Women’s soccer takes the spotlight again this week as the No. 1-ranked team in FIFA hits center stage for the third international camp of the new year. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the United States Women’s National Team is back in action and back on home soil.
Two Matches Loom vs. Ireland This Window
The USWNT"s April camp is highlighted by two international friendlies against the Republic of Ireland. Match one of two between the Stars and Stripes and Ireland takes place this Saturday afternoon in Austin, TX at Q2 Stadium, the home match grounds of MLS side Austin FC.
After completing the second half of the Texas two-step over the weekend, the scene shifts to MLS" newest market. Citypark in St. Louis, MO will play host to the second contest between the national teams on Tuesday, April 11.
Even before the USWNT sets foot in St. Louis, Citypark has already played host to a winning team. MLS" 29th and latest squad, St. Louis City SC, has been impressive so far this year, going undefeated in preseason play and winning five of its first six regular season matches.
USWNT Look to Remain Undefeated in 2023
When last we saw the USWNT, it was the night of Feb. 22, the final match of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup. That evening, the Stars and Stripes played Brazil with some wiggle room given to them, thanks to their victories in the first two matches of the competition.
Heading into the final evening of play in Frisco, TX, the USWNT would clinch the SheBelieves Cup trophy with a draw against the Brazilian side, but as they"ve done in every single match thus far in 2023, in spite of giving up their first goal of the year, the Stars and Stripes bagged the three points in a 2-1 win and the title was theirs.
Even though there will not be any points at stake these next two matches, the USWNT will try to remain in fabulous form as this summer"s FIFA Women"s World Cup draws ever closer. They"ll have a fan favorite coming in as reinforcement, as well.
Julie Ertz Returns in April Camp
Midfielder/ defender Julie Ertz, who last suited up for the Americans more than three years ago in the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, will return this week for the international friendlies. Ertz, wife of Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, gave birth to the couple"s first child last August.
On April 4, she met with the press to discuss balancing the sport and motherhood.
“I don"t want to come back and be the player I was, because I want to get better," Ertz began. “I know that sounds weird being out [for so long], but time is crazy, especially when you have a new baby. I don"t feel like I"ve been gone as long as I have, but I feel good, and I love the sport differently than [I used to.] I loved it then, but taking a step away and having a new perspective has given me a new drive."
Ertz hasn"t appeared for the USWNT in over three years, which begs an obvious question: Is she ready? Just like a boxer or an MMA fighter, a long absence from the sport could lead to obvious rust. We"ll know the answers this week.
April Camp a Critical International Window
Even though this is the penultimate FIFA international window for the USWNT, it"s an important one for players who are on the bubble for making the World Cup roster. Back in February, when the friendlies against Ireland were first announced, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski mentioned the ticking clock.
“The two games will be a great test at a crucial time in our team"s run to the World Cup," Andonovski said at the time. “While there will be plenty of league games for us to watch after April, these will be the final matches for our players with the national team before we have to pick the World Cup roster, so they will carry that importance.
Unlike the 2022 Men"s World Cup, wherein the national teams were permitted to carry a 26-player roster, the women"s national teams are only able to field 23-member squads. Coaches attempted to secure roster equality for their national teams, but were unable to.
With only 23 roster spots at Andonovski"s disposal, there"s going to be somebody left out of the World Cup roster this summer. Andonovski"s going to have some decisions to make after this international window.
Ireland Gearing Up For First FIFA Women"s World Cup Appearance
Even though these two matches are international friendlies, they hold significant meaning for both sides. Obviously, the USWNT will try and threepeat at this summer"s Women"s World Cup, but this tournament will mark the first such trip to the event for the Republic of Ireland.
Much like their American adversaries, Ireland comes into this international window on hot firm. Since April of 2022, the team is undefeated across all competitions at 6-0-2.
Less than two months ago, Ireland and China battled to a scoreless draw in Spain. These friendlies are the first matches between the Americans and Ireland since the summer of 2019. Victories in either of the two matches will be mammoth for the visiting team.
Ireland Winless Against USWNT
Prior to this set of friendlies, the USWNT and Ireland have squared off against one another 13 previous times, with the Stars and Stripes defeating their opponents on every single occasion. On Aug. 3, 2019 the Stars and Stripes ended the match as a contest before halftime in a 3-0 win to kick off the team"s Victory Tour at the famed Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Much like that match, these ones will also be held on American soil.
Even though Ireland"s national team is No. 22 in the March 24 FIFA women"s rankings, the Americans have consistently been on top of the world since 2017. Thus, it could be tough sledding for Ireland this time around.
Additionally, the fact that these matches are the fourth and fifth consecutive home games for the United States, it would be unwise to think that they could lose here. Picking against the USWNT is like predicting that a Division I FCS opponent could beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in college football.
Much like ‘Bama, the USWNT have been next to unbeatable over the years, with the lone blemishes in recent times being a three-game losing streak last fall. During their winning streaks, the question hasn"t been “Will the Stars and Stripes win?", but rather “How much will they win by?"
Given that we"re almost three and a half months out from the World Cup, these upcoming matches are secondary to ensuring that the team stays healthy. While extending the winning streak against Ireland would be great to see, having and keeping the roster at full strength is of the utmost concern.
Do you like the USWNT"s chances against Ireland on Saturday and Tuesday? Let us know in the comments.
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