The Americans won their fourth straight SheBelieves Cup and gained valuable experience heading into the summer tournament.
FRISCO, Texas – The United States women’s national team won its fourth consecutive SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday, which was completely beside the point.
“I don’t think we’re going to talk a lot about the title,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said after a 2-1 win over Brazil sealed the United States’ three-game sweep. “During the tournament, when we’re in camp, we’re talking about (how) it’s not just about this tournament, it’s about preparing for the World Cup.”
That goal is especially important for an unusually young USA squad. Many years into the dynasty, the Americans are experiencing some turnover – and see the results, as they lost three straight games this winter for the first time since 1993. Julie Foudy called this period “rebuilding.”
Carli Lloyd and Ashlyn Harris retired after the 2019 World Cup. Abby Dahlkemper (back), Tierna Davidson (torn ACL), Julie Ertz (parental leave), Casey Krueger (parental leave), Catarina Macario (torn ACL), Sam Mewis (two knee surgeries), Kelley O’Hara (hip injury), Tobin Heath (knee surgery) and Christen Press (ACL tear) are running out of time to return before the World Cup.
That leaves the kids: This week, the USA rostered 13 players with no World Cup experience and four with fewer than 20 total caps.
So the team went into the competition hoping to microwave them a bit. While Brazil, Canada and Japan flew commercial this week, USA made charter flights from Orlando to Nashville to Frisco, as it will fly in Australia and New Zealand. (The Americans also took the opportunity to work out a refueling schedule.) The US players stayed in similar accommodations to the ones they will live in this summer. Their meetings were held around the times they will be held this summer. They played teams with different styles, as they will this summer. And above all, they endured a terrible schedule of games and travel, as they will do this summer.
The most important lesson the young players learned was what to do off the field, said forward Alex Morgan, 33, who played his 204th international game on Wednesday. “You need to get back to the hotel and start that recovery right away,” she said.
Andonovski blocked the mood in meetings. “Even those days where you feel like you don’t want to practice that day, or that you want to, I am tired, to be able to push through the illness – I think it’s a mental thing, to stay locked in all the time,” said forward Trinity Rodman, who picked up her 15th cap on Wednesday at the age of 20. She said, “I think you’re always locked in, especially during the game, because I think sometimes the youth will show, you might go away during the game when you should have recovered or you should do that run. Being reactive in their habits rather than reacting on the spot.”
Those skills take time to learn. Tournament MVP and breakout star of this stretch, forward Mallory Swanson, 24, remembers how big she felt when she was on the stretch in 2016. What did she have to learn? “Everything,” she said, laughing. “I think games bring experience and experience brings comfort.”
She certainly looks comfortable these days: her 63rd-minute goal, which gave the USA a 2-0 lead, was her fourth in the tournament, seventh in 2023 and eighth in last six games. She is now the leading scorer in SheBelieves Cup history, with eight goals, and is so automatic that 37-year-old Megan Rapinoe, looking back from the net, started celebrating early.
Swanson threw her hands in the air, hugged her closest teammates and then ran down the field to wrap herself in Rapinoe’s arms. Rapinoe was teasing Swanson about her goal of celebration—not enough celebration, she said, so Swanson made sure to find her.
That was an improvement, Rapinoe said afterward. But she still needs more, especially from her less experienced colleagues. (As a veteran, Morgan, who scored on a curling attempt to end the first half, is planning hers ahead of time, so they meet Rapinoe’s standards.)
“It’s an area that we really need to focus on,” Rapinoe said emphatically. “I think it’s something you have to be serious about going into the World Cup.” The dangers of a young team.