USWNT’s Concacaf title will pay off at World Cup and Paris Olympics

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Securing a place at next year’s World Cup was the priority. Securing a place at the Paris Olympics was a nice bonus.

The real benefit of the Concacaf Championship, however, was that the next generation of American women learned what it takes to win a title. And that could lead to many, many more of them down the road.

“It’s very obvious that the team is significantly younger than the previous time we played Canada,” USA coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the USWNT beat their northern neighbors 1-0 from a penalty. of Alex Morgan in the 78th minute on Monday night to clinch Concacaf. title and a place at the Paris Olympics.

“We changed five players in the starting line-up. They are going to be here for at least three, maybe four World Cups,” he added. “So get used to it.”

The joy in Andonovski’s voice as he said it will undoubtedly carry over to Europe.

The story of women’s football in recent years has been the rise of European teams, fueled by federations finally pouring money into their women’s programs and national leagues doing the same. Three of the last four teams to play in the 2019 World Cup were European. ESPN’s list of the 50 best players in the world last month was dominated by European teams, England and Spain in particular.

The suggestion is that the dominance of the USWNT, winner of four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals, if not over, will at least be severely challenged.

But what has made the USWNT so great across so many generations is its endless wealth of talent. A Michelle Akers becomes an Abby Wambach who becomes an Alex Morgan. A Briana Scurry gives way to a Hope Solo which gives way to an Alyssa Naeher.

There may be hiccups as newcomers settle in, but the win continues as it always has.

The challenge this time around, however, is greater. Morgan may be in the best shape of his career – which is saying something – but many of the other stalwarts of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup titles are not playing or playing reduced roles. Which means Andonovski needs to find a way to bring in this wave of youngsters and do it fast enough for them to be ready for the World Cup which starts a year from Wednesday. And the Paris Olympics the following year.

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“I’m very pleased with the gradual improvement,” Andonovski said. “Even though the results may not look so compelling…I thought there were times in games where we showed improvement. It’s the times that we’re happy about, that gives us validation of that. that we do.

“It means”, he added, “we are going in the right direction”.

Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh had stellar seasons in the NWSL, and that carried over to the Concacaf Championship. Smith played in all five tournament games, scoring two goals. (She could have doubled that total against Canada.) Only Canada’s Janine Beckie got more than Pugh’s two assists.

Trinity Rodman, Naomi Girma, Taylor Kornieck, Alana Cook and Emily Fox all had valuable playing time. All are 25 or younger, with Rodman only 20.

If they make the World Cup roster or make the Paris Olympics squad, they won’t be fazed by the pace of the tournament and its ebbs and flows. They won’t be discouraged that some ugly games have to be won, and will understand that the end result is the ultimate measuring stick.

They will not get lost in the moment, because they have already tasted it.

“They’re just hungry, they’re lethal,” Morgan said after the game. “These players are making a name for themselves at such a young age. … This experience is going to be huge and it’s going to go a long way for them over the next two years.

That’s not to say there won’t still be growing pains or adjustments to be made. It was evident throughout the Concacaf Championship that Andonovski was still tinkering with his line-up, trying to identify the best combinations.

There are also a limited number of roster spots, and some of the USWNT’s top players were unavailable for the Concacaf Championship due to pregnancy (Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz) or injury ( Catarina Macario, Tierna Davidson and Sam Mewis).

But these are headaches that Andonovski will gladly take. Because it will mean the youngsters have proven their worth in a team which, despite all the buzz coming from Europe, remains firmly entrenched as world No.1.

“It always feels good to be called a champ,” Morgan said.

And it’s a tournament like this that will help set the next generation of the USWNT on the path to being called that again in the future.

Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.

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