This weekend, while the Columbus Crew is on the road taking on the Philadelphia Union ins Major League Soccer play, Lower.com Field won’t go unused. The United States Women’s National Team takes the field in an international friendly against Uzbekistan in Columbus. It’s the third match for the U.S. since October of 2021, but the first for the women after the men used the Crew’s new stadium for two World Cup Qualifiers.
The match likely won’t be the most competitive contest on the field. United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s side is No. 1 in the world in the FIFA rankings compared to No. 48 for the team from the Asian Football Confederation. Even so, the match brings multiple storylines to watch.
Since the game is a friendly, and the two sides play again on Tuesday, there’s always going to be a higher allotment for substitutions outside of the normal three or five typically used in the game across the world. In 2022 though, there’s a strong case for using as many substitutions as possible against Uzbekistan.
So far in 2022, the Americans lost two players for the entire year due to injury. Forward Lynn Williams and center back Tierna Davidson sustained season-ending ACL tears while playing for their respective NWSL teams. Williams and Davidson are two of three high-profile players in the NWSL to sustain such injuries, with Brazil’s Marta being the third.
This year, the NWSL’s Challenge Cup, a tournament outside of the regular season, increased from at least four matches to now playing six. For international players, this is on top of their frequent friendlies, international competitions and a 24-match NWSL regular season.
It’s a growing concern that the United States is planning around.
“We’re trying to align everything from what they do on their side to what we do on our side to make sure we don’t jeopardize any more injuries for the players,” said Andonovski on Tuesday. “That’s why some of the players that are here, even though they are healthy, they may not play two times, 90 minutes, because of that reason.”
A pair of homecomings
There are two players from Ohio that have a strong chance to see the field on Saturday for the USWNT. The first is a staple for the Americans in midfielder Rose Lavelle. Born in Cincinnati, Lavelle’s been part of the senior team since training with the group for the first time at the age of 19. The now 26 year old has won a World Cup and earned an Olympic bronze medal, as well as her loyal following in the Buckeye State.
Some of Lavelle’s most loyal supporters are from Columbus. Lavelle’s sisters live in Central Ohio and have attended Crew matches at Lower.com Field. While Saturday is Lavelle’s first time in the stadium, it isn’t her first time suiting up in Columbus.
On Nov. 7, 2019, Lavelle played in Andonovski’s first match leading the Red, White and Blue in a 3-2 victory against then-No. 5 ranked Sweden in a game that reached the low 20s in temperature.
While Lavelle does grab attention with her play on the field, there is another Ohioan supporters should know in goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury. Another Cincinnati-born national team player, Kingsbury, formerly known as Aubrey Bledsoe before getting married in 2021, won NWSL goalkeeper of the year the past two seasons. In 2021, Kingsbury led the Washington Spirit to its first NWSL Championship, beating the Chicago Red Stars in added time 2-1.
Youth on display
As of Tuesday, there are over 10,000 tickets sold for the friendly, a big number considering this isn’t a matchup of marquee teams. For supporters that have been to games at Lower.com Field, the crowd support and construction of the stadium lends to a loud environment.
With the potential for a high goal count, there will be a lot of reasons to cheer, and likely for new names not synonymous with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Leading that list is the highest-paid player in the NWSL, forward Trinity Rodman.
In 2018, the Washington Spirit drafted the then 18 year old, who started 19 matches, scored six, assisted five and contributed on two goals in the NWSL playoffs, the first was a goal that put the Spirit back level against the OL Reign in the semifinals. Then in the NWSL championship game, Rodman assisted fellow U.S. player Kelley O’Hara for the game-winning goal in the 97th minute. Rodman is looking for her first goal on the senior team in two caps.
Joining Rodman are two other outfield players with little to no caps with the national team. Midfielder Jaelin Howell, who plays with Racing Louisville FC in the NWSL, has four caps after winning back-to-back Hermann Trophies, given to the best player in college soccer. Howell is the fifth American to win the award twice, joining fellow national team member Catarina Macario, who is also available for selection this weekend.
The last new name to watch is defender Naomi Girma. Selected with the first pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft by the San Diego Wave, Girma’s played at U.S. youth levels from Under-16 through U-20. The San Jose, California native is likely to see the field, earning her first cap.