The U.S. Women's National Team posted a 5-0 victory on Sun., Feb. 20, against New Zealand in this year's SheBelieves Cup thanks in large part to an unprecedented slew of own goals from center back Meikayla Moore. Held at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., the match featured a statistical anomaly in the history of professional football, with Moore scoring three own goals in the first 36 minutes of play. Moore was subbed off shortly after, having given a young U.S. side an early boost.
Come second half, USWNT striker Ashley Hatch made her mark just six minutes after coming on, heading in a perfectly placed ball past New Zealand keeper Erin Nayler, courtesy of a cross from defender Sofia Huerta. Hatch is no stranger to scoring after earning the Golden Boot in the 2021 NWSL season with the Washington Spirit.
Hatch again played a role in the next goal, winning a ball in midfield to give Mallory Pugh a on-one-one opportunity, Pugh confidently outpacing the New Zealand defense and slotting the ball in the back of the net.
U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski has intentionally filled the cup's roster with a crop of younger players, no doubt in preparation for the joint Olympics and World Cup Qualifiers being held this summer in Monterrey, Mexico. Veterans like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Tobin Heath were all left off the roster, as Andonovski stated his desire to give up-and-comers more game time.
"I want to give them maximum minutes or whatever minutes they earn so we can evaluate every aspect of their game, in the training environment or game setting," Andonovski told ESPN. "If in SheBelieves we call any of the senior players, then we're not going to be able to see the younger ones."
The consequences of fielding a younger team with fewer international caps, many of whom are in their off-season with the NWSL, showed on the field as the U.S. drew in their opener against the Czech Republic 0-0, and posted only .71 xG in the first half against New Zealand—an indication that the scoreline wasn't necessarily indicative of the quality of play. Andonovski was quick to state, however, that folding in new talent would be an ongoing process.
"We all understand this is a process," said Andonovski. "It's not like, 'Oh, now we scored five goals and all the sudden we're so good.' No, we still have a lot of areas to build on and grow in."
The SheBelieves Cup is an annual invitational hosted in the U.S. with four select teams competing in a round-robin format. This year, the field includes the U.S. (the hosts), Iceland (No. 16 ranking), New Zealand (No. 22), and the Czech Republic (No. 24). The USWNT currently sit at No. 1 in the FIFA Women's World Ranking.
New Zealand v Czech Republic: Wed., Feb. 23, 3 p.m. @ Toyota Stadium in Dallas, TX
U.S. v Iceland: Wed., Feb. 23, 6 p.m. @ Toyota Stadium in Dallas, TX