Preview: USWNT hosts China for friendlies

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USWNT hosts China
Casey Murphy (Left) makes a save in training while Abby Smith (Right) looks on. MANDATORY CREDIT: John Babiak

SANDY, UTAH (June 6, 2018) – The very first time Alex Morgan featured for the United States Women’s National Team there was snow everywhere.

In Sandy, Utah, the Rio Tinto Stadium was covered with a blanket of fresh snow. For Morgan and the team, it was a sight unlike no other. That was the first time the women’s national team ever featured in a match with snow.

Their opponent was none other than longtime U.S. Soccer rival Mexico.

USWNT hosts China in Frendlies

That was all the way back on March 31, 2010.

A lot has changed with the type of player Morgan is with the national team. Now, at 28-years-old, Morgan holds 135 appearances with the program and has scored 81 goals.

The Orlando Pride forward spoke on Tuesday about returning to a stadium that brings her fond memories.

“It’s always fun to get back here and it,” Morgan said. “Definitely was extremely opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to weather when I played my first cap here. Salt Lake City, Sandy and the Rio Tinto Stadium will always have a special place in my heart.”

USA v. China: The History

Eight years later, Morgan and the national team are back in Utah, this time preparing to face China. The two sides have a long history together.

Most recently the two sides faced off in December 2015. The match, as Morgan noted, was notable due to it being the final time Abby Wambach — U.S. Women’s National Team great — would represent the red, white and blue.

However, the end result was a shock to many fans in New Orleans, Louisiana. After compiling a lengthy 104-match unbeaten record on home soil, the United States dropped Wambach’s farewell match, 1-0.

The record had dated all the way back to 2004.

However, in front of 32,950 fans in the Superdome, Wang Shuang silenced the crowd with her 59th-minute goal. The shot was assisted by Wang Shanshan. Both players are on the roster for the two upcoming friendlies.

Morgan said that China has had some “ups and downs throughout the last 15 years in their program.”

“The last time we met them wasn’t the best performance for us,” Morgan said. “Obviously it was one to remember, but one for the program to forget in terms of the result. I’m excited to get back out here in Salt Lake City to play China and see what they have to bring.”

Morgan also said that the match is a good test for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in October.

“These games are more about us and building those stepping stones to get fully fit for the World Cup qualifiers,” Morgan said.

In the history of the United States facing China, which extends to a total of 56 times, China has defeated the U.S. nine times. According to U.S. Soccer, that is the second-best result a nation has against the United States, as Norway takes the top with 19 victories.

The United States’ 56 matches against China are also on the list of the second-most times they two sides have faced each other. Canada leads that list, facing the United States 58 times.

Familiar Territory

For the first time in women’s national team history, the United States is playing in Utah when an NWSL club has been founded in the city.

The Utah Royals FC are the latest expansion club in the league. After the folding of FC Kansas City before the 2018 season, Utah opened up their doors for the lost FC Kansas City players and coaches.

Many players from the Midwest club went over to Utah.

Included in that category is a defender, and team captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team and Utah Royals, Becky Sauerbrunn.

Sauerbrunn called Salt Lake City and Sandy, Utah, a “great soccer-supporting city.”

“I think there is something to be said about familiarity, with the practice field and the stadium,” Sauerbrunn said. “I hope everyone comes out and watches the game. When we play here with NWSL, I know the crowd is great and I hope the atmosphere and the environment continues on for our game.”

Sauerbrunn is not the only Utah Royal on the United States roster; Abby Smith and Amy Rodriguez are also on the roster.

Sauerbrunn called China, who have already qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a “quality side.”

“They have really started to pick up the momentum over the last couple of years,” Sauerbrunn said. “We did lose to them, 1-0, but played them in the World Cup and beat them, 1-0. It will be fun to play them. I imagine they’ll be a strong, potent attack like they had. [China will] be organized defensively and I think they’ll be technical.”

“I think it will be a really good challenge for us.”

A Roster Switch

After including Margaret Purce on the roster as a defender, the Portland Thorns FC player will not be facing China.

U.S. Soccer announced that Purce had suffered an ankle injury in training. Purce is back in Portland to be further evaluated.

However, making her way back to the national team is Rose Lavelle.

The Washington Spirit midfielder/forward recently recovered from a hamstring injury, returning to club action. This season, Lavelle has featured in three matches for Washington, totalling 68 minutes.

U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Jill Ellis called Lavelle’s situation “unique.”

“There’s been a measured process in place to bring Rose back to fitness, and based on her performance in training with her club and her status after her most recent Spirit match, it gives us an opportunity to integrate her back into the team,” said Ellis. “This has been a unique situation with Rose, and I want to thank (Washington Spirit head coach) Jim (Gabarra) for being collaborative and communicative in her return to play plan.”

“We’re excited to welcome Rose back into camp.”

A-Rod Returns

Amy Rodriguez is back with the U.S. Women’s National Team.

After pregnancy keeping her out of the 2016 season and an ACL tear sidelining the forward for 2017, Rodriguez joined the Utah Royals FC this offseason.

Rodriguez spoke to members of the media after Wednesday’s practice, saying that it’s about “reintegrating with the team, trying to find chemistry again and getting back on the pitch.”

“[It’s about] feeling comfortable and finding out my role with this team,” Rodriguez said. “As far as the team goes, this is a very important match. This is the start of our trek to qualifiers. The team is going to be preparing for qualifiers this fall.”

Like Sauerbrunn, Rodriguez said she “loves” playing at Rio Tinto Stadium and for Utah Royals FC fans.

“It just seems like soccer is booming here,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody has a passion for it. People are excited for us to play here. It’s a great soccer environment. I’m excited to see what Salt Lake City has to offer in terms of the soccer world.”

In the end, Rodriguez said she’s just “so happy to be standing here.”

“Who knew what was going to happen for me,” Rodriguez said. “You never know what kind of player you’re going to be after an injury I had. I’m proud of myself. I have two kids and I’ve worked really hard to return after tearing my ACL. All I can do is put my best foot forward and keep working hard.”

“Hopefully, the payoff will be a spot on this team again.”

The Matches

The first match between the two sides will be on June 7 at 9 p.m. ET. The match will be available on Fox Sports 1.

Then, the two teams will fly east to Cleveland, Ohio.

On June 12, the United States will host China at FirstEnergy Stadium. That match, available to watch on ESPN 2, will kick off at 7 p.m. ET.

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