The highly-anticipated match as the world champion U.S. women’s national team returns to the pitch. Hungry for a three-peat, the group stage opener will be the first meeting ever between the USA and Vietnam.
And yet in a bit of consistency, it will mark the fifth consecutive World Cup in which the USWNT has opened playing in the tournament against an opponent from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Here are four key things to look for during tomorrow’s match.
USWNT vs Vietnam Preview
1) Team has a seemingly younger look
If you think your eyes are deceiving you, there is a seemingly younger roster than the one from the 2019 World Cup final. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has nine veteran players who were members of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship squad. He also has 14 players who were named to their first World Cup roster. Fun fact: the average age of the players is 28 and a half years old.
Young debuts by Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, and Alyssa Thompson are ones to watch. Rodman, 21, is a superstar in the National Women’s Soccer League (NSWL) for the Washington Spirit. She became the youngest paid player in the league at 19 years old. Rodman plays an aggressive style of attack and will figure into his plans.
Smith, 22, is also in her first World Cup. The Portland Thorns forward leads the NWSL in goals scored- 10 in 13 matches- and even notched a hat trick before heading to Oceania. Thompson is the first teenager on the USWNT since 1995 (she wouldn’t be born until 2004). She’s a speedy forward who is going to be one of the faces of the new generation of USWNT players.
2) Veterans will still pack a punch
The veterans will be a calming force in a younger locker room during the match against Vietnam. 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe, in her final World Cup, is making her fourth World Cup appearance. She might not start but she will likely make her 200th appearance for Team USA, becoming the 14th player in USWNT history to reach the milestone.
Alex Morgan is the top scorer on the USA’s World Cup roster with 121 goals. She’s also the most experienced at the Women’s World Cup, having played 18 matches while scoring nine goals, six of which came at the 2019 tournament. Both she and Rapinoe are tied for fourth all-time in USWNT history with nine World Cup goals each.
Kelley O’Hara is just one of 12 players in USWNT history to be named to four Women’s World Cup Teams. She’s also been on the USA’s last seven world championship rosters. In the field, six of the players have amassed triple-digit appearances for the US. Defenders O’Hara and Crystal Dunn have over a century. Returning midfielder Julie Ertz has 118.
Sadly, they are without Mallory Swanson as she suffered an injury back in April that will force her to miss the title defense. But while other teams are closing in around the U.S. squad, they’re well-armed for their path to a third consecutive title.
3) Debutantes can be upset teams
Vietnam is a newcomer to the tournament and they did it early. In fact, they were one of the earliest teams to qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It’s the first-ever World Cup for the country at the senior level in either men’s or women’s. It was a shocking path for the Women Gold Star Warriors to qualify as they won the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Play-off in early 2022.
They’re not a team to quite write off as an easy win. Like the U.S., Vietnam have no injury concerns heading into this game. Vietnam will play a very defensive formation, but they could go with two up top as well. They have an X-factor in captain Huynh Nhu. She’s scored 67 goals in 103 appearances for Vietnam. Nhu is the only player on this roster that doesn’t play for a domestic club.
They likely will not advance to the knockout round as they also have to face the Netherlands. But it might not be a 13-0 blowout for the U.S. like it was in their 2019 opening round against Thailand.
4) The USWNT is not invincible
While they’re likely to have the win over Vietnam, do not expect it to be an easy match. Vietnam has attacking power. The Vietnamese players consistently pulled apart the defense. Yes, the United States has a much stronger defense, but there is a weak point: they’re young.
It will be up to the USWNT to keep their mistakes to a minimum. Even a seemingly small misstep could put Vietnam in a position to get on the scoresheet. The two teams also haven’t played a match before against each other and for the debs, that might work in their favor.
Injuries have plagued the USWNT roster. The team in January and the team now in July isn’t the same. Cohesiveness for the U.S. is not a new concern but it might be a slow start. Vietnam could needle that to their advantage. Plus Rose Lavelle, who is expected to take a bigger leadership role in this World Cup, was nursing a knee injury. At midfield, her fitness level isn’t 100%. She hasn’t played since April 8th in the friendly against Ireland. Her uncertainty might be the Achilles heel for the USWNT and a benefit for Vietnam.
How to Watch
The match kicks off at 1 p.m. local in Auckland on Saturday, July 22, which is 9 p.m. ET on July 21 for viewers stateside and will be broadcast on FOX, Telemundo, and Peacock.
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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Josie Lepe, AP Photo/Ashley Landis, AP Photo/LM Otero, & AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo