World Cup next up: Alana Cook propels USWNT to gritty win over Ireland

In the final international camp ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, Alana Cook’s long-range strike lifted the USWNT to a win.

It was not the most straightforward of matches. For a debutant in the World Cup this season, the Ireland National Team presented the USWNT with a lot more than they may have expected. Vlatko Andonovski’s side had to find a way to regroup following what was a devastating match that saw the country’s most in-form player Mallory Swanson get stretchered off the pitch just before the whistle sounded for halftime.

With Swanson and Rose Lavelle missing due to injuries, the United States coaching staff utilized this final international camp as a “test” to see what different kinds of combinations look like on the pitch. On her 26th birthday, Alana Cook netted her first international goal by chipping the Irish goalkeeper just before the conclusion of the first 45 minutes. In addition to her goal, Cook helped the USWNT to their sixth clean sheet in seven matches throughout 2023.

The defending World Cup champions made six changes from the match in Austin, Texas over the weekend, handing a starting opportunity to the 18-year-old Angel City FC attacker Alyssa Thompson. Breaking down a low block is going to be something the USWNT coaching staff has to figure out as the World Cup gets closer. Especially in the group stage of the competition, the USWNT has to carve out a solution to rip through a team that is more focused on preventing a goal than scoring it. Without Swanson constantly bailing the United States out, Andonovski is going to be tasked with coming up with other solutions in front of goal.

Vera Pauw’s side frustrated the No. 1 team in the world, allowing just two shots on net and one being from a mistake from the goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan that resulted in a goal. This puts an end to any sort of critics around the Irish national team in their first World Cup. Pauw’s group was able to battle with a team that has lost just one game on home soil in the previous 75 contests before this series. As the No. 22 team ranked in the world , the Republic of Ireland could make some noise when it comes time for the World Cup given the statement it just made.

Thompson was the most creative player on the pitch for the USWNT, but similar to her teammates, she was unable to create any clear-cut chances in front of the net. Her standout display, while she is extremely inexperienced showed the coaching staff that she could be the perfect player to feature in a rotation to help fill the void that losing Swanson presents.

Alyssa Thompson provided the USWNT with remarkable youthful energy

She plays far beyond her age. Playing at the senior level at the age of 18 takes a special talent, and Thompson is just that. Andonovski could have called in a more experienced player in the frontline like Margaret Purce , but the ceiling of Thompson was too much to turn down. She even could have been more selfish with the ball at her feet instead of attempting to set up her teammates for success. Her energy was contagious though, making the decisions for the final roster even more of a challenge.

Although Ireland does not jump off the page as a powerhouse side, the World Cup debutants demonstrated they belong at this level.

Other than the devastating loss of Swanson in the first half in Austin, this camp was filled with a lot of positives. Julie Ertz made her long-awaited return to the international stage, performing well in the midfield as Andonovski attempted to mix and match in the middle third of the pitch. On the offensive side of things, Trinity Rodman impressed once again on the wing, adding that sort of dynamism the U.S. is desperately going to need come July and August.

Defensively, the second 90 minutes against Ireland may have not tested them as much, but it opened the eyes to what this team needs to work on going forward. The countdown begins while the question marks remain. Cook’s long-distance conversion made all the difference on Tuesday evening, but when it is all said and done, this team must learn nothing is going to come easy, especially against tough sides like Ireland.

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