The U.S. women's national team defeated Ireland on Saturday 2-0 in one of the last tune-ups before the Women's World Cup in July.
Defender Emily Fox scored the game's first goal in the 37th minute, while Lindsey Horan added a second half penalty. Ireland had their moments, including a goalmouth scramble midway through the first half that required several interventions from U.S. defenders, but couldn't find a breakthrough.
The match also marked the return of midfielder Julie Ertz after a 610-day absence, but the story of the game was the injury sustained by forward Mallory Swanson. Given the manner of her exit -- a long delay that resulted in her being carted off the field -- and the amount of pain she appeared to be in, Swanson's spot at the World Cup now looks to be in doubt.
1. Swanson injury casts a pall over USWNT win
The final months before a World Cup are a tense time for players. There's the jockeying for the final few roster spots and, with a lifelong dream now in reach, the fear of injury can creep into the heads of players as well. Alas for Swanson, that latter scenario has played out, as she went down clutching her left knee before being taking to the hospital during the game for evaluation.
Swanson had already been involved in a lengthy injury stoppage in the 25th minute when she sustained an apparent head injury when she collided with Ireland goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan. Swanson was soon back on her feet and back in the action. But later, in the 40th minute, Swanson sustained a heavy challenge from Ireland defender Aoife Mannion, and immediately gave the tell-tale handwave indicating that the injury was serious.
A stretcher was soon brought onto the field and after her left leg was immobilized, she was carted off and taken to the hospital with what was confirmed as a left knee injury.
While the U.S. team is immensely talented, the loss of Swanson is a major loss heading into the World Cup. The Chicago Red Stars forward had been on a tear in 2023 at international level, scoring seven goals in just five games, including four in the SheBelieves Cup in which the U.S. prevailed. She was the USWNT's most consistent and reliable goal-scoring threat in recent months.
So who can the U.S. rely on to replace Swanson? U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski opted for Trinity Rodman in this match, and while the Washington Spirit forward put herself in good positions, her finishing touch -- which is what had set Swanson apart in 2023 -- was lacking. Lynn Williams can also be expected to get some minutes. But on this day, Swanson's condition is top of mind.
2. USWNT shows vulnerability against solid Ireland side
Ireland came into the match with a reputation of being hyper-organized in defense and opportunistic in attack. And so it proved. In fact, the Irish were arguably the better team in the first 25 minutes.
The visitors made the Americans look vulnerable on set pieces and Ireland had some good moments in transition. This included an otherworldly sequence in the 24th minute in which center-backs Naomi Girma and Becky Sauerbrunn each delivered critical blocks and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a crucial save in a matter of seconds. Add in the fact that the U.S. tempo seemed slow, and it made the Americans' sizable advantage in possession look a little less convincing than the numbers (65%-35% for most of the match) would otherwise indicate.
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As is often the case, it took a goal from an unlikely source to break the deadlock. Fox collected a pass from Andi Sullivan, and when she wasn't closed down, advanced and unleashed a shot that just snuck inside the far post.
The U.S. then cranked up the pressure as Ireland found itself spending more and more time defending. Rodman had a couple of clear chances, but couldn't convert. Horan then made the game safe when she earned and then scored a penalty in the 79th minute.
Perhaps the brightest spot of the day was the return of midfielder Julie Ertz. The appearance marked her first since the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021, and she wasted little time in making her presence felt with some tackles, a header on a set piece, a yellow card and the pass that led to Horan's penalty. If she can return at anything close to her top form, it will be a welcome addition indeed.
3. A triumph for Sinead Farrelly after brave allegations
Some moments for a player are bigger than the individual performance. Such was the case for Ireland midfielder Sinead Farrelly.
The Havertown, Penn. native had retired from the game in 2016, the alleged victim of sexual coercion at the hands of former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley. After she revealed details of that horrific event publicly in 2021, and after Riley was banned for life from the NWSL following two investigations, Farrelly finally returned to the game with Gotham FC, making her first appearance last weekend as a substitute in a 2-0 loss to OL Reign.
Now Farrelly can lay claim to being a senior international player after making her debut with Ireland, for whom she qualified for through her father.
It was a day in which Ireland didn't see much of the ball, and struggled to connect on passes consistently. That included Farrelly, but she still had some clever touches and in moments showed off some of her trademark smoothness on the ball. That will undoubtedly improve as Farrelly gets additional minutes for both club and country. Her next chance will come on April 11 when Ireland squares off against the U.S. again in St. Louis.
Best and worst performers
Best: Emily Fox, USWNT
The road to the World Cup often requires a balanced attack, and if one of your outside backs can pop up for a goal, even better. Fox was tidy on the ball as well, completing her passes at a 96 percent clip.
Best: Louise Quinn, Ireland
On a day when Ireland defended stoutly, Quinn was front and center. She was a force on set pieces as well, including a 19th minute header that forced a goal line clearance from Alex Morgan.
Best: Rose Lavelle, USWNT
Lavelle was a bit off early in the match, but heated up as the game wore on and created a team-high five chances.
Worst: Courtney Brosnan, Ireland
Brosnan certainly made her share of saves, but her positioning was suspect on Fox's goal, as she shifted too far to her left.
Worst: Trinity Rodman, USWNT
It wasn't the easiest of circumstances for Rodman, who came in for the injured Swanson. But she needed to do better with two second half opportunities.
Worst: Diane Caldwell, Ireland
As much as she protested the penalty whistled against her, the shirt tug was undeniable, and the USWNT was able to pad their lead.
Highlights and notable moments
In the 37th minute, after Ireland had been the more dangerous side and generated more expected goals, or xG, right-back Emily Fox took matters into her own hands. The USWNT defender dribbled into Ireland's half and ripped a shot from outside of the box to score.
Emily Fox scores her first-ever USWNT goal in style 😎— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 8, 2023
Watch the game live now on TNT 📺 pic.twitter.com/vF7jxWhdsL
But the party in the USA came to a screeching halt in the 41st minute after an injury to Mallory Swanson.
The USWNT winger went down clutching her left knee, and she immediately waved for help as teammate Rose Lavelle immediately came to her side. After a several-minutes delay, which included USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski coming out on the field to speak to her, Swanson was loaded onto a stretcher and carted off the field.
Mallory Swanson is carted off the pitch in the USWNT's game against Ireland with what appears to be a serious injury three months before the World Cup.— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 8, 2023
If Swanson's injury raised roster questions for Andonovski in real-time, so too did the return of midfielder Julie Ertz, who came on as a second half sub.
It was Ertz's first appearance in a competitive soccer match since 2021.
Julie Ertz makes her first USWNT appearance since August 2021 👏— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 8, 2023
Watch the game live now on TNT 📺 pic.twitter.com/TOX1v1iINx
After the match: What the managers and players said
USWNT manager Vlatko Andonovski on Julie Ertz's return: "When she came in, automatically the pace of the game just picked up a little bit. It could be coincidentally, it could be that something that she had to do or maybe the triple change. But regardless, we're happy where she's at. We could, we could see some really good stuff. We could see the true J.J. on the field. But also there were moments where I thought that she was rushing the pass and made a few mistakes, which is understandable at this point in time. It's understandable without being n a game environment, so that's why when we first announced J.J., we said that we're going to be patient with her and give her just a little bit of time to incorporate herself back in the game."
Ertz on her return: "It was a joy to be back and play with them. It was fun to get the competitive juices flowing. I honestly had no idea if I would play how much time that I would play, so I felt like I got a pretty good chunk of time more, so than I was expecting. I think I might have been smiling the whole time playing. It was a lot of fun.
USWNT forward Alex Morgan on Ertz's return: "Julie is Julie -- players are not getting by her. She brings her defensive presence, a huge aerial presence, and seeing the Julie that we saw three years ago makes me happy, thinking about her getting back on the field and being back in with this team."
Morgan on Swanson's injury: "It's really hard to see Mal go down in pain like that before the World Cup. We just have to hope that she's OK."
Morgan on Sinead Farrelly making her debut for Ireland: "Really proud of her and what she's accomplished and her willingness to come back. And also, she's just Sinead -- she's the Sinead I remember playing with on the Thorns and playing against. I'm so impressed with her."
USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan on the result: "We knew this team [Ireland] could capitalize on anything. Their battle -- it was a hard team to face, the way it defended and the way they transitioned on us, so it was about us making the most of our moments, coming out ruthless and attacking them in the way we know how."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Full-back Emily Fox scored her first international goal for the U.S. women's national team.
Mallory Swanson, who was injured in this game, leads the USWNT in scoring this year with seven goals in five games, already tied for the most goals she has ever scored in a calendar year for the USWNT. She entered the game on a six-game scoring streak, tied for the fourth-longest streak by any player in USWNT history.
Julie Ertz made her first appearance for the USWNT in 611 days.
USA: The USWNT will play their final match before coach Vlatko Andonovski chooses his World Cup roster on Tuesday, April 11, also against Ireland. The USWNT's first game of the World Cup is against Vietnam on July 21.
Ireland: The Republic of Ireland play their second game in a two-game series of friendlies against the U.S. on Tuesday, April 11 in St. Louis, Missouri.