For nearly two years the U.S. women’s national team won every time it stepped on the field on American soil. That streak of 22 straight home victories came to an end Thursday with a 0-0 draw against a spirited South Korea side, ranked No. 18 in the world, that ran step for step with the No. 1-ranked U.S. women and did enough to keep them at bay.
The shutout wasn’t for a lack of trying: The Americans took 18 shots. But stellar goalkeeping by South Korea’s Yoon Young-Geul (eight saves), compact defending by her teammates in front of her and erratic execution in the final third meant the U.S women were held goalless at home for the first time in 60 matches, since a 1-0 loss to Australia on July 27, 2017, in Seattle.
The scoring trouble comes with just one match remaining in the U.S. women’s national team career of legend Carli Lloyd, who will play her 316th and final match for the team Tuesday in Minnesota. The 39-year-old Lloyd is the team leader in both goals (11) and assists (six) this year.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski wasn’t worried about the result.
“I actually thought we did a very good job in adapting to everything that thrown at us in this game,” he said. “Obviously, we colud’ve done things a little bit better in the final third, created few good opportunities and just hope we score on some of those. . . .
“The teams that we face are going to be organized, defend and bring numbers in front of their box. It’s going to take the best out of us in order to break them down. So, overall, very happy with the performance and very happy with the game as a whole. I feel like this is something we needed.”
Carli Lloyd’s penultimate appearance
The match seemed poised for Lloyd heroics when she entered the match for starting center forward Alex Morgan in the 63rd minute. She came closest to scoring when she created her own shot in the 76th minute, ripping a diagonal that seemed destined for the far inside post. But Yoon made her most spectacular stop of the night with an acrobatic kick save in mid-air.
Lloyd ran onto some other hopeful balls floated into the box, but the service just was not precise enough during the night and the Korean defending never let up.
The Kansas City crowd went home disappointed that it didn’t see a Lloyd goal. The pressure will now be on the team to help her deliver one last goal in her career finale against this same South Korean team. The expectation is that Lloyd will be starting and wearing the captain’s armband for that match.
Mantle passed to Lindsey Horan
Horan was given the captain’s armband for this game as she celebrated reaching 100 caps with the USA (the match was her 105th, but No. 100 came during the Olympics). The 27-year-old midfielder said that the last time she remembers being captain of any team was her youth soccer days with Colorado Rush.
Horan might need to start getting used to it. With Lloyd’s retirement and other veterans potentially stepping aside, she’ll be expected to assume an even greater leadership role. In a symbol of the passing of the torch, earlier in the day Lloyd handed her No. 10 jersey to Horan, who was still emotional about it hours later.
“I’ve cried about seven times today,” Horan told the media. “The meeting we had before the game, Carli presented the jersey to me with my name and the No. 10 on it. And I think it was probably one of the most special moments of my career.
“Carli doing that for me and giving me the opportunity to wear her jersey, I’m so honored. And I’m going to try to represent it in the best way I possibly can and think of her every time I put it on.”
Horan rose to the occasion against South Korea, claiming woman of the match honors. She was all over the field, winning back balls, launching attacks and even getting into the box. She struck the post in the first half with a curling shot and got a header on target shortly after.
“Almost two years in this job, I can’t remember Lindsey having a bad game,” Andonovski said. “Tonight she controlled the tempo of the team and the game, and just had a great mindset and made unbelievable decisions as for when the time to go and when the time to slow down a bit. I’m happy for her to have a performance like that in a milestone game.”
Younger players change the game
At halftime, Andonovski introduced two of the younger players who will likely take on a more prominent role in the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup: wingers Sophia Smith (right wing) and Mallory Pugh (left wing). At 21 and 23, respectively, they injected energy and unpredictability to the U.S. attack with their speed, dribbling, crosses and aggressive attacking runs.
“She can be truly, truly so special,” Horan said of her Portland Thorns teammate Smith (both shown in the photo above). “I think she’s going to be such a bright light on this team and has so many years to prove that and the potential in her is amazing.”
“She’s a lot more offensive-minded and more direct and specific with her runs,” Andonovski said of Smith. “Unfortunately for her, [tonight] she was either a step short or she took a little bit too long of a touch. When all of that gets corrected, and with more minutes and more games, she’s going to take care of it, and I think she’s going to be unstoppable.”
In addition to Smith and Pugh, 23-year-old Emily Fox made her sixth appearance with 20 minutes to go, taking over at left back for Casey Krueger. Fox’s passing was off, but she played with confidence, often pushing into midfield.
Fellow defender Tierna Davidson is also 23, and she is already a fixture on the USWNT roster. She played a strong game at left center back, as did central midfielder Catarina Macario, 22, who started the match and is arguably the most in-form U.S. player at the moment with her recent performances for Olympique Lyon in France. More young players are expected to join the ranks in upcoming camps.