On a beautiful Wednesday night in Sandy, Utah, on Oct. 19, the childhood dreams of Abby Dahlkemper, Ashley Hatch, Casey Short, Andi Sullivan and Lynn Williams came true as they earned their first caps for the U.S. Women’s National Team. It was the most players to earn their first U.S. WNT caps in the same game in many years.
The quintet all played against Switzerland in front of a boisterous crowd of 14,336 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Short, who plays for the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, and Sullivan, who is a junior at Stanford University, both started the match with Short playing all 90 minutes and Sullivan giving a terrific performance in 74 minutes of action.
“I thought they were fantastic,” U.S. head coach Jill Ellis said of the USA’s debutants. “To come in and play your first game… as much as they were allowed to express themselves, they also fit within the system. I was very impressed.”
“It was amazing,” Short said of earning her first cap. “I was definitely having some nerves and it took me little bit to settle in, but with the players around me, the veterans, they comforted me and gave me direction. To put that jersey on… it just meant a lot.”
The 20-year-old Sullivan has played several positions in the midfield for her college and in the U.S. Youth National Team program, but on Wednesday she played as holding midfielder, a role once occupied by the spectacular Lauren Holiday, and played very well in 2016 by Allie Long, who got a run at center-back against the Swiss in Utah. Sullivan showed a calm presence and confidence beyond her years. She connected passes, won tackles and headers, held possession and allowed her teammates to move into productive spaces.
Andi Sullivan excelled in her first cap as a holding midfielder against Switzerland on Oct. 19.
Ellis had high praise for Sullivan following the big win, commenting that she looked like she had been with the National Team for a while.
“My motto for this camp was ‘take everything one minute at a time’ so it wasn’t until I was in the locker room that I thought, ‘oh my goodness, I’m about to get my first cap’”, Sullivan said. “It’s something I had been dreaming of for a long time. I just told myself to stay in the moment. I really enjoyed it and it was special.”
Dahlkemper, Hatch and Williams all came into the game as second half substitutes, playing 19, 16 and 45 minutes, respectively. As unnerving as a first cap can be, the fact that five players were in the same situation made the night even more fun for Dahlkemper, who along with Williams and Samantha Mewis helped the Western New York Flash to the 2016 NWSL title earlier this month.
“It felt unreal, but it was such an honor to represent the United States,” Dahlkemper said. “It’s definitely comforting to know there’s a few other people in the same shoes as me that got their first cap on the same night. It’s just really exciting.”
“When I knew I was going in, for me it was just about gathering all of my thoughts and trying to stay composed,” Hatch said. “Once I got in the game, I was ready and focused. It was a very special moment.”
Despite solid performances for every player on the field, it was of course Williams who stole the show. Just 49 seconds after the whistle began the second half, Williams took advantage of some poor passing by the Switzerland defense, ran onto the loose ball and roared into the penalty box before calmly drawing out the goalkeeper and slotting her shot into the lower left corner.
The goal was not only the first international score for Williams, but also the fastest goal in a debut in U.S. history. With the feat, she also became the 20th player in WNT history to score in her first cap.
Lynn Williams became the 20th player in WNT history to score in her first cap.
“When I found out that I was going to go in, I was nervous,” Williams said. “But Carli [Lloyd] came up to me and said ‘just connect your first pass and go from there,’ and then Sam [Mewis] told me ‘Lynn don’t be anything that you’re not. They brought you here for a reason. Be you.’ And that’s what I tried to do. I just made it fun. And then to score, it was just a dream. I have no more words for it.”
Following the game, Ellis complimented Williams on her goal and her work ethic to make an impact all over the field.
“Lynn obviously had a great finish,” Ellis said. “Her work rate, her pressure…she’s pretty multi-dimensional. She came in and made an impression.”
The USA’s 4-0 win against Switzerland was a game full of excitement, significance and a fantastic team performance from veterans and rookies alike. To have five first caps in one game lends an emotional factor to the match, but it’s also particularly important for a team trying to expand its player pool and build towards the next big world event – the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
“I think all of the players that came in tonight were deserving in the last couple of days of getting some playing time in this game,” Ellis said. “I’m exceptionally pleased that they all came in and looked like they belonged.”