When the U.S. women’s national team takes the field at Rat Verlegh Stadium in Breda, the Netherlands Friday (12:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. local on ESPN2 & TUDN), the squad will have players at various stages of match fitness – physical and mental.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a lot to do with that.
The team hasn’t played in 261 days.
Several players have journeyed to England to raise their games while others haven’t had a competitive match since the NWSL Challenge Cup or Fall Series ended.
Regardless, it will be full speed ahead for the defending Women’s World Cup champions against the Dutch, the team they defeated in the 2019 final. Translated: the USWNT will try to win the game.
“We’re not going to balance that,” head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “The desire to win is always going to be there, I mean that’s just the way this team is. That’s the way these players are wired and that’s the way that this staff is wired. That’s how this environment functions.
“We’re going to do everything possible to win. That will be our mindset, but with that being said, we know that we’re playing top teams. We know that we’re playing an away game and we know that we’re nowhere close to our best ,nowhere close to the best in our physical preparation, from the tactical perspective, nowhere close to our best our physical preparation and not even technical and mental preparation.”
The last time the team played was a 3-1 win over Japan in the SheBelieves Cup March 11. It is the longest the team has gone without an international match since the program’s infancy in the early 1990s. The previous longest time without a game was a 398-day stretch that ended in July 1990 with a game against Norway which featured the first career goal from an 18-year-old Mia Hamm.
“We’ve been off so many months first game after a while,” Andonovski said. “Some players haven’t touched the ball for almost a year and some players haven’t touched the ball for six months. We only have a limited only few players that are 90 minutes ready. But we’re, we’re very well aware of it, and doing everything possible to get everyone up to speed. We knew coming into this camp that we’re going to have to take a step back before we take a step forward. … We had to take a couple of days to recover some of the things and repeat some of the things before we start adding the new layers.”
Not surprisingly, the players are savoring an opportunity to play again.
“It’s huge,” said goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who backstopped the team to the 2019 Women’s World Cup championship. “We haven’t had a ton of time with a new coaching staff after the World Cup and the mix of players, veteran players, younger players and just trying to learn each other and continue to evolve as a team. To be able to get together now going into 2021, the Olympics are going to come quickly. There’s not going to be a lot of opportunities to get together between now and July. So, we have to be able to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Added midfielder Kelley O’Hara: “You have the importance of we’re meeting for the first time, the team that we played in the World Cup final.”
The American enter the game with an 8-0-0 record in 2020 after having swept all five games at last January’s Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament and winning all three games at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. The USA will play nine games in 2020, its fewest in a year since 2009, when the team finished 7-0-1.