SAN DIEGO — The United States women’s national soccer team was experiencing a period of consistency to a fault entering Sunday. In the first of two friendlies against Colombia on Oct. 26, the USWNT’s play looked similar to how it did in the 2023 World Cup, where they lost in the Round of 16. Their defense was outstanding, preventing Colombia from scoring. But only a few chances looked dangerous, and their lineup closely reflected the ones that led them short of their goal in Australia and New Zealand.
On Sunday, the USWNT kept the trend going in their starting lineup, with arguably the most significant change being Casey Murphy starting in goal over Alyssa Naeher. But they looked more dangerous in the attack, scoring three goals; they also drew 27 fouls. However, much of such efforts that led to their 3-0 victory came from a flurry of second-half personnel changes; interim head coach Twila Kilgore brought on 22 and 18-year-old forwards, Mia Fishel and Jaedyn Shaw, and the game shifted.
In the first half, the USWNT’s set pieces came in solid positions and had other moments leading to chances, but they often lacked a final pass or finish to score. Shaw and Fishel helped them increase the pace of play, creating more chances and finishing.
The two started with a dangerous chance when Shaw found Fishel in the center of the box in their first-minute playing, but Fishel had the ball taken from her as she tried to navigate a crowd of defenders. Then, 47 minutes into the match, Shaw’s deflected pass ended up in a corner kick. The corner kick was taken short to midfielder Emily Sonnett, who crossed it to Fishel, and Fishel scored; the goal opened the game’s scoring, energizing the USWNT.
“It’s amazing. It’s a dream. It’s everything that I wished for and expected,” said Fishel about scoring in her hometown of San Diego.
The USWNT carried momentum after the goal, with Lindsey Horan scoring a volley 62 minutes into the game after Emly Fox located her with a cross.
Then, 18-year-old forward Alyssa Thompson entered 72 minutes into the game, replacing forward Trinity Rodman. And 84 minutes into the game, she navigated a few Colombian defenders, finding Shaw in the center of the box, and Shaw scored.
“It was unbelievable. I was like, ‘no way that actually went into the goal,” Shaw said. “Something that I’ve dreamed about for a long time, and just so happy that it can be here today in San Diego.”
“We won it back, and then I know Lindsey [Horan] had it and to give it back to me, and she’s just like, go go,” Thompson said. “So, I saw that Jaedyn was making the run-through, and I just flipped it in, and she scored.”
The crowd at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego burst into “Jaedyn Shaw” chants after she scored. Shaw is a member of the San Diego Wave, so many of her club’s fans came to support her (and others) as they watched the USWNT.
“It was crazy. I’m not used to that, obviously. So hearing it, I was just like, this is crazy. I almost wanted to go into my shell. Like, guys, stop.”
The USWNT’s young substitutes increased the game’s speed against a Colombia team that prefers to slow the game down via their adrenaline and fresh legs. They provided a spark to the team, which Kilgore wanted from her team ahead of the match.
“I’m really pleased that we just continued to try and push the tempo when they seemed to slow down quite a bit,” Kilgore said. “A lot of fouls. And I’m really proud of the response and just put the ball back in play when we could.”
“A lot of that [increasing the speed of the game] was just part of the coaches and just saying like, ‘hey, let’s keep the tempo like they are trying to slow it down,’” Shaw said. “They’re going down for a long time. So let’s just like keep it going. And I think that along with being fresh, there was also a lot of adrenaline for us. So I think that helped kickstart our–.”
Next, the USWNT will play China twice. They are still searching for their successor to head coach Vlatko Andonovski. However, U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker said in Sept. the USWNT could have its new coach in Dec. If so, the USWNT will have the chance to begin a new stage with changes to their starting personnel and play. With young players like Shaw, Thompson, and Fishel making their cases for increased playing time, the next coach will have many talented young options to manage while building toward the 2024 Summer Olympics.
“It happens with a strategy, and there’s a reason behind it,” Kilgore said. “And now this team is in a good place to move forward with lots of different types of selections that could take place for the next head coach and enough opportunity to evaluate different types of players while growing the players towards the direction that they need to go to be prepared for the Olympics and enjoying playing.”
Many of the young players know their role is not guaranteed on the team, though, and are looking to take advantage of every opportunity they receive. With increased minutes on Sunday, they performed outstandingly but will continue to push for playing time with solid play at the club level and for the USWNT. Whether the next coach