The last time coach Vlatko Andonovski saw his U.S. women’s national team on the field together, COVID-19 was a growing danger, the Tokyo Olympics were on the horizon and Alex Morgan hadn’t even planned her baby shower yet.
Since then, the virus has killed more than 263,000 Americans, the Olympics have been postponed and Morgan’s daughter is nearly seven months old. What hasn’t changed in those 261 days is the U.S. team’s dominance, which was on display again Friday in a one-sided 2-0 win over the Netherlands in Breda, Holland.
The victory, on goals by Rose Lavelle and Kristie Mewis, was the 11th in as many tries under Andonovski and extended the team’s unbeaten streak to 32 games. And it came at the expense of a Dutch team that hadn’t lost since the 2019 Women’s World Cup final, which the U.S. also won, 2-0.
For Andonovski, whose start is the best by a coach in national team history, it was like picking up where he left off in March.
Rose Lavelle scores for the United States in the first half.
“Obviously, this was a strange year,” he said. “But one thing that didn’t change — and one thing will never change with this team — is the heart and the mind.”
The kind of heart and mind that allowed players to persevere through the longest national team break in more than three decades. Some practiced by kicking a ball against a wall. Others trained on a treadmill.
Mewis waited even longer for an opportunity to wear the U.S. jersey again, having gone nearly seven years between national team appearances. It fell to Andonovski, a former NWSL coach who selected Mewis with the first pick he had in the league’s inaugural draft, to finally give her a second chance.
And she waited just 10 minutes to reward him, coming off the bench midway through the second half and running onto a deft pass from Lynn Williams, splitting two defenders as she charged into the penalty area, then beating Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal with a low, left-footed shot from close range.
Among the first teammates to congratulate her were Morgan, playing her first game since giving birth in May, and Mewis’ younger sister Sam — although Mewis said afterward she remembered little of the celebration or the goal.
“I think I blacked out,” said Mewis, whose only other international goal came 2,722 days earlier, the longest gap ever for a U.S. player. “I was so nervous to shoot it. I just wound up and gave it the best I could. And then turning around and realizing what had just happened and seeing Sam and Alex running toward me was so special.”
Lavelle, one of nine World Cup starters who also started in Friday’s rematch, got her goal with four minutes left in the first half on a counterattack that began with Christen Press streaking up the center of the field. After drawing three defenders to her, Press pushed the ball out to the right wing for Lavelle, who settled it with her right foot, cut inside Dutch center back Dominique Janssen to create space, then blasted a left-footed shot from the top of the box just inside the far post.
Andonovski won’t see his players in person again until 2021, by which time he hopes COVID is under control and Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd are back. The hearts and minds, however, will remain unchanged.
“We’re not a perfect team yet,” defender Crystal Dunn said. “This is a great building block for us.”