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USWNT kick-off 2023 campaign in New Zealand ahead of Women’s World Cup Tournament

The Lady Yanks, including three Coloradoan’s, set their sights on a repeat.

John Babiak

For millions of United States Women’s National Soccer Team fans around the globe, today is the kick-off of a journey towards winning the 2023 Women’s World Cup trophy.

A collection of 24 of America’s finest have gathered in New Zealand under the guidance of head coach Vlatko Andonovski. His many goals include building their chemistry as a team, cementing his still influx roster, and tackling a formidable foe during two-friendlies.

A two-game series with New Zealand’s Lady Ferns is poised to kick off tonight at 8PM U.S. Mountain Time before a capacity crowd in Sky Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. The two opponents will face-off again on Friday (U.S. times) this Friday from Eden Park Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand.

Three of the Yanks have connections with the Centennial State: Mallory Pugh-Swanson, Lindsey Horan and Taylor Kornieck.

Fellow Coloradoan and U.S. Women’s Player of the Year Sophia Smith was not invited to New Zealand. She is in the United States nursing a foot injury. According to Andonovski, she is expected to be ready to train and suit up and ay against Canada, Japan and Brazil in February’s national SheBelieves Cup.

Rising newcomer Taylor Kornieck is expected to see plenty of playing time with Smith being absent. The 6’1” forward-midfielder played for the PAC-12 University of Colorado Buffaloes. She is currently a starter with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) San Diego Waves FC. She is one of a few players who has caught Andonovski’s attention and is vying for a precious roster spot on the World Cup team.

The tournament will take place in 10 stadiums across nine host cities, five in Australia and four in New Zealand.

The USWNT will open Group E against Vietnam on July 22 at Eden Park in Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau. Next the Yanks will face-off with the Netherlands on July 27th. Their third match will be against the Group A Playoff Winner on August 1, which includes Cameroon, Thailand and Portugal.

After the draw concluded, Colorado Rush alumni Lindsey Horan commented about what await her and her mates in 2023:

“I think we have a lot of work to do in the next year. We’re coming off these two games against England and Spain and you see the competitiveness, how the game is changing and how these teams are evolving.”

The midfielder continued “we lost two games and you can talk about all the players we were missing and what not, but we need to be better. We need to learn and grow from these games and even without certain players on the field we have to adapt and develop this style that we’re going to go in and play in the World Cup. So hopefully we improve a lot in the next nine months and we have a lot of growing to do.”

A few key topics come to mind of late, including player wellness and readiness, the team’s steady transition from senior players to a generation of rising all-stars, and all important leadership.

Last year, with Carli Lloyd’s retirement, Horan stepped up alongside veteran player Alex Morgan in the cooperative role of team leader.

When asked about the the make up and maturity of last years team, complete with younger athletes, the amiable Horan stated, “honestly some of these younger players, you don’t really think they’re that young. Like Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, these are players that have been playing in the league the past few seasons and are doing really well.”

She continued “they’re mature and they’re growing and coming in and starting so many games for the National Team. This is exciting for them, but you’re going to a major tournament and for them to see what we’ve had to deal with against Spain and England was huge.”

“That kind of sets the tone for what the World Cup is going to be like. So, again, I’m really excited for them. I think they’re going to be amazing going into this year and this World Cup and we’ll see what they bring.”

Horan shared her excitement to help her teammates continue to develop and ready themselves for the World Cup.

Similarly, Andonovski spoke after the draw about the need for consistent preparation up to the made for television tournament.

During the their January base-camp, high level preparation and such began in earnest.

“To get to bring the team to New Zealand in January and play in our World Cup venues has so many benefits so we are going to make sure we maximize our time together, make this trip as productive as possible and enjoy a unique experience as many of our players have never been to New Zealand before,” Andonovski said earlier this month when he announced plans to construct the camp, and who had won invitations to travel Down-Under.

Tonight’s game will kick off on January 18 at 4 PM local New Zealand time, or 10 PM Eastern Time, 8 PM Mountain Time on January 17 here in the United States. Wellington, will serve as the host city and venue for the USA’s second group stage match against the Netherlands during this summer’s events.

Per U.S. Soccer’s media library, the USA and New Zealand have played 19 times previously with the USWNT leading the overall series 17-1-1. The lone loss for the Americans came in a 1-0 defeat during the first meeting between the teams on Dec. 15, 1987. Since then, the USA is unbeaten in the last 18 head-to-head matchups with the Football Ferns, scoring five or more goals in each of the last four meetings. The teams drew 1-1 during a friendly in October of 2013.

The most recent meeting between the teams came 11 months ago at the 2022 SheBelieves Cup, a 5-0 victory for the Americans in Carson, California on Feb. 20, 2022, behind goals from Hatch and Swanson and three New Zealand own goals. Prior to that, the teams squared off in the group stage of the delayed 2020 Olympics, a 6-1 victory for the Americans as Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Christen Press and Alex Morgan scored while the USA forced the Football Ferns into two own goals.

The Ferns rank 24th in FIFA World Ranks. Team USA, first.

USWNT DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Kansas City Current), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

DEFENDERS (8): Alana Cook (OL Reign), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

FORWARDS (6): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave FC), Midge Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC)