through set pieces, crosses, and long balls, the latter played driven and on the ground to the center of the field. Nigeria is a physical team and looks to set the tone, although that can sometimes be troublesome and lead to card accumulation issues.
Veteran Tochukwu Oluehi started the first match at the most recent World Cup and Cup of Nations but was replaced for the rest of the way at both competitions by the younger Chiamaka Nnadozie. The 21-year-old began her career in 2016, winning multiple trophies with domestic Rivers Angels before moving to Paris FC. The International Federation of Football History & Statistics named her Africa’s Best Woman Goalkeeper in 2019. At 5’11”, a large wingspan allows her to cover the entire goalmouth and extend to the top corner when diving, while also closing down angles on breakaways.
Osinachi Ohale is highly experienced, having been on three World Cup squads and carved out a career in Europe. The Alavés center back has excellent speed when tracking back and uses her body well to shoulder opponents off the ball. Without veteran defender Onome Ebi on the roster, Waldrum will be forced to look elsewhere. Akudo Ogbonna competes domestically with Edo Queens and appeared during the recent Cup of Nations.
We can't head to the second half without a look at Nicole Payne's go-ahead goal to put WVU up 2-1!#HailWV ⚽ pic.twitter.com/MgPyrSY9f3— WVU Women's Soccer (@wvuwomenssoccer) September 19, 2020
A former United States youth international, Nicole Payne transferred this summer to the University of Southern California after three seasons at West Virginia University. The 21-year-old is a terrific stand-up defender and looks to dribble forward after regaining possession, often taking on the role of shuttler. The other fullback should be the Houston Dash’s Michelle Alozie, who started several matches at the Cup of Nations. While frequently lining up at forward, her speed, physicality, and aerial abilities are assets on the back line.
The elder Payne sibling – a fellow former American youth international, Toni – normally plays fullback but should add some experience to the midfield. She is a tricky dribbler and has the speed to outpace opponents while also linking up with teammates around the field. One of the younger members of the squad, Christy Ucheibe started in four matches at the Cup of Nations. The Benfica standout is a constant presence in the final third, either threading a perfect pass or placing a shot from the top of the box. With many of the regular call-ups out of the roster, Waldrum will likely turn to one of the U-20 players to complete the central triangle. Deborah Abiodun works hard in possession and attempts one-two/give-and-go opportunities, while Esther Onyenezide has drawn attention for her attacking prowess.
#NoTeLoPierdas— LigaBBVAFemenil (@LigaBBVAFemenil) August 16, 2022
El gol 2️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ del Apertura 2022, por Uchenna Kanu.#VamosPorEllas pic.twitter.com/xjBLH31E9A
On the right wing, Rasheedat Ajibade has the speed to stretch the opponent’s formation and tries to break out on the counter-attack. She also drops back to contribute on defense, constantly running up and down the field to provide complete coverage. On the left side of the formation, the clear choice is Uchenna Kanu of UANL. The 25-year-old can score in bunches but also looks to tiptoe along the end line and play the ball back across goal.
Born in California, Ifeoma Onumonu switched to Nigeria in 2021 and assumed a key role. The 28-year-old striker competes with NJ/NY Gotham FC but has struggled to score for the NWSL side this season. She balances a physical, back-to-the-goal style with runs behind the defense, using a delicate first touch to dart around the box. Five-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year Asisat Oshoala contributed 20 goals last season for Barcelona, but the electric attacker was forced out of the Cup of Nations with a ligament injury and is still recovering.
The USWNT should expect to comfortably coast to a victory in both matches. While the attack is still building chemistry, the young talent and established veterans have the firepower to overcome an opponent in search of answers, particularly one missing some of the best players. The match could provide an interesting perspective ahead of the World Cup, ideally exposing Vlatko Andonovski’s side to a more direct style of play.
The first match is scheduled for Saturday, September 3rd at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX and FUBO TV (free trial).
The second match is scheduled for Tuesday, September 6th at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 pm Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN2 and FUBO TV (free trial).