Since September 2016, the U.S. Women’s National Team has played 10 different opponents -- nine teams from Europe plus Thailand.
The USA’s list of European opponents since last fall includes the Netherlands, two sets of matches each against Switzerland and Romania, tough tests against England, France and Germany at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup and another double-dip against Russia in April. Most recently of course, there were the two big wins against Sweden in Gothenburg on June 8, and against Norway in Sandefjord on June 11.
So, besides belonging to the same Confederation, what do eight of these nine European countries have in common? They make up half of the field for the 2017 UEFA Women’s EURO tournament taking place this July in the Netherlands. Romania nearly made it into the last 16 as well but fell to Portugal in the playoff for the final spot.
WNT vs. Netherlands, this year's EURO hosts.
The UEFA Women’s EURO is the most prestigious competition for women’s international soccer in Europe and, after the Women’s World Cup and the Olympic Games, the biggest and most competitive women’s international tournament in the world.
And facing the best is precisely what U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis committed to do coming out of the recent Olympic cycle.
“I said it last year, we want our schedule to be aggressive,” Ellis told ussoccer.com. “We’re always trying to play top-10 teams and elite teams. It’s a priority and our Federation knows it’s a priority for our team because it’s in those games where we will see growth. The games against European teams are critical.”
With the next Women’s World Cup in France, surely the European nations – especially France and Germany – will be favorites to lift the trophy in Lyon. By then, the USA clearly will have cut its teeth on European competition.
Including the games against Sweden and Norway, the U.S. has now played exactly half of the EURO field in less than a year, a rarity for most countries both in terms of the high level of opposition and the short amount of time in which the games have taken place.Read more
On June 11 in Sandefjord, Norway, U.S. WNT forward Christen Press scored the game-winning goal in the 60th minute, but it was her overall performance that earned praise from U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis.
“Her finish [on that goal] was fantastic, but really, in her whole 90-minutes she was involved, she was active and she was energized on both sides of the ball,” Ellis said. “It was one of her best performances I’ve seen.”
Press is known for her ability to hover on the defensive line with well-timed runs and her burst of speed, once the ball is served, can often catch defenders on their heels. Against Norway, defender Becky Sauerbrunn sent a driven diagonal ball from a few steps inside her own half over the defense and to Press, who was running hard into the left side of the penalty area. Press caught up to the ball in the middle of the box and sent a hard, first-time left-footed shot past the left foot of the onrushing goalkeeper.Read more
The past week in Scandinavia was a challenging one for the U.S. Women’s National Team, as the players traveled across the world after NWSL games on the weekend, had two trainings, and then played two games in four days against top teams that were also historic rivals.
The USA met all those challenges and earned wins in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Sandefjord, Norway, – both by shutout – against extremely physical opponents in sixth-ranked Sweden and the 11th-ranked Norway.
“To come here still missing players due to injuries, and to grind out two wins, that’s big time,” midfielder Allie Long said. “That kind of experience, to be forced to find ways to get results, is exactly what we came for.”
The USA and Norway faced each other for the 50th time in the teams' history on June 11.
With the NWSL season in full swing, the U.S. players had not been together since April 9 while both Sweden and Norway are putting the final touches on preparations to kick off the 2017 UEFA Women’s EURO in the Netherlands on July 16.
“Overall, this trip has been different for us,” U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis said. “We came right away and hit the ground running, but I think the players responded extremely well and with great professionalism. This kind of environment and competition is instrumental and a great lesson because down the line you have to go overseas to win a World Cup and these types of experiences will pay us back.”
Both matches played out in a similar fashion. The homes side came out on the attack and the WNT struggled to find its footing early on. In each of the matches, the response and adjustments in the second half were enough to produce a game-winning goal.
“We may not have played the way we wanted to or the way we expect to,” defender Kelley O’Hara said. “But at the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do; find a way to get a 1-0 win, keep a clean sheet, and get the job done.”
Alyssa Naeher makes a crucial save to lock in the clean sheet and 1-0 win against Sweden
The U.S. defense, led by co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, stood firm against some talented attacking players and made big plays when the USA needed them.
“We knew that physically this trip was going to be a challenge with travel and coming off the NWSL,” Sauerbrunn said. “We needed to go in having a good attitude and mentality. I think we did that in both games. It was a gut check this team needed. Moving forward and playing in big tournaments, it’s going to be like this every game.”
Photos of the U.S. Women’s National Team's second consecutive 1-0 shutout win in Europe, this time against historic rival Norway, in front of 3,866 fans at Komplett Arena. Christen Press scored the lone goal in the 60th minute of the 50th match between the countries.Read more