Katharina Makario, Mallory Pugh seize their chance as USWNT lift the SheBelieves Cup

The United States women’s soccer team won the 2022 SheBelieves Cup after defeating Iceland 5-0 in a must-win match on Wednesday, top scorer. Catarina Macario And the Mallory Bog They were among the players successfully tested for a chance to lead the USWNT in the future.

While the team’s fifth SheBelieves Cup marks a solid end after a rough start last week, the real purpose of this tournament for coach Vlatko Andonovski was not to win equipment but to find uncut gems – tough players who can carry them into the future as the team rejuvenates. Macario and Pugh top the list of players who forced Andonovski to give them more looks.

“We are leaving this tournament feeling like we’re heading in the right direction,” Andonovsky told ESPN when asked if any players had improved their standing in the team. “They have proven that they can win matches.”

Macario’s outstanding performance in the SheBelieves Cup accelerated in the 37th minute. I chased a ball down the left flank, cut and then fired from the corner of the penalty area, firing a missile at the far post that slid out of the inner frame and into it. The situation was perfect: only an inch or so right and the ball would have sat off the post and made it to safety; A little closer to the left and goalkeeper Sandra Sigurdardottir They could have had the opportunity to banish him.

Report: The United States wins the Shepelevs Cup by defeating Iceland
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“I’ve been doing it for a while,” Macario said. “Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, but the fact that it happened today was fantastic. Once I got hurt, I was like, ‘Okay, that was a good connection.'” “

She followed that up with another superb goal in the 45th minute. A pass from Pugh behind Macario left her chasing the ball off the goal, and Macario stunned everyone by rotating her hip around and chipping her into the far net.

“Objectives like this should be all over the world,” Andonovsky said. “What makes me happy with Cat is not just the goals I scored but how I was able to engage other people.”

Fun fact: Since Makario’s national team debuted in January 2021, no American female player has scored more goals from outside the box. Also: This was the second time Macario scored multiple goals from a distance of more than 15 yards in a single game; She was the only other women’s team player to do so in the past five years Alex Morgan In the famous 13-0 victory over Thailand in the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

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“You give that girl a little bit of space and you’re done,” Pugh said, mocking Macario’s goals.

Pugh completed where Macario left off in the second half with a goal she scored well in the 60th minute. Ashley Sanchez slipped a nice through ball into Pew’s road, ran towards her, and led the goalkeeper Cecilia Ranarsdottir He tucked it into the far column.

Before Pugh scored her goal, she had the highest xG — or expected goals, which measures the probability that a chance will result in a goal — of any player on the field at .40. The 23-year-old has been doing well at getting into dangerous scoring positions and finding chances, even if she doesn’t score a goal to show it.

Pugh’s second goal showcased the emerging Macario-Pugh partnership. Macario won the ball in midfield as the Americans switched to the counterattack. Macario ran into the field, passed to Pugh, who passed to Macario, who passed back to Pugh, who finished quietly.

Of course, Macario and Pugh aren’t new to the show – Macario appeared in the last Olympics, Pugh was in the last World Cup – but both were players with no safe spots, unable to dislodge the likes of Morgan, Kristen PressAnd the Megan Rapinoe or Tobin Heath. And Iceland is not Sweden or Germany, strong teams chase the heels of American women in the world rankings. But the two strikers’ individual performances – and their budding partnership on the pitch – will be hard for Andonovsky to ignore after Wednesday’s game.

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Julie Fode’s reaction to the United States’ 5-0 victory over Iceland in the Shepeleyes Cup.

Pugh certainly played like a player poised to regain a steady position in the national team two years after being out of the fold. After being part of the team that won the 2019 World Cup, she missed the Olympics, and struggled with both club and country. Pugh made her national team debut at the age of 17, so it’s easy to forget that Pugh is still only 23 years old, just a year older than Macario.

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Other players also applied to us. Kristi Moyes He scored the fifth goal with a beautiful finish. Sanchez couldn’t finish the two chances she got, but she repeatedly beat Iceland’s defense with her dribbling and pinpoint passes. Emily Fox He performed well from a left-back position and threatened a lot. Wednesday’s game obviously earned some more chances for some new players.

However, it is difficult to exit the match with broader implications for the US women’s team.

As Wednesday’s deadline approached, Iceland only needed a draw to win the SheBelieves Cup, but played like a team seeking a win, making for a more open game that benefited the Americans. Iceland swapped goalkeepers in the first half, apparently not because Sigurddóttir was struggling but to give 18-year-old Runnarsdottir experience.

In truth, though, this SheBelieves Cup on paper has always been the easiest for Team USA since the Americans began hosting the tournament in 2016.

Prior to this year, the tournament had only seen one participant rank outside the top 15 FIFA players. But this time, Iceland was the highest-ranked competitor at 16th in the world. New Zealand is ranked 22nd, while the Czech Republic is ranked 24th. The United States is ranked first in the tournament, with the Americans winning 29 of the 32 group meetings against their opponents in the 2022 Shepherd’s Cup. Their only loss was in the first meeting against New Zealand in 1987.

But there were also reasons to believe that Americans wouldn’t outsmart the competition either.

For starters, Andonovsky has brought a small and relatively inexperienced team to this tournament as he looks to revamp his senior roster. With an average age of 25.40, Wednesday’s starting lineup was the youngest team to ever play in the SheBelieves Cup and the youngest in any game since April 5, 2018.

The SheBelieves Cup, a glorified collection of off-season friendlies, has traditionally been a tournament of experimentation, but there’s also some urgency for Andonovsky as well. The team’s top scorer of the past few years – Morgan, Bryce, Rapinoe and Heath – will be 34 or older during the next World Cup. And the pandemic delays to the Olympics also meant Andonovsky had only months for the rebuilding process that usually takes place over two years.

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That’s why Macario’s performance, in particular, on Wednesday could force tough decisions on Andonovsky. Makario has been in the women’s team photo since last year, making the Olympic roster as a substitute, until the rules were changed to expand the size of the tournament roster. But Makario was described as a midfielder, and in this Shepelevs Cup, she was playing as a striker for the first time with the team.

Andonovsky said that Macario’s momentum throughout the Shepelevs Cup wasn’t about comfort playing as a striker but the team learned how to play that position.

“We saw how Cat grew from Game 1 to Game 3, but mostly we saw how the team around Cat grew in understanding her movements, locating her, the angles, and the balls she was playing,” he said. “This is where I grew the most.”

Pyo echoed that it was a learning experience that allowed her to better play Makario.

“I’ve never played with Cat as No. 9, and she’s done an amazing job,” Pugh said. “That’s exactly what we needed to see and know her tendencies – to go back, to control, to turn, to manipulate her.”

The Americans found their chances early on, but many of them only had half the chances. They finished the first half with 1.07 xG. They finished that half with two goals because Macario scored from unexpected positions and created scoring opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Macario then admitted she had started the tournament with some nerve but was determined to advance in the cup-determining match on Wednesday.

“When we started this tournament, I felt a little tight, not playing the way I know how to play,” Macario said. “With this big game we had today, playing for the cup, I needed to give my best and show my teammates, Flatko and the nation I belong to here.”

It seems she did just that.

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