In a facelift, the US women’s national team ends a long season with its first appearance in Australia in 21 years. It has been one of the few distant friendships for the American team over the past 18 months.
Coach Wlatko Andonovsky said on Thursday that it is no coincidence that the Americans are playing Australia in two matches in the country that will co-host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, a tournament that the US has won four times.
The Americans still technically have to qualify for the 2023 event, but that’s a foregone conclusion that should be confirmed early next year.
“We wanted to test players against one of the best teams in the world,” Andonowski said during a conference call from the team’s training camp in Sydney. “But also test them for jet lag after adverse conditions, long journeys, long years. I think very early in the game we will find out who is cut out and who is not.
An American women’s football team last played in Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, winning the silver medal after losing 3–2 to Norway in the final.
The US plays Matilda on Saturday at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, where crowds of between 35,000 and 40,000 are expected, and next Tuesday in Newcastle, a city about a two-hour drive north of Sydney.
Andonowski will do so with a very different lineup compared to the lineup that beat Australia 4-3 in a bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics in August. The Americans have lost just two matches this year, but they were significant – 3-0 to Sweden in the round-robin portion of the Olympic tournament and 1-0 to eventual gold medalist Canada in the semi-finals.
For matches in Australia, the 22-player roster consists of only 10 players from the team that played at the Tokyo Games. There are 12 members with 10 or fewer international caps, including five uncapped players.
Midfielder Lindsay Horan, 27, has become one of the legends of the US team since 2013, playing in 106 matches and scoring 24 goals.
“I want to be a role model for them,” Horan said during the conference call. “It’s exciting to see new young players coming in and starting a new cycle, a new era.”
Matildas head coach Tony Gustavson, a former USWNT assistant coach, said the Americans will be the sixth top 10 team their number 11-ranked Aussies face in 2021.
“With each match, we as a team are getting better by a day, and at the same time providing invaluable experience to the young players,” he said when the matches were announced. “The U.S. women’s national team is a team with quality throughout the park and the game will be another great challenge for the group.”
Veteran striker Sam Kerr is expected to lead Australia in the matches. The 28-year-old Kerr has scored 49 goals in 102 appearances for Australia. She plays club football for Chelsea in England.
She has always been cited among the best players to fit into the women’s game.
“It is for other people to decide,” Kerr told the Australian Associated Press this week. “I do my best to engage in that conversation and be talked about by people and win many trophies in the years to come.”
Andonowski has no doubt that Kerr is involved in that conversation.
“He is one of the best strikers in the world,” Andonovsky said. “I wish we could say we stopped a player like Sam Kerr . . . but we want to play against the best, especially with a young team, so that we can get an idea of where we are.”
For those youngsters, US defender AB Dahlkemper was asked on Thursday if there has been any group bonding session for the freshmen. She gave a generally Australian-focused response.
“We’ve seen koalas, kangaroos and did a (Sydney) harbor cruise,” Dahlkemper said. “Experiencing the culture is important.”