Originally found on Fox Sports:
Oct. 27, 2023 1:50 a.m. ET
SANDY, Utah — The return of veterans Sophia Smith and Becky Sauerbrunn to the United States women’s national team was spoiled by a stout Colombian side on a chilly Thursday night at America First Field as both teams played to a scoreless draw amid several missed chances in the final third.
Despite insisting all week that they wanted to get their swagger back and make a case to be the top team in the world once again, the uneven performance from the Americans in the wake of a disappointing Women’s World Cup will instead likely draw more questions than answers as they navigate their second international break with an interim coaching staff following the departure of Vlatko Andonovski in August.
“I think the first thing is to acknowledge just what a good job Colombia did — they’re a good team,” interim head coach Twila Kilgore said. “We’re not satisfied with the 0-0 draw, we want to create more chances to score, we want to finish those chances.
“We need to score more.”
The lack of goals and near freezing temperatures were somewhat balanced out by the reappearance of one longtime captain in Sauerbrunn and a host of other notable names for the U.S. on the pitch.
“It’s been a pretty tough year missing out on the World Cup and I didn’t really know if I was ever going to see minutes with this team again. So, to be able to go out there and to get 45 minutes made me really happy,” said Sauerbrunn, who came on at halftime and won several key challenges in helping push the ball forward. “It’s unfortunate that we’d also didn’t get the win. I think that would have been really great.”
Sauerbrunn’s Portland Thorns teammate, Smith, also made her way into the match as she continued her recovery from a knee injury by entering in the 75th minute.
“It felt good just to get minutes and get that confidence back,” remarked Smith, who is navigating a minutes’ restriction with the national team and didn’t see many attacking opportunities to showcase her trademark quickness. “I think we need to do a better job of keeping the ball and playing a cleaner game, finishing the chances that we get, but also creating more chances I think we can build off that and ultimately just play better.”
As much as there was interest in some of the familiar names finding playing time in the first of two matches during this window, there was also a notable debutant in the form of Texas native Jaedyn Shaw. The 19-year-old replaced Lynn Williams in the 87th minute and almost immediately found Casey Krueger for shot outside the box in one of the highlights for the USWNT in the latter stages.
“It was an absolute honor to be on the field and have my name called,” a beaming Shaw said afterward. “I’m trying to take in this one obviously, being my first cap. So yeah, just excited to go back to San Diego in front of my home fans.”
Here are a few additional takeaways from Thursday’s match:
Play of the Game
With just 12 shots between the two sides, and only four on goal combined, there was little flow in the attack for either side and even fewer clear chances to break the deadlock. The closest chance to finding the back of the name came in the 42nd minute as Las Cafeteras defender Daniela Árias pulled down Trinity Rodman in the box after a corner kick and was awarded a penalty. Though Alex Morgan calmly stepped up to the spot, she blasted the chance straight onto the right post before skying the deflection.
Morgan’s missed penalty aside, there was a noticeable difference in the pace for the USWNT after halftime following the insertion of Sauerbrunn onto the pitch combined with a handful of attacking subs over the final minutes. Though the movement forward and higher line didn’t result in any goals, the effort was key to an improved attack that could be something to build upon moving forward.
Back at the stadium where she received her first cap back in 2010, it would have been fitting had Morgan slotted one home to end a goalless drought for the national team that now dates back to a February 11th winner against Brazil in the SheBelieves Cup. The run, which now stretches across 10 appearances for her country, includes a pair of missed penalties and continued questions about the veteran striker’s role ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris and the upcoming CONCACAF W Gold Cup in February.
“I trust Alex Morgan to take penalties,” a firm Kilgore responded. “I trust quite a few of our players in these moments and when they’re called upon, they will do their best. And sometimes they make them and sometimes they miss them.”
“We still have full confidence in Alex,” added Smith. “We just knew that, regardless of the penalty or not, we had to create more chances and put more chances away.”
What’s next for the USWNT
Both the USWNT and Colombia head to San Diego for the second leg of this friendly double-header on Sunday afternoon at Snapdragon Stadium. With a number of players still involved with their club teams in the NWSL playoffs that resume next week, it’s possible the match could feature a heavier rotation to spell the likes of Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Alana Cook. The warmer conditions over the weekend also offer the opportunity for 18-year-old midfielder Olivia Moultrie to follow in the footsteps of Shaw and earn her first cap with the senior national team.
The match could double as an interesting sendoff of sorts for Kilgore as well with U.S. Soccer increasingly expected to have a new permanent manager installed in the coming weeks. The team is slated to play China in a pair of friendlies in early December, leaving Sunday’s rematch in Southern California as potentially the last Kilgore will be in charge of the team sheet for.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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