With much all the news around Columbus Crew SC following the conclusion of the 2019 Major League Soccer season, it was easy for fans to forget about another, jointly-important brand of soccer that Columbus was set to feature. The United States Women’s National Team is coming to MAPFRE Stadium on Thursday to face Sweden in an international friendly match.
It’s been nearly a year and a half since fans in Central Ohio have been able to witness the U.S. Women’s National Team play at MAPFRE Stadium. The last time was in March of 2018 when the USWNT defeated Germany 1-0 in the second-ever SheBelieves Cup before the team went on to win the tournament for the second time.
The Yanks return to Columbus this Thursday, just months after winning a historic fourth Women’s World Cup back in July. The Red, White and Blue are the only women’s organization to win four World Cups, with Germany the only other team to win multiple with two.
Many storylines are at the forefront of Thursday’s match, starting with the rematch from their Group F game in this summer’s World Cup between the USWNT and third-place finishers Sweden. Many thought it was a potential final preview before the Swedes fell to the eventual second-placers, the Netherlands in the semifinals after extra time.
Although players such as Kelley O’Hara, Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson and Megan Rapinoe are out with injury and Alex Morgan is not with the team due to her pregnancy, the USWNT is still expected to feature a strong lineup featuring players like Julie Ertz and Rose Lavelle and others from the World Cup team.
Lavelle is an interesting player to keep an eye on as Thursday will be nearly a homecoming. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Lavelle burst onto the scene this past summer at the World Cup and won the Bronze Ball, which recognizes the tournaments third-best overall player. She netted three goals, none more important than the second goal in the final, helping the USWNT win 2-0. Many consider Lavelle to be the future of the American team and rightfully so.
“She just does things casually that are out of this world,” teammate Kelley O’Hara said after winning the trophy this past July.
Thursday’s contest will also be the first official game for newly-appointed Stars and Stripes head coach Vlatko Andonovski. Andonovski has seven years of playing experiences in various teams in the United States followed by another nine seasons coaching, most recently with Reign FC in the United Women’s Soccer League.
His tenure at the Kansas City Comets was his most impressive, boasting a winning percentage of 79.45 during his four-year stay as head coach. This will be Andonovski’s first gig as a national team head coach. He replaces one of the most decorated coaches in sports history in Jill Ellis, who won two World Cups with the USWNT and earned 106 victories in 132 matches, losing only seven.
Many who follow the Americans believe it doesn’t matter who is in charge since most of the players on the squad have most of their careers ahead of them. However, in an extremely competitive sport that’s gaining a lot of track on the women’s side, Andonovski will face massive expectations to deliver similarly to Ellis.
“It reflects on the field. They are very determined, they are driven,” Andonovski recently said in an interview with CNN. “Once they put the jersey on they put everything else aside. And they do whatever it takes to win the game. Their winning mentality is always ahead of everything.”
The game between the USWNT and Sweden kicks off Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tickets are still available but those who can’t attend the match can watch on FOX Sports 1.