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The 261-day wait is finally over: USWNT set to take on the Netherlands today

Real Colorado alum’s Smith and Howell ready to showcase their talents to the world, while Horan and Pugh will watch stateside

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

After a nearly nine-month layoff from competitive play — the longest pause in recent history for the program — the senior U.S. Women’s National Team will take to the pitch this morning to play FIFA 4th-ranked Netherlands side in a fan-free Rat Verlegh Stadion.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and TUDN at 10:30 a.m. MT.

The Red, White, and Blue last played the Oranje on July 7, 2019, in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in Lyons, France. The USWNT won the match decisively, 2-0, and brought home their fourth World Cup trophy.

Both Colorado Rush and Real Colorado products Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh were members of that winning roster. They are not with this team in Holland as Horan tested positive to the COVID-19 virus prior to the squad departing and Pugh is nursing an injury that she sustained this summer while playing for her National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) side, New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC.

Colorado USWNT fans should not be overly disappointed as the team’s head coach Vlatko Andonovski invited two other locals to the game-camp in Europe: forward Sophia Smith and midfielder Jaelin Howell. Both are expected to be available for Andonovski’s 18-player selection.

The Real Colorado Soccer Club graduates are coming off of two successful training camps and have earned considerable praise from Andonovski. Howell was called into this camp from her junior year at Florida State University, while Smith comes in after her first season with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. Both have been members of several USYS teams since their early teens, and are expected to play prominent roles in the senior program over the next decade.

If selected, they should see playing time as the head coach remarked on Wednesday during a media conference that this squad is not at 100% in fitness, physicality, and cohesiveness. ”We’ve been off for so many months … we have only a few players who are 90 minutes ready,” said Andonovski in a press conference on Tuesday. Smith and Howell are uncapped, senior team players. The duo could become the first player(s) born after the FIFA Women’s Cup 1999 Tournament to earn a cap.

Playing 4th-ranked Netherlands will be a good test for the Lady Yanks as they prepare for the Summer Olympics—just eight months away.

The United States and the Netherlands have met eight times and the U.S. holds the edge with a 7-1-0 record. That being said, the two sides have played each other only three times in the past 14 years.

During his call with the press earlier this week, Andonovski said, “I have expressed that my goal is to play the 10 best teams in the world and test this team against some of the best.” He added, “I’m excited to see where this team is. We can see in training, but until we put them in a real test, especially against a team like the Netherlands, we don’t know where we’re at.”

His team comes into the game with an 8-0-0 record in 2020 after having swept all five games last January during the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. They then went on to win all three games at the 2020 She Believes Cup. Soon thereafter, the COVID-19 virus struck the globe, and the world of international football came to an abrupt halt.

USWMT veteran defender Kelly O’Hara summed up the team’s current state of affairs relative to the upcoming Olympics with this frank statement: “I do think we look pretty good. But to get from here to Olympics-ready, there’s just so much more we have to do. Regardless of where we’re at right now, we always want to go up. And we have to go up.”

On the team’s 2021 calendar is another training camp in January, and the start of the She Believes Cup Tournament in early February.

“First, everyone is just really excited to have an international match. That it’s against the Netherlands makes it even better and more challenging,” said Andonovski. “We had to get back on the field for a real game at some point, so it might as well be against one of the best teams in the world. We have a lot of work to do before the Olympics and facing a really talented Dutch team will give us a good look at where we are at the end of this very unusual year.”