WNT's Magnificent March

During a 12-day span from March 2-13, the U.S. Women’s National Team programs played 17 international matches across five age levels – three playing against older competition -- and did not lose a game. This is how it broke down.

We have not consulted the definitely-smarter-than-us, advanced-degree-laden folks at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, but we’re thinking the odds of the U.S. Women’s National Team programs playing 17 international matches over 12 days and going undefeated are pretty long.

Still, the standards are high for any player that pulls on the U.S. Soccer crest and five teams certainly lived up to those expectations in March, going 14-0-3.

“I’m thrilled with the success of all our teams over the last year and most recently this month,” said U.S. Soccer Women’s Technical Director April Heinrichs. “The core of our success depends on players improving throughout their journey in our program. The beautiful thing about our program is the training mentality, willingness to improve and relentless pursuit of excellence by all our coaches and players on a daily basis. It’s quite frankly one of, if not, the most competitive training environment in the world.”

While U.S. Soccer’s focus for its youth teams remain firmly on development, part of that growth of players comes from playing against the best, thus the push to schedule more international matches. While early March is always a busy time for the U.S. Women’s National Teams, with the senior side usually heading to the Algarve Cup in Portugal and the younger teams cutting their competitive teeth against top sides from Europe in La Manga, Spain, 2016 saw the most international matches ever in this short time period.

This year, the U.S. Women were absent from the Algarve Cup for the first time in 19 years, instead hosting the SheBelieves Cup, a tournament that featured four of the top teams in the world. Four of the USA’s youth national teams were also in action, with three playing against older competition. The U.S. Under-23 WNT traveled to Croatia to take on two women’s national teams. The U.S. U-20 WNT squared off against U-23 teams in La Manga, Spain and the U.S. U-18 WNT faced U-19 teams, also in La Manga.

The U.S. U-17 WNT played against its own age group, albeit with the highest stakes, winning the 2016 CONCACAF U-17 Women’s Championship in Grenada while earning a berth to the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

The 17-game run got started with a bang on March 2 as the U-23 WNT defeated the Slovenia WNT on goals from Shea Groom, Taylor Smith and Andi Sullivan while the U-20 WNT drew with the Sweden U-23s, 1-1.

On March 3, the senior side kicked off the SheBelives Cup with a rousing win against England on a brilliant strike from Crystal Dunn, and the U.S. U-18 WNT drew with the Denmark U-19s, 0-0. The U.S. teams would fail to win just once more, that coming in the strangest result of the month, a 0-0 draw on March 4 by the U.S. U-23s against the Poland U-19s in a match that saw the USA out-shoot Poland 25-0 without scoring. But hey, that’s soccer.

A busy March 4 also saw a 1-0 win for the U.S. U-20 WNT against the England U-23s on a late goal from Ally Watt and the U.S. U-17s open their World Cup qualifying campaign by dominating Jamaica as Frankie Tagliaferri came off the bench to score four consecutive goals.

March 5 had just one game as the U.S. U-18s downed the England U-19s, 1-0, as Abby Kim scored the game-winner, giving the USA three 1-0 wins over England at three different age levels in a span of three days, all on late goals.

March 6 saw the U-23s rebound from the draw with Poland to defeat the France National “B” Team 2-0 on goals from Groom and Christina Gibbons (France’s full team was competing in the SheBelieves Cup), the U-20 WNT defeat Norway U-23s 2-1 as Watt once again scored the game-winner, and the U-17s pick up a huge group win over Mexico as Ashley Sanchez scored the lone goal.

On March 7, the USA defeated France 1-0 in the SheBelieves Cup on Alex Morgan’s goal, and the U-18 WNT downed the Norway U-19s as Kim scored her second game-winner in as many matches.

After that, it was up to the full WNT and the U-17s to finish off the almost perfect month with some of the most difficult games of the stretch.

The USA came from behind to defeat the world’s second-ranked team, Germany, 2-1, on goals from Morgan and Samantha Mewis to win the SheBelieves Cup while the U-17s demolished Canada, 5-0, in the semifinal to earn their berth to Jordan before playing a highly entertaining match against Mexico in the championship. Ashley Sanchez staked the USA to a first half lead, but Mexico equalized late in the game, setting the stage for some heroics from Civana Kuhlmann, who volleyed home off a cross from Sophia Smith with four minutes left in regulation to cap a March to remember.

All in all, the five U.S. teams scored 33 goals, allowed just five (never more than one per game) and won six games 1-0 and three more 2-1.

While player development is still and always will be the priority, the recent run of game success is a sign that the system is working, which can only bode well for the future, even as the landscape of the women’s international game continues to change and become even more competitive.

“The number one priority for all of our coaches is to develop players for the next level that feed up to the Women’s National Team,” added Heinrichs. “If we do it well, players arrive at the higher level more sophisticated and ready to contribute to our quest for another World Cup championship.”

March 2016 Results -- U.S. Women’s National Teams

Date                Match-Up                                                Venue                                         Result
March 2           U-23 WNT vs Slovenia                       Umag, Croatia                         3-0 W
March 2           U-20 WNT vs Sweden U-23            La Manga, Spain                     1-1 T
March 3           U-18 WNT vs Denmark U-19           La Manga, Spain                     0-0 T   
March 3          WNT vs England                                Tampa Bay, Fla.                    1-0 W
March 4           U-23 WNT vs Poland U-19                Umag, Croatia                         0-0 T
March 4           U-20 WNT vs England U-23             La Manga, Spain                    1-0 W
March 4           U-17 WNT vs Jamaica U-17              St. George’s, Grenada        8-1 W
March 5           U-18 WNT vs England U-19               La Manga, Spain                    1-0 W
March 6           U-23 WNT vs France “B”                   Umag, Croatia                          2-0 W
March 6           U-20 WNT vs Norway U-23              La Manga, Spain                     2-1 W
March 6           U-17 WNT vs Mexico U-17                 St. George’s, Grenada         1-0 W
March 7          WNT vs France                                    Nashville, Tenn.                     1-0 W
March 7           U-18 WNT vs Norway U-19                La Manga, Spain                      1-0 W
March 8           U-17 WNT vs Costa Rica U-17         St. George’s, Grenada          2-0 W
March 9          WNT vs Germany                               Boca Raton, Fla.                    2-1 W
March 11         U-17 WNT vs Canada U-17                  St. George’s, Grenada          5-0 W
March 13         U-17 WNT vs Mexico U-17                  St. George’s, Grenada          2-1 W