By ANNE M. PETERSON AP Sports Writer
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The United States heads into its final group match at the Women’s World Cup with questions swirling about the team’s tactics.
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski started the same lineup against Netherlands on Thursday that he rolled out for the opening match against Vietnam. While it was enough for the United States to beat the Vietnamese 3-0, it was less successful against the stronger Dutch, and the Americans settled for a 1-1 draw.
That lineup had never played together before the World Cup.
The tie meant that the United States will likely need a more decisive outcome on Tuesday against Portugal to finish atop Group E and secure a favorable path in the knockout round. Going into the game, advancing out of the group wasn’t a given for the two-time defending World Cup champions.
In addition to the same starters, Andonovski made just one substitution in the game against the Dutch, bringing on midfielder Rose Lavelle to start the second half. But no fresh legs were subbed in even after players showed fatigue. Forwards Lynn Williams and Megan Rapinoe remained on the sidelines.
He was asked about the strategy afterward.
“I just didn’t want to disrupt the rhythm at that point because sometimes a substitute comes in and it might take a minute or two to get into a rhythm,” he said. “We just didn’t want to jeopardize anything because I thought all three of our forwards were very good, dangerous, created opportunities and were a handful.”
It was the first time that the United States had made just one or fewer substitutions in a World Cup game since 2007.
Known in 2019 for jumping on World Cup opponents early, the Americans did not score against the Dutch until the second half when they were already down 1-0.
Lavelle is one of the team’s top midfielders and made an immediate impact in the game — boosting the energy and feeding the attack — and the United States looked like that 2019 championship team again. She served up a corner kick to Lindsey Horan, angry about getting knocked down by a Dutch player moments before, for the game-tying goal in the 62nd minute.
Lavelle had a knee injury going into the World Cup and hadn’t played since April. She’s been on a minutes restriction and Andonovski has been starting Savannah DeMelo, one of the teams’ 14 players making their first-ever appearance in the World Cup.
DeMelo hadn’t played in a match with the national team until the send-off game against Wales in San Jose, the day the team departed for the World Cup.
“I think we weren’t in sync,” midfielder Andi Sullivan said. “That happens, and we were able to adjust and respond. Hopefully, we can do that earlier in the future. And I think that’s also a great strength of this team — we have lots of different ways we can do that together.”
Andonovski said the team can build off that second half against the Dutch in Wellington.
“Even though it didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish I thought it was a very good match for our team and especially for a group of young players. They grew throughout the game, individually, but also as a team we grew throughout the game as well,” Andonovski said. “I’ve said this before, this team is not just young. This team is also a fresh team that hasn’t spent a lot of minutes together. What you saw in the second half is what you’re going to see going forward as a best baseline. I think that we’re just going to get better from game to game and we’re gonna be a lot more efficient as well.”
Portugal fell 1-0 in its opening match against the Dutch, then defeated Vietnam 2-0 on Thursday in Hamilton. The victory knocked Vietnam out of the next round.
The United States sits atop Group E, even on points — four — with the Netherlands but edging the Dutch on goal differential. Portugal, third in the group with three points, could leap in front of the U.S. with a win at Auckland’s Eden Park.
The Dutch play Vietnam in an earlier game Tuesday in Dunedin.
Telma Encarnacao and Kika Nazareth each scored in the match against Vietnam, which made history as Portugal’s first win in its first World Cup appearance.
“We are aware of what awaits us, but we are focused on ourselves, which is very important,” Nazareth told reporters at training on Saturday. “We will enter the field respecting the opponent, with humility, but always with character and personality. The work will be there, the talent is there. And I think you also always need a little bit of luck. It’s believing.”