As with many matches in the US, this was expected to be more exciting than the experience.
But with the perfect sunset shining over the Audi stadium, the top-ranked USA found themselves in a second-half stalemate with 46th-ranked Nigeria. Then age-defying Megan Rapinoe came in, Rose Lavell canceled out, and all was well again for the Americans , who scored a 2-1 victory before the announced crowd reached 18,869.
“At certain times, we didn’t know which way to go,” said USA coach Vlatko Andonovsky. “But I am very proud of the team and how they handled it because I know there will be a moment like this when it matters. The fact that they came up with a way to win is very good, but we learned a big lesson.”
After failing to take advantage of several first-half chances and conceding the equalizer shortly after the break, the Americans regained the lead in the 66th minute.
A moment after entering the field, the 37-year-old Rapinoe crossed from the finish line. The ball was behind Lavelle, who needed to step back and bend her upper body to her head.
“I had to do a little twisting,” LaVelle said.
The ball kicked off the right post and trickled across the line, relieving the pressure that had been building since the Super Falcons tied the friendly in the 50th minute.
Laville celebrated her 22nd career goal by jumping into Rapinoe’s arms.
“I still don’t know how Rose managed to get her head on the ball,” Andonovsky said. “Absolutely incredible.”
The Americans extended their streak at home undefeated to 71 games (64-0-7). They have won 13 in a row by 52-2 and are unbeaten in 21 in a row. However, the closing streak ended at nine games.
Nigeria – which, like the United States, will compete in the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – has been falling for most of the first half. She had moments of prosperity but could not stand the pressure.
The Americans made waves of early chances but were ineffective in the penalty area.
“The only thing we lost in the first half was the execution,” Andonovsky said.
With some help, the breakthrough came in the 24th minute. The sequence was almost identical to the threat made a moment earlier, when Mallory Pugh crossed over to Lindsey Horan for a critical threat at close range.
Capping another exercise for a patient, Pugh aimed Horan with a low cross. This time, in an effort to block Horan’s reception, defender Blessing Demihen stabbed the ball on the edge of the six-yard penalty area, slipping it between the legs of goalkeeper Kiamaka Naduzzi to score his own goal.
Right after the break, the Super Falcons were causing trouble. The Americans failed to reverse course, and the visitors scored a well-deserved equalizer.
“We fought hard and [U.S.] “The goal was an own goal, so we felt it was a 0-0 match,” said Nigerian coach Randy Waldrum. “We were right about it and felt we could take it back.”
Glory Ogbonna made a long diagonal ball. United States right-back Sofia Huerta missed a header, allowing substitute Oceana Kano to make an angled shot and brilliantly curled an eight-yard shot past goalkeeper Casey Murphy and into the far top corner.
This was not the way Andonovsky planned. The game needed a jolt, and Rapinoe and Laville brought it in.
“If I’m only going to play 30 minutes, I want to be impressive,” Rapinoe joked. And on a serious note, she said, “I love being in and around the box and being in those kinds of creative game-making moments.”
Laville pointed out the benefits of playing a close match.
“It may sound strange, but any chance we get in adversity is frankly great for this group,” Laville said. “You don’t want to have goals, but to have those games and have to throw them out when things get a little chaotic, it’s back and forth, and I think it’s nice to try.”
Here’s what else you should know about friendship:
The US fixture schedule is set to be ramped up next month with a friendly match on October 7 against England, the European champions, at sold-out Wembley, followed by a possible visit to eighth-seeded Spain a few days later. Negotiations involving that second match were not completed.
The Americans will also play two home friendlies in November. It is expected that the competition and the stadiums will be announced soon.
After the game, the US Soccer Federation and the national team players’ union formally signed a collective bargaining agreement, which was reached in May, ending years of labor struggle. Guests of the ceremony included former women’s team players, Capitol Hill legislators, and representatives from the NFL and MLB players’ unions.
There were four Washington Spirit players on the team, but only striker Ashley Hatch played, turning in for Alex Morgan in the 80th minute. Goalkeepers Aubrey Kingsbury, midfielder Ashley Sanchez and midfielder Andy Sullivan were all off.
Two other Spirit players have pulled out of training camp – defender Kelly O’Hara, who has a thigh disease and forward Trinity Rodman for family reasons – and another regular, Emily Sonnett, was unavailable due to a foot injury at the end of the season.
Left-back Emily Fox, of Ashburn, Virginia, and NWSL’s Racing Louisville, played 80 minutes.
Waldarm, the US coach for the Super Falcons, also leads the University of Pittsburgh’s women’s program. Among his aides is Lauren Gregg, a former University of Virginia coach and an American assistant.
The list includes several Nigerian Americans, including sisters Tony and Nicole Payne. Tony Payne, 27, played for the Duke and U.S. youth teams. Nicole, 21, played in West Virginia.