Ireland wrapped up the international break in St Louis last night with a 1-0 defeat to the USA. It's Ireland second defeat to America in the last four days, and though the scoreboard has made for disappointing reading, the performances from Vera Pauw's 'tigers' have been hugely encouraging in this window/
Ireland are building nicely to the World Cup in July and these two fixtures against the best team in the world will stand to them.
Here's five things we learned along the way in the USA.
The legends deliver
Denise O’Sullivan, Louise Quinn, Katie McCabe: with a total of almost 300 caps between them, their names are well-known for a reason. Ireland’s veterans showed the benefits of experience in the two games stateside, as Denise O’Sullivan joined the centurion club with her 100th Irish cap in the first game against the US in Texas.
The Katie McCabe corner and Louise Quinn header setpiece combo has proven a success in the past but Quinn didn’t put one in the back of the net in the first meeting with the US. However, the Birmingham captain’s defensive efforts were awarded Sky’s Player of the Match in the 2-0 defeat in Texas.
Vera Pauw expressed her disappointment in the aftermath of the second game against the World number #1.
“This one hurts because we have done so well,” she said in a post-match interview. “It’s a friendly so winning and losing is not really the major thing. But if you lose in this way after doing so well against the world champions then of course it hurts.”
In 2019, a 3-0 defeat to the US was seen as unsurprising and a sure stop on the USA's victory tour in the wake of their World Cup victory. Now, sitting 22nd in the Fifa World rankings, Ireland's standards have improved significantly, and so two defeats feel disappointing to the Irish players and management, who felt they had more to give and shots to take.
This increase in standards is urgently needed, given the competition Ireland are up against with group opponents Australia and Nigeria coming out on top in their recent international friendlies.
Ireland needs a striker
Goals win games. To that end, Ireland’s strategic defence can only get them so far. Ireland’s defensive game continued until the final minutes of the game in Missouri, but equalising didn’t seem possible. While there were some formidable shots on target over the two games - including Lucy Quinn making a mark within minutes of her start in Missouri and a disallowed goal due to Heather Payne being offside - Ireland doesn’t yet have a clear, identifiable striker.
Kyra Carusa proved herself to be a fighting sole forward, and it’d be interesting to see what Amber Barrett could deliver if she was given more game time, especially as it was her goal that ultimately sent Ireland to the World Cup in the game against Scotland. (Six minutes in the second half of the second game didn’t give enough opportunity, albeit she made a valiant effort alongside Louise Quinn.)
Courtney Brosnan - saving grace
It only takes one. Up until the 43rd minute of the second USA game, Brosnan had been having a steady performance. Then, Denise O’Sullivan cleared a US corner, but defender Alana Cook booted the ball 45 yards out, forcing Brosnan to backpedal, ultimately following the ball over the line. No doubt it was disappointing, but she came back renewed in the second half, frequently - bravely - coming out of the goal to take control of a situation, stopping Trinity Rodman in her tracks and ultimately helping keep the game at 1-0.
The first of the USA tests were exactly that for Brosnan: a test against the best. She had been on a run of a seven game clean sheet until the first USA game, and although she’ll likely wish that things were different, her performances look set to cement her place as Ireland’s number one goalkeeper.
HT USA 1-0 Republic of Ireland
Alana Cook's 43rd-minute goal is the difference in St Louis. Follow the second half here https://t.co/vBeeyLUd5N #RTEsoccer pic.twitter.com/LH4zPXav2K
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) April 12, 2023
It’s all to play for
With 99 days to go until the opening game against Australia, few players are guaranteed a seat on the plane, and the countdown is very much on. No one can be ruled out at this point. Sinéad Farrelly is the newest Irish-qualified cap to the team, and impressed with her debut in Texas on April 8th.
Herself and Manchester United player Aoife Mannion, another recent implant, were rested for the second game after rewarding starts in the first. Given their recent returns to football - after a tumultuous time in the US and ACL injury respectively - the rest was probably due, but could also be seen as Pauw having seen enough, knowing what they can bring to the side.
Similarly, Lucy Quinn was a last-minute addition to the Girls In Green on this occasion, having been drafted in due to Lily Agg’s ankle injury and produced a player of the match performance in Missouri, playing and performing as if she had a point to prove.
While the US games ended Ireland’s winning streak, we have seen Vera’s side lose against big teams before and have seen where it’s gotten them: on the road to their first World Cup. With two respectable, positive games against the world’s best under their belt, an upcoming game against Zambia and a send-off match versus France, the stakes have never been higher, the competition never stiffer, and the belief never bigger for the Girls In Green.