USWNT vs. Nigeria Second Game Preview: 5 Things To Watch
The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) face Nigeria once more for the second round of their two-set matches. The friendly will be played on Tuesday, September 6th at Audi Field in Washington D.C. at 6pm ET.
On Saturday, the U.S. beat the Super Falcons 4-0 in Kansas City, with goals from Alex Morgan, Lindsey Horan, and a brace for Sophia Smith. At just 22 years of age, Smith has recorded 9 goals in 22 caps, an especially strong start for her young career with the national team.
Both Morgan and Smith are among the top three goalscorers in the NWSL, with Morgan leading the way with 13 goals and Smith currently tied with Diana Rosario Ordóñez at 11 apiece. The incredible scoring form the two are in has carried over onto the international stage, with Smith scoring the most goals for the USWNT this year (9) and Morgan following closely behind with 4.
After Saturday’s game, USWNT Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski talked about Smith’s strong performance, and the connection between her and Morgan. “[Sophia Smith] played incredible. It’s not just the goals she scored but also her movements…her movements off of Alex [Morgan] were very precise.”
USWNT Preparing for World Cup
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s game, Andonovski emphasized the importance of each of their games. “It’s all about preparation for the World Cup,” Andonovski explained on Monday to the press, “We use this as an opportunity to grow; as an opportunity to get better; an opportunity to fix the things we need to fix for the games that will follow 11 months from now.”
With less than 365 days until the World Cup, and an exciting game set to be played in Wembley Stadium versus recently crowned European Champions England in October, the U.S. has high expectations. With questions over the team’s roster and frustrations over inconsistent lineups, fans and analysts alike have been wondering what the reigning champions can do a year from now.
Having beat Nigeria already on Saturday, here are 5 things you can expect to see from the match on Tuesday!
1- Continued Attacking Prowess in 4-3-3
Despite never fully knowing who will earn a start in these friendlies, one thing that will not change is the team’s formation. Since bowing out early in the 2016 Summer Olympics, the U.S. (under then head coach Jill Ellis) began to focus solely on the 4-3-3 format.
An aggressive formation aimed to create space on the flanks to attack, the 4-3-3 has allowed the U.S. to both bring numbers up and retain possession, as the format naturally lends itself to creating various triangle options on the field. Since Andonovski took over at the end of 2019, the team has continued to employ this format.
With the injury of Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett, and the recent return of Crystal Dunn, the U.S. continues to have questions about who will fill the pivotal fullback position. As of late, Sofia Huerta and Emily Fox have been given the nod, playing in the final of the CONCACAF tournament in July and in the last game versus Nigeria.
Both Huerta and Fox have done well so far in shutting down opponents’ offense, while also providing great service on the attack. Fox even registered her first assist with the team on Saturday, delivering a perfect cross for Smith to knock in for the team’s 3-0 scoreline at half.
2- Younger Players Earning Caps: Potential Firsts for Coffey, DeMelo
Andonovski is no stranger to switching up lineups. He has provided numerous players with their first caps during his time with the USWNT – 15 to be exact.
Sam Coffey and Savannah DeMelo have yet to make their USWNT debuts. DeMelo was one of the team’s most recent call-ins after Trinity Rodman withdrew due to a family commitment.
Coffey, who made the roster for the CONCACAF tournament this past summer but did not see action, has been taking the opportunities to grow and develop as a player. “I am learning so much, and I am really just trying to be patient with myself,” Coffey explained in the first press conference last Friday.
“There is so much information, there is so much to this system that the USWNT plays in…I just want to stay confident in [her skillset and ability] and not shrink back or shy away from doing that every day despite it being a really exciting challenge.”
3- Nigeria Will, and Should, Continue to Attack: Alozie, Ajibade, Onumonu Leading the Way
Despite the scoreline, Nigeria did have its own chances to produce goals in the first game on Saturday. Registering eight shots, with four on target, Nigeria took advantage of the U.S.’s various substitutions in the second half and began to exploit spaces on the flanks.
Michelle Alozie, the Houston Dash forward, played as a right fullback in the first match-up, and had a few opportunities on goal that tested U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Conversely, Gotham FC’s Ifeoma Onumonu had a quieter match on Saturday playing in the 9 position. Chances to dribble forward and find teammates were quickly shut down by the U.S. ‘s compact defense, but Onumonu will surely look to make a bigger imprint on Tuesday’s game by connecting more with wings Uchenna Kanu and Gift Monday.
Though teams in the past have employed a low block when playing against the U.S., it has done little to truly prevent the Americans from scoring. Nigeria did not play in this form on Saturday, and they hopefully will not tonight. With plenty of talented players in the forward and midfield lines like Kanu, Rasheedat Ajibade (tied as leading goal-scorer in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations), and Christy Ucheibe, Nigeria should continue to press forward and take their chances as long as their defense remains compact on U.S. counterattacks.
4- Nigeria Head Coach, Randy Waldrum, Needs to Produce Confidence
There have been lots of critiques regarding Nigerian Head Coach Randy Waldrum’s performance during his time with the team. Taking over in 2020, Waldrum has been criticized for Nigeria’s underwhelming performance in the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations competition. Despite qualifying for its ninth consecutive World Cup, Nigeria lost to Zambia in the third-place game and did not earn a medal for the first time since 2008, the only two times the team has failed to produce at least a third-place performance.
Still, the Texas native continues to have support from the Nigeria Football Federation. The president of the federation, Amaju Pinnick, told ESPN that Waldrum “will” take the team to the World Cup. “He has a contract,” Pinnick said, “and we have to respect it.”
Though the team struggled on Saturday, Waldrum told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s re-match that he knows his side can do better. “Anytime you play the best in the world, you know there will be challenges,” Waldrum expressed. “But we are hopeful, we can improve on the performance on Tuesday.”
Calling for equal pay among the Men’s and Women’s teams, the USWNT successfully worked with the U.S. Soccer Federation and USMNT to earn (among other aspects of the agreement) equalized World Cup prize money and identical camp, match appearance and performance fees for both official games and friendlies.