Secret to U.S. women’s soccer team’s success? Intense internal competition

U.S. midfielder Kristie Mewis, right, celebrates with defender Margaret Purce.
U.S. midfielder Kristie Mewis, right, celebrates with defender Margaret Purce, left, after scoring a goal during a win over Colombia in an international friendly Monday.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

Although the women’s national team will line up against Colombia for the second time in five days Friday, the U.S. won’t really be playing against the Colombians.

The Americans are so good and so deep, on most days the only ones who can beat them are themselves. And that internal competition couldn’t be more fierce.

“We hold our own standards. Every single game and every single training session,” defender Ali Krieger said. “It’s really important that we focus on ourselves and we set this high standard for each other.”


How high? Consider the numbers:

  • The two-time reigning World Cup champions have lost just once in their last 62 games, a streak that dates to July 2017.
  • They’ve been ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA for all but two months in since 2015.
  • In its last 18 games, a streak that started with the 2019 World Cup final, the U.S. has outscored opponents 61-4.
  • The Americans have given up one goal in their last 11 games — and didn’t even allow a shot on goal in their last two.

Only the Harlem Globetrotters win more consistently. But with that level of dominance comes a different kind of pressure because winning is no longer enough.

Sam Mewis scores a hat trick and showcases the important role she is playing in the USWNT’s 2021 ambitions in 4-0 win over Colombia.

Jan. 18, 2021

“When you’re the No. 1 team in the world for quite some time and when you win championships, it’s hard to stay at the top,” veteran forward Carli Lloyd said. “It’s somewhat easy to get there. But staying at the top — and not just staying at the top, but continuously pushing on to be better than we were — each year is incredibly difficult.

“I’ve been a part of this team for 16 years now and it’s just a mind-set.”

Whether the team succeeds in any given game often plays out in places other than the scoreboard. To casual observers, Monday’s 4-0 win over Colombia looked like a rout. But to coach Vlatko Andonovski, it was an imperfect effort.

“I don’t think that was our best performance. And in our recap with the team, the players agreed,” said Andonovski, who plans to rotate a new crop of players through his lineup in Friday’s rematch with 26th-ranked Colombia in Orlando, Fla. “We all know that we can get better and we all agree and are willing to do whatever it takes to get better.

“It just speaks about the mentality of the team. We don’t look at the opponent and go with the mind-set of doing only enough to win the game. We just look at ourselves and go with the mind-set [of] ‘what does it take to be the best version of ourselves?’ And that’s our main motivation.”

Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda, bottom, makes a save as U.S. defender Margaret Purce leaps over her.
Colombia goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda, bottom, makes a save as U.S. defender Margaret Purce leaps over her during the U.S. Women’s National Team’s win Monday.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

Andonovski has helped with that motivation. Although the Americans won two World Cups in 5½ years under Jill Ellis, the winningest coach in U.S. history, Krieger said having a new voice in charge has “been a breath of fresh air.” And if anything, Andonovski has been arguably better, winning his first 12 games, the best start for a U.S. coach.

“I’ve learned a lot, even at my age and with my experience,” said Krieger, 36, who is beginning her 13th year with the national team. “It’s been exciting to kind of go out and play in these sessions and do exercises that are new and fresh.

“I also have this feeling of trust from him. He’s empowering every single player and has trust in every single player.”

One player who probably won’t play Friday is former UCLA forward Mallory Pugh, who missed much of last year with a hip injury, then got hurt again in this month’s training camp. But regardless of who takes the field, Krieger said the approach won’t change.

Cal State Northridge senior Daniel Trejo was selected 14th overall by LAFC in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday. The Galaxy draft Josh Drack at No. 16.

Jan. 21, 2021

“We talked about tidying up a few things from last game,” she said. “One of the top five teams, they’re going to punish you on a few of those mistakes. So we continually hold each other accountable.

“We know what standard we need to perform at every single game, no matter who the opponent is. And we try to strive to be great and elite every single time we step on the field. We don’t take that for granted.”