Former Cardinal struggle in 2nd round of World Cup games

U.S. ties Netherlands, New Zealand and Ireland fall short

July 30, 2023, 12:54 p.m.

This article is part of a series on the 2023 World Cup. Read coverage of the opening games here.

The second round of World Cup games largely proved to be lackluster, if not disappointing, for the Cardinal.

When faced with adversity, the USWNT could not finish last Wednesday in Wellington. In the 9th minute of play, forward Sophia Smith slid a pass across the 18-yard box, finding midfielder Savannah DeMelo who sent the ball wide.

It was only the United States’ second shot of the match, but the play’s disjointedness proved to be representative of the first half as a whole.

The U.S. women were out of sync.

An early goal from the Netherlands only seemed to exacerbate the USWNT’s lack of cohesion. In the 17th minute, a missed tackle by Andi Sullivan ’18 helped set up a scoring opportunity down the field for the Dutch that would prove ultimately lethal. Despite the seven U.S. players in the box (including defender Naomi Girma ’22) separating Jill Roord from the goal, the midfielder still managed to find the back of the net on a decisive strike.

The goal put the United States in an unfamiliar position: playing from behind. It was the first time in 18 World Cup games that the USWNT has trailed — the last time was the 2011 quarterfinals versus Brazil. (To stress how long that streak has stood, Smith was not yet a middle school student when the U.S. fell behind Brazil.)

Seeking a tying goal U.S. Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski subbed in Rose Lavelle for DeMelo at halftime — a change many thought would happen in the starting line-up. He decided, however, not to make any other substitutions during the course of the entire second half, puzzling many commentators given the United States’ depth. 

“We were in a good rhythm,” Andonovski said postgame, justifying his decision. “We were dominating the game. We controlled the game.”

But for the first hour of the game, possession was lopsided in favor of the Netherlands and the USWNT did not look like its usually commanding selves — that is, until captain Lindsey Horan got mad. A much needed momentum shift came in the 59th minute when the midfielder was taken to the ground in a harsh tackle from the Netherlands’ Danielle van de Donk. A chippy argument between the club teammates ensued.

But Horan had the last word. Three minutes later, she scored in thrilling fashion, heading in a set piece to tie the score at 1-1.

The goal proved to be the U.S. team’s salvation.

Despite a second half heavily favoring the United States, the USWNT came up just short again and again and could not pull ahead.

In the 73rd minute Smith looked like she might have a chance to score but triple-teamed she sent the ball soaring over the goal before it plopped to the far post out of bounds. A good effort, but nowhere near enough.

The Portland Thorns’ forward looked like she’d play hero again in the 84th minute, shooting the ball from just inside the penalty area toward the upper corner of the goal, but it sailed high. Luck didn’t seem to be on the U.S.’ side.

By the time the final whistle blew, the score was still level at one. Yes, for most teams a tie game and a point in group play would be a win, but it’s a harsh wake up call for a team hoping to pull off a three-peat. 

The shaky game versus the Dutch also raises important questions about the United States’ personnel. The midfield’s performance has been unreliable in both games, and there’s a steep drop off at the position when Lavelle, capped at 45 minutes due to injury, is not in the game. Although Smith was dazzling in the opener, the Netherlands game showed she’s much more comfortable playing central striker, not out on the left. 

If the star-studded USWNT could not beat the 9th ranked team in the world, what happens when the U.S. goes up against Spain’s balanced offense or England’s ability to posses the ball (both undefeated teams)?

But this blip in the United States’ road is also representative of a larger trend at this year’s World Cup. When the tournament expanded from 24 teams to 32 in 2023, most analysts expected a group of debutantes, including the USWNT’s first opponent Vietnam, to be walked all over by women’s soccer powerhouses.

But that largely hasn’t happened.

Many games have been closer than expected, and nations with title-winning programs have shown chinks in their armor.

Despite a thrilling 6-0 opening win, Germany and its loaded roster fell to Colombia in a second-round shocker. France pulled off a gutsy win versus a skillful Brazilian side in the second round, but only after struggling to tie Jamaica in the Caribbean nation’s first ever appearance. In the context of this year’s tournament, the U.S.’ draw against a more than competent opponent is perhaps unsurprising.

The United States’ lack of total and overpower dominance this tournament just means the field as a whole is stronger. The rest of the world is catching up the USWNT, which is a global victory for women’s sport. The U.S. will get another chance to improve on Tuesday, Aug. 1 at midnight PT when it faces Portugal.

The United States has never been knocked out of a FIFA Women’s World Cup in the group stage, and odds are they’ll make it through to the next round despite the tie. It’s a long shot, but if Portugal can pull off an upset in the upcoming game and the Netherlands beats or ties Vietnam, the USWNT might be on a plane home.

The second round of group play also spelled trouble for the two non-U.S. Cardinal.

With back-to-back losses, Kyra Carusa ‘18 and Ireland were effectively eliminated from the tournament. Even if they defeat Nigeria on Monday, July 31 at 3:00 a.m. PT, they will not have enough points in the group to make up the difference.

In the second round, Ali Riley ’10 and New Zealand lost to the Philippines 1-0 (who scored its first ever World Cup goal). The Ferns’ loss marked just the third time in WWC history that a host nation has fallen in a group stage game, and the defeat put New Zealand in a precarious position heading into its third game.

On Sunday, July 30 the co-host faced Switzerland, and although Riley’s side forced a 0-0 draw in front of a home crowd in Dunedin, the effort proved fruitless. In the other simultaneous Group A game, Norway topped the Philippines in stunning fashion, outscoring the debutants 6-0. The excess of goals lengthened Norway’s lead in goal differential, pushing the Ferns into 3rd place in the group and thus out of the knockout round.

Cybele Zhang '22 J.D. '26 is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, she double majored in English Literature with Honors and German Studies and served as Sports Editor — Vol. 255, 257 and 258.

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