Jaedyn Shaw scores late to end USWNT’s 2023 with 2-1 win over China

FRISCO, Texas — The U.S. women’s national team will end the year on a high note following a comeback 2-1 win over China on Tuesday at Toyota Stadium.

After a first half that felt somewhat disjointed and stagnant with seven new starters from Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Steel Roses, interim head coach Twila Kilgore made some necessary adjustments at halftime. Down 1-0 at the break, the U.S. picked up its tempo and fought back in the second half, breaking down China’s stalwart 5-4-1 formation and scoring two banger goals off set pieces to clinch its final victory of 2023.

“They presented us with a ton of challenges,” said Sam Coffey, who scored the first USWNT goal. “I think we had to make a lot of changes on the fly, but those are always really good tests for us. I certainly think that this was more of a test for us going down one and then having to scrap back and fight back to win. 

“It was far from perfect, obviously, it wasn’t our greatest game. But we have a lot that we can take from and learn from going into 2024.”

The USWNT’s lineup changes were expected given that this is the time of year to try out various player combinations and see what works and what doesn’t. As the U.S. prepares for a busy new year — which will include the first-ever CONCACAF W Gold Cup and the Paris Olympics — Kilgore is working with new head coach Emma Hayes to try and give more players opportunities in an effort to widen the player pool.

While the squad didn’t start the match the way it wanted, it showed part of its new identity moving forward is being able to come back and win.

Here are a few quick takeaways from Tuesday’s game:

Play of the game:

You can’t write it any better than this: in the 80th minute, with the game stuck in a 1-1 tie, Jaedyn Shaw scored the winning goal in her hometown in her first-ever USWNT start. After Jenna Nighswonger’s free kick hit a wall of Chinese players, Shaw buried a bouncing ball into the back of the net.

The 19-year-old Shaw, making just her fourth international appearance, grew up in Frisco and had at least 50 friends, family members and former soccer coaches in the stands who were cheering loudly for her throughout the game. 

“My mom, I could hear her literally anywhere,” Shaw said, smiling. “I was so happy to play in front of them and being able to showcase what all of my hard work has brought me to. Because obviously I missed a lot of family gatherings and all that kind of stuff growing up for soccer, so this is just like a cool, full circle moment.”

While Kilgore doesn’t want to project what kind of 2024 might be in store for Shaw, the coach said that “she’s somebody that should have her sights on the Olympics.” 

Turning point:

Coffey’s first-ever goal for the USWNT. In the 62nd minute, Nighswonger drilled a corner kick into the middle of the box. China tried to clear it, but Emily Sonnett collected the ball near the penalty spot and tapped it back to Coffee, who curled a beautiful ball into the upper right corner of the net to tie the game 1-1. 

“I can’t even put it into words,” Coffey said of her goal. “Did that just really happen? But yeah, I mean, what matters is that we won and that any way I can contribute to that happening is what is most important to me. 

“But it was such a special moment. It’s been a really challenging year, an amazing year, a lot of highs and lows I think for everybody on this team. But to cap it off in this way, just a gritty comeback win, you can’t ask for more.”

Coffey was wearing No. 4, which is Becky Sauerbrunn’s jersey number. Coffey said she asked Sauerbrunn, who she plays with on the Portland Thorns and was at the game, for permission to wear it.

“I would never pick it without addressing Rebecca,” Coffey said, laughing. “So I reached out to her and I was like, ‘Hey, would you mind if I wore this? I’d love to just honor you and channel your energy. Obviously, Becky is my teammate, but she’s also a hero of mine and someone I look up to,

“I told her after the game, ‘This means that you scored an international goal.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, is that how it works?’”

(Sauerbrunn famously has yet to score a goal for the national team and Coffey was happy to share her moment.)

Key stat:

This was the first time the USWNT conceded a goal since it’s 1-1 draw vs. the Netherlands in the second match of the World Cup on July 27.

In the 45th minute, Emily Fox fouled Yan Jinjin just outside the 18-yard box. On the ensuing free kick, Jinjin found Wang Siqian over the top, who headed it past USWNT goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and an unmarked Shen Mengyu finished it with one touch to give the Steel Roses a 1-0 lead just before halftime.

What’s next for the USWNT?

Much-needed time off. Since before the World Cup, players have been going non-stop with national team camps and their respective NWSL and European seasons. While Lindsey Horan, Mia Fishel and Korbin Albert will head back to their clubs competing in Champions League overseas, everyone else will catch a break and maybe a vacation. 

Even Kilgore said that after she watches film from this match, she will take a few days off and spend time with her family. She has plans to visit Hayes and her Chelsea staff in London soon, and will also be scouting for the Gold Cup, which begins in February.

“I talked to the team at the end of the game and said I’m so proud with how we ended 2023 and how far we’ve come in a few months,” Kilgore said. “But the sky is the limit and our current ceiling that we’re ending on with this game is gonna be our floor when we get right back at it. 

“It will start as soon as we’re back together with a review of this game and make sure that we are looking at it through the lens of our style of play, that we’re addressing the right things and we’ll pick up right where we left off.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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