19-year-old provides rare bright spot in disappointing 2023 for USWNT

There are a few bright spots in this disappointing year for the U.S. women’s national team, and none is brighter than Jaedyn Shaw.

The 19-year-old got her first start and scored the game-winner in her hometown Tuesday night to lift the USWNT to a 2-1 victory over China in its final match of the year. This was only Shaw’s fourth game with the USWNT, yet she already has two goals and is showing signs she’s going to be a big part of the storied program for many years to come.

‘Something we talk a lot about is just doing the next right thing,’ interim coach Twila Kilgore said. ‘She’s somebody that should have her sights on the Olympics, but the next step to that is simply to show up in the next camp and give her best. And in order to do that, she’s going to have to be well-prepared at home.

‘But first she’s going to rest.’

This has been the most challenging year the four-time World Cup champions have had in a long time. Maybe ever. They made their earliest exit ever at a major international tournament after losing to Sweden on penalty kicks in the round of 16 at the World Cup, and showed little of the swagger and fierceness that have defined this program.

Even in Tuesday night’s win, they looked lifeless at the beginning of the game. They struggled to find a rhythm with seven changes to the lineup from Saturday’s game and couldn’t maintain possession against China’s packed midfield. Their seven-game scoreless streak ended just before the half when China scored just the third goal of the year off the USWNT.

But one thing that has stood out since the World Cup is the young talent the USWNT has. Jenna Nighswonger, the NWSL rookie of the year, joined Shaw in making her first start for the USWNT — one game after making her debut. Korbin Albert made her first appearance for the senior team Tuesday night.

And each one of them has seemed up to the task of getting the world’s dominant team back on the winning track.

Sam Coffey, who has been in and out of the mix for the national team the last couple of years, tied the game in the 62nd minute with her first international goal. Albert took a boot to the face, drawing the foul that led to Shaw’s goal.

Nighswonger took the free kick, but her shot banged off the China wall. Sophia Smith, a veteran at the age of 23, collected the ball and headed it back into traffic. Shaw pounced on the ball on the run and sent a screamer into the net.

‘I have so many memories here in this stadium. I’m so happy to be able to play here at this level and on this team,’ Shaw said after the game. ‘It was a dream since I was a little kid.’

The USWNT almost doubled the lead twice in the final minutes of the game. A gorgeous diving header by Lindsey Horan in the 67th minute was ruled offside, and China goalkeeper Xu Huan tipped a hard shot by Nighswonger over the crossbar in the 89th minute.

‘I think excited is the word,’ Kilgore said of the young Americans. ‘I think they’re eager and hungry for an opportunity. They know that these opportunities don’t come around very often, and they want to seize those opportunities.’

The USWNT still has problems that will need to be addressed. The challenge of not having new coach Emma Hayes in place until May isn’t going away, either.

But it ends a disappointing year on a positive note.

The USWNT finishes the year unbeaten, with 14 wins and four ties. (The penalty kick loss to Sweden is counted as a draw.) It also allowed just three goals in 18 matches, the 0.17 goals-against average a program record.

The three goals are also be the second-fewest allowed by the USWNT in a single season in the last 34 years. The USWNT allowed one goal in 2020 and in 2009, but the team also played fewer than 10 games each of those seasons.

‘I talked to the team at the end of the game and said I’m so proud of how we’ve ended our ’23 and how far we’ve come in a few months. I’m just really proud of all of them,’ Kilgore said. ‘The sky’s the limit and our current ceiling we’re ending on with this game is going to be our floor when we get back at it.’

Here’s what to know about the USWNT’s final game of the year:

Emily Fox update

Emily Fox is ‘fine’ after being subbed at halftime to be checked for a concussion.

The defender took several knocks in the first half, and appeared to not be herself. But interim coach Twila Kilgore said after the game Fox was checked during the half and cleared to play.

‘They were able to go out and check her for (a) body injury but they were able to assess her then also for her head, and she checked out OK,’ Kilgore said.

At halftime, however, Kilgore said Fox told the staff she didn’t feel right.

‘We knew that we needed to check her out and that that was going to take a bit longer. Just out of an abundance of caution, we subbed her,’ Kilgore said.

Fox is now ‘feeling fine,’ USWNT spokesman Aaron Heifetz said.

Jaedyn Shaw a hometown hero

Jaedyn Shaw gave the hometown fans their money’s worth.

Shaw, who grew up minutes from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, scored the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute. It was the second international goal for the 19-year-old, who was playing in just her fourth game for the USWNT.

The USWNT was awarded a free kick in the 77th minute after a hard foul on Kobin Albert. Jenna Nighswonger’s shot banged off the China wall, but Sophia Smith jumped on the ball and recirculated it back into traffic. It fell to Shaw, who hammered a shot through traffic and past China goalkeeper Xu Huan.

Shaw beamed as she was congratulated by teammates while her large group of family and friends —Shaw said there were 50 in the group — jumped up and down and cheered.

‘They’re like the loudest people here,’ Shaw said.

Shaw was given a large ovation when she exited the game in the 86th minute, replaced by Alyssa Thompson.

USWNT ties it up on Sam Coffey’s first goal

Sam Coffey assured the USWNT would be shut out of its final game of the year.

Coffey got her first international goal in the 62nd minute, curling the ball into the upper corner of the net after a corner kick. The goal tied the game at 1 and seemed to breathe some life into what has been an otherwise lackluster performance by the USWNT.

Jenna Nighswonger’s corner kick landed in a scrum, and the ball pinged around in front of the goal for several seconds before Emily Sonnett managed to grab possession. Sonnett worked hard to maintain possession before spotting Coffey to her left and sliding her the ball.

Coffey’s shot from about 16 yards looped up and into the upper corner of the net, and there was little goalkeeper Xu Huan could do to stop it.

‘It was kind of a scrappy play,’ Coffey said. ‘(Sonnett) did really well to find the ball and set it up. I’m just so glad I could I help this team win.’

The USWNT nearly doubled the lead five minutes later, but Lindsey Horan was rightly ruled offside.

USWNT debut for Korbin Albert

Albert drew a critical foul when she took a boot to the face. After being examined closely — Albert said she’s fine but expects to have a black eye — Jenna Nighswonger took the free kick that resulted in Jaedyn Shaw’s go-ahead goal.

Enter Trinity Rodman

Trinity Rodman, who has been arguably the USWNT’s best player of late, came in as a substitute for Lynn Williams in the 58th minute.

Rodman had a hand in each of the three goals in the first game against Saturday, getting the assist on the first two and scoring the third herself. She also scored in both games against South Africa in September.

USWNT halftime subs: Sophia Smith, Midge Purce enter game

The USWNT made two substitutions at halftime in hopes of injecting some life into their final game of the year.

Sophia Smith, who scored the first U.S. goal in Saturday’s 3-0 win, came in for Ashley Hatch. Emily Fox, who was ruled out with a concussion during the break, was replaced by Midge Purce.

China takes 1-0 lead at halftime

China snapped the USWNT’s seven-game shutout streak just before halftime, scoring just the third goal off the Americans this year.

China lofted a free kick across the mouth of the goal and Wang Siqian got her head on it a few feet from the far post. She knocked it back toward the net and Shen Mengyu, who was standing unmarked in front of the goal, tapped it in to give China a 1-0 lead.

Replays showed Shen might have been offside, but there is no VAR in this game. It was the first goal conceded by the Americans since their group-stage draw with the Netherlands at the World Cup. The only other goal allowed by the USWNT came during the SheBelieves Cup last spring.

The USWNT had several chances in the first half, including a shot by Jaedyn Shaw in the 31st that buzzed the near post. But they looked unsettled for most of the first 45 minutes, trying to settle in with a lineup that included seven changes from Saturday’s game.

Still, they dominated possession and should have had more to show for the first half.

What time is the USWNT vs. China game? And where?

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. There will be a ceremony before the game to honor two-time World Cup champion Ali Krieger, who ended her soccer career last month by helping Gotham FC win the NWSL title.

How to watch USWNT vs. China PR on TV, streaming

The USWNT’s match against China PR on Tuesday will be broadcast by TruTV, Universo, Max and Peacock.

Who’s starting for USWNT?

Three days after making her first appearance for the USWNT, NWSL rookie of the year Jenna Nighswonger is getting her first start.

Nighswonger and Emily Fox are starting at outside back, with Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson playing center back. Teenager Jaedyn Shaw is also getting her first start for the USWNT after appearing in the last three games — and it’s coming in her hometown, no less.

Interim coach Twila Kilgore made a total of seven changes from Saturday’s lineup against China, a 3-0 victory. Aubrey Kingsbury replaces Casey Murphy in goal, and Davidson and Nighswonger are on the backline in place of Abby Dahlkemper and Casey Krueger. Sam Coffey joins captain Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett in the midfield while Lynn Williams and Ashley Hatch in at forward in place of Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman.

The changes are not a surprise, with Kilgore and new coach Emma Hayes using this camp to get a look at younger and newer players.

Will Emma Hayes be at the game?

No. The new USWNT coach isn’t joining the team until her current team, Chelsea, finishes its season in May. She did take advantage of the international break to come to the USWNT training camp last week and introduce herself to players, but headed back to England before the Americans played China on Saturday.

What’s next for the USWNT?

There is no January camp this year. Instead, the USWNT next plays in February at the Concacaf Gold Cup, a new competition put on by the confederation with teams from both the North, Central America and Caribbean Association and South America.

The USWNT has already qualified for the group stage, as have Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Panama and Paraguay. Group-stage games will be played Feb. 20-28 in Los Angeles, San Diego and Houston, with the quarterfinals March 2-3 at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles and the semifinals March 6 at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego.

The final of the tournament will be March 10, also at Snapdragon.

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