USWNT breezes to 2023 SheBelieves Cup title, but World Cup roster questions linger


The U.S. Women’s National Team cruised to its fourth straight SheBelieves Cup title on Wednesday, beating Brazil 2-1 and going 3-0 in the tournament that serves as the team’s best warm-up for the upcoming World Cup.

But after standout performances by Mallory Swanson, who scored in all three games and was named tournament MPV, and Alex Morgan — who recorded her 14th national team goal since becoming a mom — and wins against three teams ranked in the top 11, many of Thursday’s headlines suggest the American squad still has some questions to answer.

U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski confirmed lingering queries remain but was positive about the team’s overall outlook.

RELATED: USWNT secures fourth straight SheBelieves Cup title with 2-1 win over Brazil

“I don’t think we’re going to talk a lot about the title,” he told media. “We’re actually going to talk a lot about the play and the details and we’re going use these games in preparation to prepare furthermore for the World Cup. So that’s what is good about this. Obviously, we enjoy winning the title, but it’s the outcome [that] is more important for us.

“The whole time throughout the tournament while we’re in camp, we’re talking about how it’s not just about this tournament, it’s about preparation for the World Cup, and the fact that we were able to do well against such a great opponents, all three of them — Canada, Japan, Brazil – it’s very motivating for us going forward, because we believe that we still have a few things to fix and get better from it.”

Despite the unbeaten streak during the SheBelieves Cup, Andonovski and company undoubtedly have not forgotten the disappointing stretch last fall when the U.S. lost three friendlies in a row in a six-week span. The streak began Oct. 7 with a 2-1 loss to No. 4-ranked England at Wembley, followed by a 2-0 loss to No. 6 Spain in Pamplona on Oct. 11. They dropped their third straight — a 2-1 loss to No. 3 Germany in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — on Nov. 10 before rebounding for a 2-1 win over the Germans to end 2022 on a positive note.

On Her Turf takes a closer look at what we learned from the 2023 SheBelieves Cup, the lingering questions surrounding the U.S. World Cup roster and what’s next for the USWNT.

What we learned from the 2023 SheBelieves Cup

Mallory Swanson has arrived

Swanson scored four of the five USWNT goals during the tournament, and she’s recorded eight goals in her past six games. It’s been a breathtaking turnaround for Swanson, who was left off the 2021 U.S. Olympic team roster.

“I think this offseason, I kind of just reevaluated my game, and I think what one thing was I wasn’t finishing easy chances last calendar year,” she said following Sunday’s match vs. Japan, where she scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win. “So, I just wanted to come into this year and just be able to finish easy chances.”

Her attention to the details is paying off: Along with being named tournament MVP, Swanson earned a place in the record books. Her six-game scoring streak is the longest by a USWNT player since Christen Press scored in six straight between November 2019 and February 2020.

Tournament experience invaluable for young U.S. roster

The U.S. rostered 13 players without World Cup experience during the SheBelieves Cup and four players with fewer than 20 caps overall. Andonovski noted he approached this as an opportunity:

“We talk about what success is in this tournament and what success means for us, one of the things [is] the less experienced players get in front of opponents like this and get good, valuable minutes starting games and competing against good, good teams.

“I think it’s important for them to understand the competition, first and foremost, but also to also to get used to grinding because World Cup will be a grind. It’s not just the games, it’s the trainings, the travel, accommodations, just adjusting, acclimating. I mean, all this thing is part of the journey. And the fact that we were able to replicate some of that … It’s a brilliant experience for them.”

USWNT took pains to simulate World Cup atmosphere

Andonovski shared some behind-the-scenes details of the USWNT’s experience during the tournament, revealing painstaking efforts taken to recreate the World Cup-like environment they’ll face during the group stage. While Brazil, Canada and Japan flew commercial to the three tournament sites, the U.S. team took chartered flights from Orlando to Nashville to Frisco (Texas) and even worked out a refueling schedule. Additionally, the Americans stayed in similar accommodations as the ones they’ll have this summer, held meetings at approximately the same times and tried to mirror everything from training times to recovery rates and the environment of all things in between.

USWNT World Cup roster still unclear as injured veterans make return

Soccer analyst and retired USWNT midfielder Julie Foudy, a two-time World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, said she doesn’t envy Andonovski’s task at hand as he homes in on his 23-player roster for the World Cup. With just two friendlies left on the calendar and a host of star names on the injured list, roster choices remain unclear. Foudy noted he’ll likely have to look to players’ performances in their respective professional leagues to gauge readiness.

“It’s a great problem to have,” she said after Wednesday night’s contest. “You’re going to have all these players coming back from injury in April. Sophia Smith (minor foot injury) we obviously know is going to be in the mix, but Cat Macario coming off an ACL [injury] — you don’t know where she’s going to be. There’s Tierna Davidson (torn ACL) and Kelly O’Hara (hip injury) coming back into the mix. I mean, that’s a lot of good games. I’m not saying them all because it would take a long time. There’s a lot of choices he’s going to have to make and he’s going to have to make them [by watching] their leagues instead of in games with the national team.”

Other notable names on the questionable list include Abby Dahlkemper (back), Casey Krueger (parental leave), Tobin Heath (knee surgery) and Christen Press (torn ACL). Andonovski recently confirmed Sam Mewis is likely unavailable after undergoing and second knee surgery and that “time is running out” for Julie Ertzwho gave birth to a son in August and has not indicated whether she plans to return to playing.

Up next: USWNT to host April friendlies vs. Republic of Ireland

The USWNT will play two friendlies in April against the Republic of Ireland, which is set to makes its World Cup debut this summer. The first meeting is set for Saturday, April 8, at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, followed by the second on Tuesday, April 11, at the new CITYPARK in St. Louis, Mo.

Ireland qualified for the 2023 World Cup in dramatic fashion: After finishing second in UEFA Women’s World Cup Qualifying Group A behind Sweden, Ireland faced Scotland in a one-game playoff at the famed Hampden Park in Glasgow, which drew more than 10,000 fans. Irish forward Amber Barrett scored in the 72nd minute to give “The Girls in Green” a 1-0 win and send them to their first World Cup.

“Ireland is a highly motivated, hard-working team that has talented players with big hearts who I know are really excited to be representing their country in a World Cup,” said Andonovski. “The two games will be a great test at a crucial time in our team’s run to the World Cup. While there will be plenty of league games for us to watch after April, these will be the final matches for our players with the National Team before we have to pick the World Cup roster, so they will carry that importance.”

Additional notes ahead of USWNT-Republic of Ireland friendlies:

  • The USWNT has played Ireland 13 times and won every match. The most recent meeting was Aug. 3, 2019, when the Americans notched a 3-0 victory at the Rose Bowl in the first game following their 2019 triumph at Women’s World Cup.
  • One of Ireland’s top players, midfielder Denise O’Sullivan, is a long-time standout with the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL.
  • The match in Austin marks the USWNT’s 32nd match in Texas, where it has never lost.
  • The match in St. Louis will be the USA’s 10th in Missouri and sixth in St. Louis.
  • At the upcoming World Cup, Ireland will play in Group B, which also includes Canada, Nigeria and co-host Australia. Ireland will face Australia on July 20 in the second match of the tournament and the first in Australia, where they’ll play at the 82,000-seat Stadium Australia.

2023 LPGA Drive On Championship: How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

Jin-young Ko of South Korea and Nelly Korda on the 17th tee during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.
Getty Images

The LPGA Tour makes its return to the Arizona desert this week at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. The season’s first full-field event features eight of the world’s top 10 players plus a slew of fresh faces as this year’s rookie class gets its first taste of competition as tour members.

This week’s event features 144 players (plus two Monday qualifiers) competing for the $1.75 million prize purse in a 72-hole tournament that will implement the LPGA’s new cutline policy for the first time. Beginning this week, the 36-hole cut will change from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties advancing to weekend action. The LPGA says it hopes to “establish a faster pace of play” with the change.”

Arizona last hosted the LPGA for the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, where Jin Young Ko earned her first of four LPGA titles that season. The tour last played at Superstition Mountain in the Safeway International from 2004 to 2008, where Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2004, 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008) each won twice, and Juli Inkster won in 2006.

The tournament marks the first of four events over the next five weeks (taking off the week of the Masters, April 7-10) and kicks off the crescendo that’s building to the LPGA’s first major of the season, The Chevron Championship, April 20-23 in its new location at The Woodlands, Texas. The 72-hole LPGA Drive On Championship features 144 players, in addition to two Monday qualifiers, who will compete for a $1.75 million purse.

How to watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

You can watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship on Golf Channel, Peacock, and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, March 23: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, March 24: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, March 25: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, March 26: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

Sitting out this week are world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, but No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 3 Jin Young Ko are back in action following Ko’s return to the winner’s circle two weeks ago in Singapore, where she held off Korda by two strokes. Also in the field this week are:

  • No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 7 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 8 In Gee Chun
  • No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka
  • 2022 major winners Ashleigh Buhai, Jennifer Kupcho, Chun, Henderson

Rookies and Epson Tour graduates making their first starts as LPGA members include 20-year-old Lucy Li, a two-time Epson Tour winner who might be best known for playing the 2014 U.S.  Women’s Open as an 11-year-old; South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu, who took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series; and 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who finished tied for 21st at Q School to earn her card but might be best known from her role in the 2013 Netflix documentary, “The Short Game.”

Past winners, history of the Drive On Championship

The Drive On Championship was initially created as a series of LPGA events that marked the tour’s back-to-competition efforts following the pandemic. Each tournament used the “Drive On” slogan in support of the tour’s resilience, beginning with the first series event in July 2020 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Danielle Kang won by one stroke over Celine Boutier. The second event, held in October 2020, replaced the three stops originally scheduled in Asia, and was held at Reynolds Lake Oconee Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Georgia. Ally McDonald captured her career first LPGA title by one stroke over Kang.

The last two “Drive On” events were staged in Florida, at Golden Ocala Golf Club (Ocala) in March 2021 and at Crown Colony Golf Club (Fort Myers) in February 2022. Austin Ernst cruised to her third career title at the 2021 edition, beating Jennifer Kupcho by five shots. The 2022 tournament marked a fresh start for the event (no longer including results or records from the 2020 and 2021 events), where Leona Maguire became the first Irish winner on tour with her victory in 2022.

Last year at the Drive On Championship

Ireland’s Leona Maguire gifted her mom and early birthday present with her first career win at the 2022 LPGA Drive On Championship. A 27-year-old Maguire, a standout at Duke and former No. 1 amateur, carded a final-round 67 to finish at 18-under 198 and won the 54-hole event by three strokes over Lexi Thompson. She became the first woman from Ireland to win on tour, and her 198 tied her career-best 54-hole score.

More about Superstition Mountain

Superstition Mountain’s Prospector Golf Course opened in 1998 and was a combined design effort by Jack Nicklaus and his son Gary. The course plays as a par-72 and stretches to 7,225 yards in length, with the women playing it at 6,526 yards. The course was home of the LPGA Safeway International from 2004-08, and was recently selected by Golfweek as one of the “Top 100 Residential Courses.”

Of note, Superstition Mountain is a female-owned facility, originally purchased in 2009 by Susan Hladky and her husband James, who died in 2011. Hladky has made a point of opening her courses to women and college players, twice hosting U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and the site of a 2025 NCAA women’s regional tournament. She’s also given membership to eight LPGA players, who play out of the club: Carlota Ciganda, Mina Harigae, Dana Finkelstein, Jaclyn Lee, Charlotte Thomas, Caroline Inglis, Jennifer Kupcho and Brianna Do.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like to play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” Roberts said regarding the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship