The United States women's national team earned their fifth SheBelieves Cup title on Wednesday after a 5-0 win over Iceland. The trophy is the third consecutive tournament title for the USWNT, and the second SheBelieves Cup championship for head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
The seventh annual event featured matches against Czech Republic, Iceland, and New Zealand as Andonovski named a 23-player roster that featured several younger names. After a scoreless draw to open the tournament against the Czech Republic, the next-gen squad went on to win the competition with back-to-back 5-0 wins.
Let's take a look at what we learned during the 2022 SheBelieves Cup.
1. Next gen gamble pays off
Ahead of the tournament Andonovski named a roster filled with players with less experience at the national team level. Several players were part of January camps to kick off the calendar year, and were called in once more for a shot at minutes at the senior level.
The roster featured 18 of the 23 players who were with the USA during the November camps in Australia, and the absence of more experienced players presented a challenge for a team performing without its more veteran attacking players.
A scoreless draw to open the tournament left more questions than answers. Though the team grew over time as several players earned minutes, including forward Trinity Rodman. She made her first senior national team appearance with the group during the 2022 SheBelieves Cup.
Five players -- Alana Cook, Emily Fox, Andi Sullivan, Catarina Macario and Sophia Smith-- earned starts across all three matches. As most players are in offseason form while participating in preseason NWSL camps, Macario -- who has been in form with her French club side Olympique Lyonnais -- closed out the series with two goals and one assist.
Despite a slow start to the tournament, and a second matchday that had more own goals than credited goals, the USWNT closed out the competition with a win over 17th-ranked Iceland, who entered the final matchday leading the standings.
While there will continue to be discussion around the level of competition participating during the SheBelieves Cup, the younger core of players accomplished the main goal of winning a competition they were expected to succeed in.
2. USWNT players continue to use platform
The USWNT entered their Wednesday game vs. Iceland after a landmark deal with U.S. Soccer announcing a $24 million settlement and promise of equal pay after a new CBA is ratified among respective national teams. The historic settlement comes after years of a legal back and forth between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer, as players continued to utilize games and their individual platforms to expand their messaging and fight for equitable treatment and pay.
The USWNT continued to use their platform to drive awareness of another issue against Iceland. With the final match held in Frisco, Texas, several USWNT players took the pitch with wristbands that read "Protect Trans Kids."
The demonstration came after Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, to report on trans children and report their parents to state authorities, and referred to "elective procedures for gender transitioning" as "child abuse."
As Macario scored her second goal in the title game, her goal celebration included a raised wrist to showcase the message. She later referred to the gesture in postgame comments.
"We really wanted to show why this team is different and why we do things that are much bigger than just the game," Macario said. "It was just a way to show awareness, especially because we were playing in Texas."
3. All eyes on 2023 Women's World Cup roster
The goal of the coaching staff was to utilize the 2022 SheBelieves Cup as a chance for more evaluation of the larger pool of players at the senior national team level. There are still lingering questions around the attack and their ability to break down an organized block, but the question of their inclusion was answered ahead of the next international window in April.
Young players who began journeys with the USWNT during the 2021 calendar year have shown they should still be included in the mix of further evaluation as 2022 continues to unfold in preparation for the FIFA 2023 World Cup. There will need to be more matches against higher-ranked sides, and opportunity alongside more experienced players once the veterans are back into the fold.