Two young midfielders who were not picked for the World Cup helped the USWNT win the W Gold Cup.
Two young midfielders who were not picked for the World Cup helped the USWNT win the W Gold Cup.

The U.S. women’s national team beat Brazil in the W Gold Cup final on Sunday thanks to a powerful header from leader Lindsey Horan.

But the two young midfielders who represent the team’s change since the World Cup were the stars of the show and the ones who kept the USWNT together.

When the 20-year-old Korbin Albert joined the USWNT last summer, she had never even worn a shirt.

Sam Coffey had, but she was strangely forgotten in 2023, and she watched as the U.S. fell apart from home.

Since their elders were having trouble Down Under, both have been accepted into the group. And after a 2-0 loss to Mexico last month, the USWNT was under a lot of pressure. In their biggest moment since the World Cup, temporary coach Twila Kilgore turned to the young players.

Kilgore, who has been talking to new coach Emma Hayes a lot, took Rose Lavelle out of the starting group for a quarterfinal match against Colombia. Lavelle used to be impossible to drop. She put in Albert, who has been having a great time at PSG in France, and never looked back.

The Albert-Coffey double-pivot helped the United States beat Colombia 3-0 and then get through a messy, “unplayable” playoff against Canada. But their most important show was in front of 31,528 people at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, which was the biggest stage. Near the end of the first half, Coffey, a member of the NWSL Best XI for the Portland Thorns, helped change the outcome of the game.

She ran into a task in the middle of the field. She beat Trinity Rodman in a duel and let her go down the right side.

Rodman’s first touch didn’t go as planned, but her patience was very important. She got Emily Fox out of a double-team and had her loft a cross to the far post. In the end, Horan scored the only goal of the game by charging at the ball.

Horan has been a bit of a puzzle for the USWNT in terms of her place. She can make plays from deep and is good with the ball. She’s also very dangerous in the box as a second scorer, especially when she’s in the air. But she can’t move around enough to change games in both places.

Some U.S. coaches have tried to let Horan do both things anyway in the past. Along with Lavelle, she played in front of a standard defensive midfielder and behind him as a “No. 8.” But it never really worked. The U.S. midfields didn’t feel united. Other options had to be looked into, that much was clear.

Horan was moved up to No. 10 by Kilgore as an answer. The pair of Coffey and Albert let Horan attack more freely. That freedom was good for Horan on Sunday, while the newer players cleaned up everything behind her.

They still had trouble keeping the ball, as did the rest of the USWNT. Brazil had more of the ball and tried to score more goals. The Selecão were better for most of the first half, even though they were missing a few key players.

But Coffey and Albert put a lot of pressure on the American team during their best parts of the game. It made a huge difference, Kilgore said after the game. In the second half, they also helped keep things stable in the U.S. Albert played the whole 90 minutes and was the second-youngest USWNT player to start a competitive final. She was especially good in one-on-one fights.

Finally, the back four held firm behind them. Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson, the center backs of the present and future, kept the group together.

The U.S. held on to win this first regional event, which was a huge success all around.
It was very important to get ready for the Olympics, which start in July.

Not everything went well for the USWNT. But it brought people together and gave them more courage. It was needed proof that a school that has a history of winning hasn’t completely lost its way.

“We have, all together, owned our World Cup experience,” he said. “We got back together. We have new plans. We’ve changed the way we play. We are both working toward the same goal.”

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