By CAITLIN MURRAY
For the U.S. Women’s National Team, 2013 was a year with few matches of consequence. Other than the annual Algarve Cup invitational tournament, the U.S. women played friendlies this year, mostly at home.
But it marked an important rebuilding year for a squad that won a gold medal at the previous year’s Olympics. Inheriting the world’s best national team at the start of the year, Tom Sermanni spent 2013 dishing out first caps to young players and trying a range of new combinations on the field.
An off-year following back-to-back World Cup and Olympics may be measured by looking ahead into the future, but courtesy of Abby Wambach’s new world record for international goals, there was at least one piece of history to come out of 2013.
Here is a look at SBI’s top five USWNT matches of the year:
5. USWNT vs. Mexico (7-0), Sept. 3 at RFK Stadium
It was a match filled with a lot of firsts that will carry the USWNT into 2014: The first cap of Erika Tymrak, the first cap of Leigh Ann Robinson and the first goal of Morgan Brian, who Sermanni has said will play an important role in the future of the USWNT.
But it’s noteworthy that the U.S. women’s most lopsided result of the year came at the hands of Sydney Leroux while superstar striker Alex Morgan was out with an ankle injury. Leroux scored four goals and reminded the world how deep the USWNT bench really is.
Leroux’s stock has been rising ever since scoring a whopping five goals in a single Olympic qualifier early last year, but September’s match at RFK Stadium served as a benchmark of what to expect from the young striker.
4. USWNT vs. Germany (2-0), March 13 at Estadio Algarve
With a win over Germany and his first trophy in the bag, the Tom Sermanni era of the U.S. Women’s National Team officially began.
After taking over the team in January, the annual Algarve Cup invitational tournament was Sermanni’s first chance to earn the U.S. a title, which he did seemingly with ease. The U.S. came out ahead of a No. 2-ranked German side that was deep in preparations for the upcoming 2013 Euro Cup.
The match was the culmination of an Algarve Cup run that saw breakout performances from defenders Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara and showed forward Alex Morgan at her best. Megan Rapinoe had been inexplicably named the player of the tournament, but it was Morgan who shined against the tournament’s toughest opponents, including Germany.
The Algarve Cup is no World Cup, but Sermanni set the tone as the No. 1-ranked U.S. women headed into the difficult task of figuring out how to get even better.
3. USWNT vs. Brazil (4-1), Nov. 10 at Citrus Bowl
The USWNT managed to have plenty of fireworks left for their final match of 2013.
Erika Tymrak scored a world-class first international goal, capping off a whirlwind year for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Rookie of the Year. The special moment was shared by U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of 2013, Lindsay Horan, who got her first assist for the senior squad.
For the U.S. women, big games are usually measured in goals scored, but for the second half, it was Hope Solo’s night. The American goalkeeper made three huge saves to shut down a frustrated Brazil side that desperately fought to get back into the game. It’s rare for Solo to be tested much in domestic friendlies, but despite conceding a first-half goal, she reminded the world why she is the top goalkeeper with lightning-fast decision-making and stretching saves.
With a strong showing on both sides of the ball, the final match of the year put the breadth of the U.S. women’s talent on full display before heading in 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
2. USWNT vs. South Korea (5-0), June 20 at Red Bull Arena
In truth, the match was like many friendlies the U.S. women host: The opponent was outmatched and a crowd of nearly 19,000 got what they were probably expecting with the U.S. scoring five unanswered goals.
But at Red Bull Arena that night, history was made. Abby Wambach became the world leader in international goals scored for both men and women, beating Mia Hamm’s record of 158 international goals.
The moment was perhaps the result of some planning – all of Wambach’s family had been flown in for the game and the NBC Sports broadcast team set clear expectations – but that may only add to the remarkableness of it. After all, Wambach came into the match two goals shy of tying Hamm’s record but left two goals ahead after scoring four in a single night.
Wambach won the FIFA Player of the Year title in 2012, but as a finalist for the award again with her record-breaking 2013, this match against South Korea may have helped make a case for back-to-back honors.
1. USWNT vs. Canada (3-0), June 2 at BMO Field
It was a game of no consequence, but you’d never know it from the way fans went into the match.
Dubbed “The Rematch,” it was the first clash of the North American rivals since the U.S. beat Canada in a very controversial Olympic semifinal last year. That match became an instant classic and only served to deepen the rift between the two sides.
Meeting on Canadian turf, it was a hostile crowd for the Americans, who found an easy victory. Although the first two goals were scored by Alex Morgan – who had memorably scored the last-second winning header in the semifinal – Canadian-born Sydney Leroux’s late stoppage time goal was the highlight of the match.
With heckles of “Judas” from the time she warmed up on the sidelines to a chorus of boos every time she touched the ball during regulation, Leroux responded by rounding the keeper for a world-class goal moments before the final whistle. But it was her celebration that Canadian soccer pundits couldn’t stop talking about the next day – pointing to her U.S. Soccer crest and putting her index finger to her lips, shushing the crowd.
Despite the No. 7-ranked Canadians failing to put up much of a challenge on the field, the stakes for the 2015 World Cup in Canada were raised that much higher.
What were your top USWNT matches of 2013? Are there any you would add to the list? What were your favorite moments from SBI’s top five matches?
Share your thoughts below.